One word has defined new Badgers women’s basketball coach Bobbie Kelsey in her career as both a player at Stanford and an assistant coach at multiple Division I programs.
Kelsey has an extremely distinguished record from her days as a player with Stanford. She was a member of the program’s 1992 national championship squad as a redshirt freshman, as the team made three Final Four appearances in her career. Kelsey also distinguished herself as a leader, serving as a team captain in her junior and senior seasons.
As an assistant coach, Kelsey bounced around from 1996-2007 until she landed an assistant coaching job at her alma mater. From there Kelsey helped coach one of the premier programs in women’s basketball from 2007-2011, as the Cardinal went 137-15, including an unprecedented 69-3 in the Pac-10 (now Pac-12). In that stretch, Stanford won the conference title every season and made it to four consecutive Final Fours, reaching the championship game twice.
Just listing off Kelsey’s resume makes it easy to understand why Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez hired her. For senior forward Anya Covington, her first impression told her all she needed to know about the new head coach.
“I was impressed; she seemed genuine and passionate,” Covington said. “She said for us to expect her to coach us as hard as possible and that she had faith and believed in us. She knows what it takes and she can see that in us as players and show us when we’re not giving what it takes.”
According to Kelsey, she became interested in the program given the year-in and year-out chance it has to bring home a conference crown.
“A lot of things about this job were intriguing,” Kelsey said. “Where [Wisconsin] is, what conference it’s in, I was coming from a conference where the team I worked for had won eleven straight Pac-10 titles. No one has run the tables quite like that in this conference, so it’s an opportunity to compete for the [conference championship]. Once I knew they were seriously interested in me and I had a fair chance to compete for the job, that made everything a bit different.”
Kelsey is focused on bringing her winning ways to the Wisconsin program as women’s basketball in Madison has, for some time, been below par. In the prior eight years under former head coach Lisa Stone, Wisconsin went 128-119 with one NCAA tournament appearance and four trips to the WNIT.
For Kelsey, the first step to righting the Wisconsin ship is to find winners on and off the court.
“I was just sharing with the team that you have to have that competitive fire,” Kelsey said. “No coach I’ve ever known or worked for could put it in a player, either you have it or you don’t. Nobody can make you competitive; you’re just a competitive person, that’s your personality.”
“You want to recruit those players; it makes your job easier. When you recruit you look for the kids that are on championship teams, either in high school or AAU. You look for those champions who understand what it takes at that level and have them take that drive up to the college game.”
Kelsey also sees that winning trait in her squad this season.
“The players we have here are like that,” Kelsey said. “They want to work but I’m coming from a totally different perspective. So it’s going to take some time to turn [the program] around. Not that they don’t want to; it’s just a lot of them haven’t played or aren’t used to being an option. It’s a different thing for them.”
One of the changes Kelsey seeks to bring the Badgers is a new pace and style of play that hopes to leave the Big Ten in the dust. Contrary to the slow, grinding pace Midwest basketball is so often known for, the new head coach hopes to have the Badgers flying up and down the court.
“Everybody has their stereotypes about the Big Ten,” Kelsey said. “Everybody says they play slow ball, so we definitely want to play faster. I want to play exciting basketball, basketball that people want to drudge and fight through the snow to see. We want to get them playing the style that you see on the national level at the NCAA tournament. Nobody’s walking it up at the tournament, if you’re walking it up you probably aren’t at the big dance.”
For Kelsey, success is always something expected, but the new leader of Wisconsin knows that this season will be a work in progress.
“I always expect to succeed but I’m realistic,” Kelsey said. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to win all of our games. That’d be nice, but not even the top people win all their games; there are always glitches here and there. It’s not so much the wins and losses right this minute, it’s more about how we play. You have to steadily improve and play well so the losses are far and few between. You’re going to win more than you lose if you prepare accordingly in practice.”