Wisconsin women’s basketball coach Lisa Stone has been up and down the floor a few times, so to speak, in her coaching career, but on Saturday Stone reached a coaching milestone by securing her 500th career victory in a beat down of the Indiana Hoosiers.
Stone has been coaching women’s basketball for the past 26 years, the last eight here at Wisconsin. Stone currently has a career winning percentage over 68 percent. Following last season she earned arguably her most prestigious coaching award, Big Ten Coach of the Year, voted on by her Big Ten peers.
She led the Badgers to Wisconsin’s first appearance in the women’s NCAA tournament since the 2001-2002 campaign last year and currently has this year’s Badgers poised to make a run at a Big Ten Championship and a return trip to the women’s big dance.
The Badgers are 8-3 in conference, good enough for third place in the Big Ten, one-half game behind No. 11/13 Michigan State and one game behind No. 23 Penn State.
Stone’s accolades seem to mean very little in comparison to the cardinal red blood that runs through this UW coach’s veins. Growing up seven miles away from the Kohl Center, in Oregon, Wis., all Stone ever wanted was to be a Badger.
Her dream of playing for the Badgers didn’t pan out however, and she resorted to playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, a la Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s head football coach. Having to leave may have made the homecoming all that much sweeter.
“I have been a Badger fan my entire life and to be able to return home to a dream job,” Stone said using a similar quote to her introductory press conference eight years ago, “I come home to a dream come true. There is not a better job in the world for me, and it’s great to be home.”
After several different coaching stints at places like UW-Eau Claire and Drake, Stone finally made it back to take over a struggling program and has tried to handle the challenges that coaching at a Big Ten university has thrown at her.
“I had never had a losing season before I came to Wisconsin,” Stone said. “It was a program that needed some rebuilding, and I am just proud to say that we have done things the right way. Our players graduate, they are tremendous young women and we have progressively gotten better and better every year.”
Those young women she mentions cannot say enough about their coach. Senior forward Lin Zastrow said she chose Wisconsin because of the sense of family that she got when she visited with the UW coaches during her recruiting visit. She has since become part of that family.
“She showed me that no matter how you feel every day you can still bring 100 percent, and though it may not be the same it still means the most to everyone around you,” Zastrow said. “When you have that personality and bring that every day, the camaraderie and community feel about everything is so much better and you feel like you are family.”
The sense of self-worth that players and coaches have felt from being around Stone is a large factor in why she has been able to build Wisconsin women’s basketball into a Big Ten contender.
“Every program she has been to she has been successful at it,” says Ty Margenthaler, who has been one of Stone’s assistants for the past five years. “I love working with coach because she allows the assistant coaches to coach and not just be on the sideline and cheering. We are really involved in practice [and] game strategy. You couldn’t ask for more as an assistant coach.”
During senior forward Tara Steinbauer’s recruiting process Stone drove to Steinbauer’s high school just to take her out for ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery.
“I just remember thinking what a neat experience,” Steinbauer said. “I had talked to so many coaches on the phone, and it seemed very professional and very … uptight. With coach Stone it was really relaxed and very personal.”
With all of the praise and credit directed at Stone she humbly sidesteps a lot of the recognition and redirects it back at those she cares about most.
“I have had great assistants, I have had great players, I have had a very supportive family,” Stone says.”All those things go into loving what you do. I work with 18 to 22 year old women every single day; they keep me young. They inspire me. I love what I do, and I love this team.”
Five hundred wins may be able to be swept under the rug by Stone herself, but Steinbauer doesn’t think it is something that should be forgotten no matter how important winning the next game and the Big Ten is to Stone.
“A lot of times coach tells us how proud of us she is, and it’s really nice to be able to talk about how proud of our coach we are,” Steinbauer said.