UL women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead is as grassroots as it gets for a college basketball coach.
He remembers when the love affair began.
He was a 17-year-old track standout of Comeaux High on his way to competing for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Already involved in coaching a youth recreation team with his future brother-in-law Dale Doucet, Brodhead soon discovered there wasn’t a girls biddy basketball program in Lafayette.
While watching a handful of girls playing on co-ed teams, his initial observations changed his life.
The excitement for the UL football season is building toward the much-anticipated Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 4 at Cajun Field.
“I was amazed,” Brodhead said. “I never realized the self-confidence wasn’t in them.
“The little guys would come in, they were shooting the ball, and they were running up and down. You couldn’t control them. The little girls would just kind of sit mild and quietly and meek.”
He soon noticed that once the girls were taught how to dribble and pass, their self-confidence soared.
“It was amazing how a sport can do this,” he said. “I just got hooked.”
More than 40 years later, Brodhead continues a passion for teaching female athletes and growing the sport of women’s basketball.
That’s why he’s so excited about his defending Sun Belt Conference champion Ragin’ Cajuns hosting the LSU Tigers and their legendary new coach Kim Mulkey at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Cajundome.
“She’s one of the promoters for women’s sports,” Brodhead said of Mulkey. “I’ve always respected that about her. She’s a competitor, but not just about herself but for the whole sport.”
This could be the most interesting season in coach Garry Brodhead’s decade as the coach of the UL women’s basketball program.
Brodhead and his late wife Andrea discovered that two decades ago as Mulkey was leaving Louisiana Tech to take over Baylor’s program.
The Brodheads’ local biddy girls program was hosting a 50-team national youth tournament and needed a guest speaker for the event. Hearing about Mulkey's move to Baylor, the couple looked at each other and asked, “Can we get Kim Mulkey?”
He made the call.
“I’m in," she said. "I’m coming to Louisiana. I want to come back."
Sure, the Olympic gold medalist and future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer wanted to promote her new program, but she also wanted to boost the sport.
“It’s really not about us, but it’s about the sport and what we can do for it,” Brodhead said. “I think that’s going to be the big thing.”
After being told for years that he wasn’t qualified for his dream job as the UL women's coach, Brodhead is now the winningest coach in the program’s history and just won the first Sun Belt title for the school.
Now he’s on a mission to get the UL community to support his players like it does for other sports.
“Being from here in Lafayette, I don’t see why fans aren’t just excited about our university,” he said.
In the preseason, UL women’s coach Garry Brodhead advised to keep an eye on for freshman forward Tamera Johnson this season.
He said he would die a happy man if 10% of the fans attending UL football games would support his program.
“They don’t really have to love women’s basketball,” he said. “Just come out. Right now is the time. All of a sudden, you’ve got one of the best coaches in America coming to play us.
“The buzz is, 'Man, we’ve got the best football team in the state … great fans, so why wouldn’t you come enjoy both?' " Broadhead said. "Honestly, I don’t care if you cheer for LSU. We want fans. I want to grow this game. I’m here and getting toward the end of my career, and man, I’m never going to stop loving women’s basketball.”
Brodhead hopes the LSU game draws 5,000 to 6,000 spectators.
He's not picky about the reasons for attendance, either.
“I’m from here,” he said. “If you just come because I’m from here, I’m cool with that. Whatever your reason, I’m trying to give you a reason to support a women’s sport. I know we’re not softball, but we’re fighting to become that.
“I hear it all the time, ‘Bring some good teams in here and we’ll come.’ Well, here you go. Here’s a great program that’s going to be really good under a really good coach. So let’s see how we can do against a really good coach and try to grow our program also.”
He’s spot on about the rarity of a game like Thursday’s contest. Other than mandatory road games in the SEC schedule, this is LSU’s only road game this season.
On the court, the Cajuns are off to a 2-0 start with a huge road win over defending Women's NIT champion Rice on Saturday. LSU is 1-1 and coming off an 88-74 loss to Florida Gulf Coast, which has a 108-16 record since 2017, on Sunday. The Tigers fell victim to 14-of-25 shooting from 3-point land.
“I think the key is going to be, can we make shots and defend their bigs and keep the bigs in the middle of the court?” Brodhead said. “We’ve got to run. We’re playing 10 kids, 11 kids, right now, so I think that’s going to be able to help us to rotate some people in and out.”
LSU has nine players 6-foot-2 or taller, including a pair of 6-5 posts, compared to none for the Cajuns.
“They’re just a lot bigger than us, and how are we going to handle that?” Brodhead said. “Keeping them to one shot is going to be a challenge for us.
“I’ve always felt a Kim Mulkey team could really defend. She makes you really, really take care of the ball. If you don’t take care of the ball, she’s going to make you pay for it. They create offense off of turnovers. Their defense is their offense.”