Hall of Fame induction causes Jim Foster to circle back through his past

Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 9:54pm

KNOXVILLE – As he accepted induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Jim Foster thought of the circle.

Not the one that represented his own coaching career, which many might consider complete given that it spans more than four decades, boasts a rare level of success at multiple institutions and now includes a place as one of six members of the Hall’s 15th class.

Instead, he was struck by the image of the circle that he and his players at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State formed at the start of every practice. It was there that he framed the mindset he wanted that particular day or imparted some type of non-basketball lesson, whatever he felt was more important at the time.

“All of those circles contained different people,” he said in his speech. “What this [induction] did was bring a lot of those people from a lot of those circles together. … I couldn’t be happier to have those people from those institutions here.”

Foster was inducted along with Texas A&M coach Gary Blair and former players Jennifer Rizzotti (Connecticut), Peggie Gillom-Granderson (Mississippi), Annette Smith-Knight (Texas) and Sue Wicks (Rutgers) as the number of those enshrined grew to 133.

In so doing he became the first member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame who played or coached at Vanderbilt, where he went 256-99 in 11 seasons (1991-2002) and guided the Commodores to their only Final Four appearance. He was the program’s all-time leader in wins until last season. He also recruited and/or coached three of the program’s four All-Americans, including Chantelle Anderson, the school’s only two-time All-American and its all-time leading scorer.

Vanderbilt had no official representation at the event by members of university administration or the athletics department. Three former players, Sheri Sam (1993-96), Mara Cunningham (1993-96) and Katie Janky (1996-99) all traveled from out of state to be there. Also in attendance was musician/author Marshall Chapman, who began a women’s basketball scholarship endowment during Foster’s tenure.

“It was interesting,” Foster said after the ceremony. “It’s always good to see folks from your past. In this case there were some players from 30 years ago, and a large number. You just think about their successes. I mean, there were two PhDs here.”

Even so, his focus remains on the future.

Foster is one of only two basketball coaches – men’s or women’s – to win at least 200 games at three different Division I institutions. He was 248-126 at St. Joseph’s (1978-91) and 279-82 at Ohio State (2002-13), which fired him in March after an 18-13 season

Rather than take his place in the Hall of Fame and settle into retirement, though, he recently took over the program at Chattanooga.

“You sit down and you think [about] what you want to do next,” he said. “At this point in time this is what’s next. This is what I want to do next.

“… For 40 years I’ve been in the gym and this will be the 41st. So in that sense, I don’t think anything is different. There’s still going to be a circle on the floor.”

It is in that circle that he will gather his new players for their first practice this October and for every one that follows.

“You have to start practice in some manner,” Foster said. “There is a circle in the middle of the basketball court. That’s where you’re going to be for a couple hours so you start there. You have to be in. You can’t be out.”

When it comes to women’s basketball’s all-time greats, he is in to stay.