By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
DALLAS, Texas to HOUSTON, Texas – As the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team studied their scouting reports during the voyage from Dallas to Houston for Sunday's second-round matchup in the WNIT against the Houston Cougars, head coach Kim Rosamond and her staff weren't relaxing on the nearly four-hour trip.
They studied film, took notes, created game plans, figured out travel, food and lodging – and that's just scratching the surface.
Behind every great coach is a great staff, and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle over the course of a season. Rosamond doesn't want to her dedicated staff to go unnoticed as the Golden Eagles continue their postseason run. After all, the effort that "the team behind the team" put in has also played a major role in the team's success this season.
In the beginning, Rosamond had a vision of how she would lead the program back to the glory days that allowed it to become one of the winningest in all of women's basketball. It didn't happen overnight, but the journey has been a fruitful one.
"This program would not have experienced the success it has without Melanie Walls and Allison Clark," Rosamond said. "Those two women have believed in our vision since Day 1, have worked tirelessly on and off the court to help us build a championship culture and have been a huge reason why our players choose Tech and stay at Tech."
"Both Mel and Alli could be head coaches of their own college programs, but they love Cookeville, Tennessee Tech and the players we are able to coach and recruit here."
That was, of course, just the start.
"Mel and Alli helped set the foundation in our first 2 seasons," Rosamond said. "and when we were able to add Emily (Hatfield) and Coach JJ (Jasmine James) to the mix, I truly believe it gave us the best assistant coaches and director of operations in the OVC. If you want confirmation, just ask our players who work with them and get coached by them on a daily basis."
Like an ingredient in a recipe, they all bring something different to the table. Bringing them all together creates something special.
"All four are different in personality, but all four complement me and each other so well," Rosamond said. "Each one has their own unique strength that they bring to the table. Each one is at a different point in their work and professional lives, but also are able to be such great examples for our team. It's very rare that you can find a group of individuals who don't have egos and put the team first, but this staff does it at a high level – and it's why our team reflects that on the court. It's all about making someone else better, and these women make me better every day. The word family is probably overused in sports, but we truly are a basketball family."
When everything comes together the right way, it becomes special. With the combination of this coaching staff and the student-athletes along with it, it means so much for everyone involved.
"The biggest influence in our growth, in my opinion, is our commitment to excellence," Walls said. "Everyone that touches our program is an important part of our success. Coach Rosamond has created a high standards-based program and all those who are a part of it are expected to live up to those standards. Whether it is on the court, in the classroom, or how we go about our daily business, I believe our growth the last four years is largely based on everyone's commitment to those standards of excellence. This team has bought in to the culture and vision of our program. They are tough and passionate which makes them so much fun to coach. The 2021-2022 team will always be remembered as a catalyst for future championships."
James added, "I think that we have great chemistry as a coaching staff. Coach Rosamond, Coach Walls and Coach Alli have been together for six years. Being together since day one has allowed them the opportunity to grow together as a staff in order to get TTU back being one of the top programs in the OVC. Over the last two years, I have joined in on that. Our staff is like our own little team and, furthermore, we are a family. You see the same out of our players – they are a family."
Melanie Walls is the offensive wizard for the Golden Eagle staff, while also overseeing player development, coaching the post players. Before coming to Cookeville, Walls had Division I experience as an assistant at Alabama and Middle Tennessee, earning two Sun Belt Conference championships and NCAA appearances with an upset over No. 4 North Carolina with Rosamond in Murfreesboro. Walls then became the assistant AD, head girls basketball and track coach and a math teacher at the Gatewood School in Georgia.
"Melanie is one of the best X and O coaches I have been around," Rosamond said. "She studies the game, has a brilliant offensive mind, and is constantly working to make our players and team better on and off the court. She is one of the best in-game coaches I have ever coached with – and I have coached with some great assistants and head coaches.
"Mel is a championship coach, and every area that she oversees is run at a championship level. What she has done with our player development and our academics is a testament to her knowledge, commitment and talent. She is a wife, a mother and such a great role model for our players. She inspires us all with how she is able to balance her daily responsibilities and basically be 'Superwoman' while doing it."
Walls also oversees the academic success of the program and, in recent years, the classroom performance has been just as spectacular as the play on the court. With a 3.753 GPA in Spring 2020's COVID semester standing as a high-water mark, the team has seen strong performance, last posting a 3.599 in the Fall 2021 semester. In that period, 15 players had a 3.0 or higher, 11 had a 3.5 or higher and six had a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Spring 2020, Fall 2021 and Spring 2021 are the three highest recorded GPAs in Tech women's basketball history
"My love of the college game is both the level of competitiveness as well as the privilege of being a small part of our young women's lives over the course of their four years at TTU," Walls said. "I believe we make it a priority to instill in them strong values and create experiences that will benefit them once they move on in their careers and lives after college. When I felt the strong urge to return to the college level, I trusted God to provide the right opportunity.
