Mitchell gets help from a pal

By Gerry Fall, Santa Barbara News-Press

There are countless examples in life of a person who will go to great lengths to help out a friend. Whether at a grave time or a moment of need or just someone who performs a simple task that makes another's life a little easier, they crop up every day.

In the case of legendary Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer and her loyalty and commitment to one of her former assistants and close friend, UCSB women's coach Carlene Mitchell, this one is off the charts.

Stringer, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside Michael Jordan, John Stockton David Robinson and Jerry Sloan, will be the keynote speaker for the Gaucho women's basketball team's annual golf tournament and dinner fundraiser on Oct. 8 at the Montecito Country Club.

What's remarkable about the whole thing is that when Oct. 8 rolls around, the Scarlet Knights will have started preseason practices like every other college team in the country. Rutgers' only day off that week is the day Stringer will speak at the fundraiser.

"She will practice early that morning on Sunday so she can fly in here and get here at a reasonable hour, and then she will take a red-eye (after the event) and land in time to attend practice on Tuesday," Mitchell said.

It would be one thing if Stringer coached anywhere in the West, really. But she doesn't. She runs the show in Piscataway, N.J., where she's been since 1995.

It is a tremendous gesture by Stringer toward Mitchell, who served on Stringer's bench for 10 seasons before UCSB athletic director Mark Massari made one heck of a hire. And if you think Stringer is doing it for a healthy speaking fee, you're wrong. UCSB is picking up her plane ticket and hotel for one night. That's it.

She is entering her 41st season as a college head coach in a career that has produced countless accolades. One of them was being the first bench boss on the men's or women's side to take three schools, Cheyney State in 1982, Iowa in 1993 and Rutgers in 2000 and 2007, to the Final Four.

"She has this ability to create a team atmosphere, and I think it's off the court as well, where the kids respect her so much," Mitchell said.

As for coach Stringer's life outside of basketball, it's been filled with more adversity than most will ever know: Hard times that include the death of a husband on Thanksgiving a number of years ago, as well as her own battle with cancer.

"Her Philosophy is the same as mine, it's a no-excuse approach," Mitchell said. "That's how she handles life and adversity and that's how her teams play; no excuses, no matter if it's injuries, officials or playing on the road."

Mitchell, who is entering her second season at UCSB after guiding the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament last year, said she struggled with asking her dear friend for this kind of a favor.

"I was a little torn in asking her to help out, but then again that's just how strongly I feel about our relationship," she said. "But getting this program to where it needs to be, I think someone of her caliber and stature will show this community about how serious I am about getting this to be a top-notch program."

Coach Stringer is an inspiration to anyone, whether they know what a pick-and-roll is, or not. And Oct. 8 will be our opportunity to be inspired by a champion, in every sense of the word.

"A lot of times, unfortunately, it will be after their gone that people will truly appreciate them. But I think the thing with Coach is that it's not about the championships. ... I think it's about the impact she has on the women's lives where they continue to come back, and the family atmosphere she creates," Mitchell added. "Her legacy will be more than championships. She has impacted the lives of a lot of people."

Gerry Fall has been covering sports in Santa Barbara County for 19 years. His column appears every Sunday. Email: gfall@newspress.com

For information on next Monday's "Links and a Legend" event, click here or contact Christina Baglas at Christina.Baglas@athletics.ucsb.edu or at (805) 893-5372. To watch the video advertising the event, click here.