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What happened?

Daily Sports Writer
Published March 17, 2003

This isn't how it's supposed to go. Once a program is rebuilt, it's not supposed to fall apart again.

After taking over a miserable women's basketball program and leading it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament just two years ago, Sue Guevara has seen her last two teams take nosedives.

Two years in a row, Michigan has started the season strong in the nonconference schedule, but ended it limping to the finish. This season, the Wolverines started off 9-2 before finishing tied for last in the Big Ten (3-13) and 13-16 overall. It was Guevara's first losing season at Michigan, which is remarkable considering the Wolverines finished 7-20 the year before she became head coach.

So what has gone wrong the past two seasons? It appears that what helped Guevara become the winningest coach in Michigan women's basketball history isn't working anymore. Guevara has always tried to transform her players into leaders that are mentally tough. But according to players on this year's team, Guevara's style of coaching, combined with her frustration in losing, has resulted in too much criticism.

Guevara, who was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1999-00, explains the importance of mental toughness and leadership by pointing to her past success.

"I look at an Anne Thorius, who, when the going got tough, she got everybody together and put them on her shoulders," Guevara said of her point guard that led the Wolverines to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the 2000-01 season. "That is tough."

The problem is, no one has assumed Thorius' role since she graduated. Last season, Michigan moved shooting guard Alayne Ingram to the point, something she struggled with all season. This season, the point guard duties were handled by several freshmen, while captain and preseason All-Big Ten pick LeeAnn Bies struggled throughout the Big Ten season at center.

The past two seasons exemplify why Guevara tries to craft players into the mold of an Anne Thorius. So if some feelings get hurt in the process, so be it.

"I talked to a player once because she was upset about the way someone said something to her. And I pulled her off the floor and I said, 'When you play in the Gus Mackers (basketball tournament), don't people talk trash and swear at you and stuff? Do you crumble? Or do you fight? Do you go back at them? What do you do?' "

" 'I go back at them,' " the player said, according to Guevara.

" 'Well, then why can't you do the same thing here?' " Guevara asked. " 'It's the same thing. You have to block that out.' "

From bad to worse

The problem is, some players think Guevara became overly critical once the team started its season-long slide.

"We need motivation and confidence and not any negative things," said a current player who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We need a season when we aren't yelled at for one turnover.

"If we make a mistake, she won't correct it. She will just make them look like an idiot. You can tell by the look on her face. She just makes you feel so stupid."

Guevara claims the negativity is a result of misperception and unavoidable frustration.

Said Guevara: "We can be in the middle of an eight-game winning streak, and I can say, 'What are you doing today? You look out of it today. Are you having a bad day?' And you would take it totally different if we are on an eight-game winning streak or an eight-game losing streak. Now I'm negative, as opposed to just asking you a basic question.

"Players hear what they want to hear, and sometimes, it is the tone in how it is being said, instead of what is being said. I think you try and be as positive and specific as you can, and I know that is how I am. Now if I keep telling someone to do the same thing over and over and over, and I am not getting the results, then (I say), 'Are you hearing what I am saying to you? And if you are, then show me.'"

But from what a second player on the team said about Guevara's negativity, it appears to be a problem no matter how the team is doing on the court.

Said this player: "A teammate once asked me, 'Does Coach G ever tell you good job?' And I had to think about it for awhile and was like, 'I guess not.' " The player added that if she did receive positive feedback, it was said under Guevara's breath and not in front of the team.

The player said Guevara was notified by members on the team about being too critical during the season. The player claimed her coach was more positive after being addressed, but that there was still room for improvement.

"I don't know anything about that," Guevara said, referring to the notification about being too negative.

The player said the team sometimes just stopped listening to Guevara in practice.