INDIANAPOLIS – Gail Goestenkors vividly remembers the turning point in her coaching career.
It was the 1999 NCAA regional final in Greensboro, North Carolina. Goestenkors’ Duke Blue Devils met the University of Tennessee, which began the ’99 tournament with hopes of winning a fourth consecutive national championship.
Duke made sure that didn’t happen.
And the Blue Devils began a march of success under Goestenkors that impacts the program to this day.
“That was a big program-changer for us,” Goestenkors, now an assistant coach with the Indiana Fever, said about Duke’s 69-63 victory over Tennessee. “It was really one of those David-versus-Goliath situations. I think that kind of put us on the map where people started to take notice of who Duke was.”
Folks noticed Duke, and they noticed Goestenkors. That particular Blue Devils team went on to play in the 1999 national title game, losing to Purdue. Goestenkors went on to build a 396-99 record with four Final Four appearances in 15 years at Duke and then a 102-64 mark in five years at Texas.
PHOTO GALLERY: Goestenkors’ Coaching Career
Goestenkors, 52, will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Stephanie White, the Fever’s head coach, views it as a much-deserved honor for her assistant. Ironically, it was White’s performance as a player that pushed Purdue to its national final victory over Duke in 1999. And current Fever star Tamika Catchings was a standout on the Tennessee squad that Duke upset one week earlier.
What Goestenkors did at Duke, constructing a perennial national contender out of a women’s program with little tradition, is Hall of Fame stuff, White said.
“It’s really a testament not only to her ability to recruit great players but also to her ability to … develop players individually and collectively. She’s got a different energy and poise and toughness about her.”
Saturday night, Goestenkors plans to remember her parents first in her induction speech.
“They were my first coaches as far as teaching me how to set goals and the work ethic it takes to attain your goals,” Goestenkors said.
Goestenkors played collegiately at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. She walked on to the program and helped her team to a 114-13 record over four years. She scored 1,158 points and recorded 469 assists.
Marsha Reall, who was Saginaw Valley State’s coach, will present her former player for Saturday night’s induction.
“She gave me my start as a walk-on,” Goestenkors said about Reall. “I owe a great deal to her. She saw something in me and nurtured my passion for the game.”
Goestenkors found out last July that she would be a member of this year’s Hall of Fame class. In another bit of irony, she learned of the honor on the same day she resigned as an assistant with the Los Angeles Sparks. Goestenkors resigned out of loyalty to Carol Ross, who had been fired as the Sparks head coach.
“It shows the ups and downs of the game of basketball and really sports in general,” Goestenkors said. “(When the Hall of Fame called) I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ I was a little bit in disbelief.”
Goestenkors paused, thought about her coaching career for a moment and smiled.
“I feel very fortunate, feel very blessed throughout my career for all the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had,” she said.