"I had the privilege to coach with Coach Rosamond in the early 2000s at MTSU, so when she accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee Tech, I knew she was the kind of person I would love to work for. She has allowed me to be a wife, mother, and college coach and, for that, I am grateful."
As the Tech program has grown, so has Cookeville. To see the success continue and the surrounding area improve, it's become an attractive place for Walls to stay.
"While both TTU and the city of Cookeville are certainly growing, my family enjoys the comfortable feel of the people here as well as enjoy the fun things to do all around us," Walls said. "(TTU) President (Phil) Oldham and Mayor (Ricky) Shelton are clearly committed to creating both an attractive campus and community as well as a positive experience for all who live here. My family has been blessed to be a part of both for the last six years and look forward to many more."
Allison Clark, a Tennessee Tech legend before even becoming a coach for the Golden Eagles, oversees the team's recruiting, while also serving as the defensive coordinator and works with the guards. A visible figure in the Cookeville community, Clark also oversees the team's fundraising efforts, alumni relations and community service.
Clark held the team's 3-point record until Jordan Brock surpassed her last season. Clark was also named to the TTU Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. She coached at Middle Tennessee and was the head coach at her prep alma mater, Shelbyville Central High, before returning to Cookeville as a member of Jim Davis' staff.
"Coach Alli is one of the best recruiters in the business," Rosamond said. "She is relentless and has such a gift at building relationships. People love and trust Alli, and there is probably not a high school coach in the state of Tennessee that doesn't know her. You win games because of players, and Alli has been the catalyst to the influx of talent we have had within our program over the last six years.
"Her passion and work ethic is contagious. Most early mornings, you will find her on the floor shooting with our players. She's done a great job elevating our guard play and has helped us become one of the best defensive teams in the OVC. Her passion for faith and her commitment to community service has also served as a great example to our players."
Over the course of Rosamond's 6 year-tenure, the coach and her staff have produced five of Tech's 34 1,000-point scorers (Yaktavia Hickson, Jordan Brock, Kesha Brady, Mackenzie Coleman and Anna Jones), collected 10 all-Ohio Valley Conference selections, produced two career record-holders (Jordan Brock – career 3-pointers made, Anacia Wilkinson – career blocks). Under Clark's guidance, the Golden Eagle staff has excelled in recruiting which has led to one of the most successful 4 year-runs in over 20 years.
There's no denying Tennessee Tech and Cookeville are special to Clark.
"When I left Tech in 2003 to take a GA Position at Arkansas, I always knew I wanted to come back to Cookeville one day," Clark said. "Cookeville became my home from 1998-2003. It wasn't just a place I came to compete in college athletics and acquire a quality degree, it became my home. I've always said 'the people make the program' and it's the people that have kept me in Cookeville and my love for Tennessee Tech and the Cookeville community. It's home. And home is always where your heart is."
"Being a student-athlete is not easy," Clark said. "It's the people around you help make your college days enjoyable. This year's team is probably the closest team we've had since I've been back at Tech. They love each other and they enjoy playing with each other. When you watch our team, you see the power of touch and with that power of touch comes trust. Without trust you don't have success. You see our huddles with our arms wrapped around each other. This team truly enjoys being with one another and they have embraced the good times and bad times.
"Through the adversity we've had to endure this season, this team has just kept battling and shown perseverance and grit in getting this program to places we haven't been in a long time. As their coach and alum, I thank them for all their hard work and dedication over these past few years in getting this program back to where it belongs. This team has been a joy to not only coach, but to be around as people. I don't have any children, but I love this team like they are my own kids."
Jasmine James works with Coach Walls on the offense, while also working with recruiting efforts. She also oversees the development with the point guards. A standout at the University of Georgia, James was drafted by the WNBA's Seattle Storm and played for the Phoenix Mercury. She also was the head coach for her alma mater – Bartlett High – then became the director of basketball operations at SIUE.
"Coach JJ is a rising star in women's basketball," Rosamond said. "She has been a great complement to our staff and has added so much from a player development and player relationship standpoint. It is so important to have a 'youthful' coach on staff who can be a connector and be willing to help us 'veteran' coaches continue to grow and understand today's players. That is Coach JJ for us."
"She has the perfect perspective as both a star player and now coach. JJ has instant credibility with kids because of her elite career, and she just solidifies that credibility the minute she gets on the floor in workouts because she is so good with player development."
