College Sports

KU, Wichita basketball legend Lynette Woodard hired as Winthrop women’s coach

Lynette Woodard speaks Tuesday after being introduced as women’s basketball coach at Winthrop University.
Lynette Woodard speaks Tuesday after being introduced as women’s basketball coach at Winthrop University. Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald

Lynette Woodard wore a sparkling rose pendant on her lapel Tuesday during the news conference introducing her as Winthrop’s new women’s basketball coach.

The pendant was given to her by her late mother, Dorothy, who had a dog named Toto. Woodard is from Kansas, after all.

When Woodard, the basketball Hall of Famer from Wichita who set the women’s career scoring record at KU, was pondering what to say during Tuesday’s gathering, she thought of her mother. The pendant was like a microphone from Dorothy to Lynette telling Winthrop’s coach to use a line from one of her mother’s favorite hymns:

“Time is filled with swift transition.”

“I came in in one vein and now we’re here,” Woodard said. “But my thoughts today are about going forward. Each and every one of these players, I want to pour into them. I’ve had a very illustrious career, but it’s not about me. It’s about them, and what I know that they can do.”

Swift transition aptly describes Woodard’s ascent into Winthrop women’s basketball’s top position. In April 2016, she took a call from former Eagles coach and close friend Kevin Cook offering her a job at the school. It was the same day Muhammad Ali, a hero to Cook and Woodard, died.

“I was in Texas, it was family time, my nephew was graduating and I wasn’t answering the phone for anyone,” Woodard said. “When I saw it was Coach Cook, I knew he was calling to talk to me about Muhammad Ali. When I picked up the phone I said, ‘We lost a soldier.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but that’s not why I called.’ 

Cook got Woodard to visit Rock Hill and she was hired. The first year was difficult, though, the culmination of a continued slide since the Eagles played in the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

Winthrop went 6-55 the last two seasons and double-digit players transferred away from the program in the last three years. Cook’s suspension and eventual agreement with the school to move on left a void filled by Woodard, who became interim coach on Jan. 25 and oversaw the final 12 games without a win. She was grateful to Cook, in the audience Tuesday, for bringing her to Rock Hill and is clearly energized to rebuild Winthrop’s program.

“We’re moving forward. I’m so proud to lead our team, which is right here before you,” Woodard said, pointing to some of the players in attendance. “They’ve been through a lot. But I know that they’re winners in their hearts and we’re gonna work together to get this thing turned around.”

Woodard was a four-time All-American during her college career at Kansas, before becoming the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters. She also won an Olympic gold medal in 1984, played professionally overseas, successfully worked in the stock market and played for a few years in the fledgling WNBA in the late 1990s. She’s also a member of several halls of fame, including the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Now Woodard can add head coach to her resume. Winthrop athletic director Ken Halpin told the gathering that he gets excited talking about doing things that have been done before.

“We have someone here on our staff that’s easily more accomplished than anyone I know in doing things that have never been done before,” he said, as Woodard beamed.