Wiedmer: 'Grandma' still feisty Lady Moc

Wiedmer: 'Grandma' still feisty Lady Moc

March 1st, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

They sometimes call her "Grandma," presumably with affection.

But there has been nothing remotely sweet or nurturing or grandmotherly about the way University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's assistant basketball coach Katie Burrows has been treating the Lady Mocs during scrimmages this winter.

"I finally stopped practice one day," said head coach Wes Moore, "and told them, 'Do you realize that the most competitive person on the court is a 30-year-old woman?'"

It all began as an unwelcome necessity. His team suffering an unusually high number of injuries, Moore asked Burrows to work out with the reserves, just so the team could have 10 healthy bodies on the floor.

"I remember looking at the trainers one day and asking, 'I know I'm from Texas, but does everybody on the team have to wear [medical] boots?'" he chuckled.

But Burrows never has been like everybody else. Before she ran out of eligibility at the close of that magical 2004 season -- the one that produced the Lady Mocs' historic first-round NCAA tourney win over Rutgers -- married Nick Burrows and began coaching, Katie Galloway was arguably the feistiest player in school history.

"I'm just very competitive," she said earlier this week. "I can't get rid of it. I can't help but get out there and try to knock somebody's head off."

And that's just fine with Moore, who still warmly recalls Galloway becoming so upset whenever the coach subbed for her and Katasha Brown, "that Katie and Katasha would slap the padding on the scorer's table in anger whenever I took them out.

"My assistants would always ask, 'Doesn't that bother you?' No, I love it."

And what wasn't to love? Led by Galloway, Brown, Shamya Sermons, Miranda Warfield, Jennifer Wilson (who graduated in 2003), Nicole Mattison, Heather McDivitt and Tiffani Roberson, the UTC women constructed a "Decade of Dominance" from the 1999-2000 to the 2008-09 seasons that produced 10 Southern Conference championships and seven NCAA berths.

So when Burrows tells the current team about those times, the Lady Mocs listen intently.

"[Moore and Burrows] talk about that Rutgers game a lot," said sophomore Taylor Hall, who was named SoCon player of the week on Tuesday and who figures to play a huge role in the third-seeded Lady Mocs' hopes of winning this weekend's league tournament in Asheville, N.C.

"But you can never get sick of hearing that story. It's very inspiring."

The most inspiring memory of that game for Burrow was when it ended, UTC on top, 74-69.

"Just the celebration," she said. "That sense of satisfaction. We felt like we'd won it all. There's not a day that goes by that a UTC fan doesn't remind me of that game."

And when they remind her of it, they almost certainly recall the 30-foot shot she hit late in the game that keyed the final Lady Mocs run to victory -- without argument the biggest single shot in the program's history.

But as Moore's program moves forward, he worries that today's players are not as hungry to improve as Burrows and her contemporaries.

"I went to practice one day and half the team was sitting in the seats around the court instead of working on their shots," Moore said. "I talked to Pat Summitt over the summer and she told me about her team doing the same thing, so she pulled all the seats off the court so they'd have nowhere to sit. We might need to do the same thing."

Added Burrows: "It is different. I don't think our current players want to win any less, but if we lost it ate us up. We'd go back to our apartment and talk about the whole game. Basketball was pretty much all we did. But in general, you just don't see kids in the gym in their spare time the way we were."

To that end, when Burrows spoke to the Mocs Club a few weeks ago, a longtime acquaintance told her that this year's Lady Mocs didn't seem to have the eye of the tiger, that extra passion to succeed that blanketed the Decade of Dominance.

"But that same person called me after [Monday night's] Appalachian State win," Burrows said. "She told me she thought the eye of the tiger was back."

Or at least the Eye of the Grandma.