From her work with the point guards and assisting with recruiting, even in such a short time, James has been an important piece to the puzzle, pushing her young charges to be better and helping bring in the talent to help continue the team's rise.
"I tell them all of the time that the point guard sets the tone for the team so I hold them accountable and push them to be the best floor leaders possible with their pace, ability to control the game, and communication," James said. "Coach Alli is the recruiting coordinator, but I try to fill in as much as possible to help lighten her load in whatever ways she needs me to do so. Going out on the road recruiting, building relationships with recruits, and building relationships with coaches."
The newest member of the staff, James came into the program at an interesting time. However, that led to what she has enjoyed the most about being a member of this staff.
"Truly getting to know everyone and building relationships has been the best part," James said. "When I initially came to Tech two years ago, it was in the midst of COVID and during a time when the restrictions were pretty strict. As a result, I spent a lot of time staying away from people, did not get the opportunity to have as many in-depth conversations to get to know everyone the way that I would have liked, and also did not get to enjoy much around the city. It was crucial that we stayed in our bubble and tried our best to stay COVID-free, which I was committed to. What I have enjoyed most though is truly getting to know everyone and build relationships with our players and our staff. I caught myself almost in tears last week after the OVC tournament game, primarily because I love this team so much – not just for basketball but because who they are as people.
For Emily Hatfield, the team's director of basketball operations, the hours seem long. From coordinating travel, food and hotels, to creating schedules for the team to follow during the season, to organizing the staff of managers, to video coordinator tasks and even some social media thrown in for good measure, there's a lot to do and sometimes the hours just fly by. But as the right hand for Coach Rosamond, Hatfield has gone above and beyond in the role to make sure the day-by-day operations go as smoothly as possible.
"My role is to make sure the team has everything they need to give them the best chance to be successful," Hatfield said. "I have a great group of managers, and we work behind the scenes to support the coaches so they don't have to worry about anything."
Rosamond said, "Emily is the glue. As good as our assistant coaches are, they will all tell you we function at an elite level because of Emily Hatfield. She joined us as a volunteer manager four years ago and basically worked for free for an entire year. She showed up every day and worked like she had a six-figure salary. She is smart, organized, a forward-thinker and one of the most driven young women I have ever been around. We have been so fortunate to have her as our director of operations. She will be an assistant coach on the Division I level in the very near future, and her future in this profession is so bright."
Of course, Tennessee Tech is a family tradition for Hatfield. Her mother, Melinda Clayton Hatfield, is a former Tech women's basketball player herself and a Tech Sports Hall of Famer. Her father, Bruce Hatfield, had a legendary high school coaching career after his Tech playing days and is currently the linebackers coach for Dewayne Alexander's football staff.
"I've always had a strong connection with Tech since my parents are alumni," Hatfield said. "My dad was a football player and my mom was an Eaglette with three OVC championships. Coming to Tech just felt like coming home. My parents love the program and are so supportive."
Over the last four seasons, the Tech women have steadily improved, creating one of the top turnarounds in NCAA Division I in 2018-19 to being a contender for the Ohio Valley Conference championship. In a short amount of time, the program has grown by leaps and bounds, celebrating the team's heritage of success by standing among some of the best players to suit up in the Purple and Gold.
"The culture of a program is so important in college athletics," Clark said. "As coaches, it's our responsibility to not only teach basketball, but prepare and teach life lessons for life after basketball. Coach Rosamond has done a tremendous job of creating a family culture. We live our S.O.A.R. culture every day by serving others, owning it, acquiring knowledge and responding positive in all circumstances.
"This program is back at the top of the OVC because of the love this team has for each other and the culture we work to cultivate each day. Over these past four years, not only have we developed a strong culture, but we have created a championship mentality. When you love your players, you can push them to be the best they can be."
It's talked about how close the Tech women's players are and that special bond that they have. The same extends to the coaching staff. It's a tight-knit group and with the chemistry they have, it reflects down to the Golden Eagle team.
"(This group is) Special," Hatfield said. "This year's team is so unique because the seniors made the decision to come back. They are leaders and the way the team has welcomed the transfers is awesome. After the COVID year, the team knew they had unfinished business. They decided to show up every day to win. This team is fun. They are fun to be around and it's fun to be a part of this team."
The team behind the team has helped build up the Golden Eagles to where they are and this is only the beginning. There's still more to come and they're looking forward to the journey.
Rosamond said, "At the end of the day, Coach Pat Summitt said it best – 'You win in life with people.' Plain and simple, this program is winning every day because of Melanie Walls, Alli Clark, Jasmine James, Emily Hatfield and the amazing players they have brought to Tennessee Tech."