FORT WORTH, Texas - Linda Waggoner was a self-described "small-town girl" from Granbury who hadn't seen much of the world until she met Jody Conradt.
To Waggoner, a freshman on Conradt's first University of Texas women's basketball team in 1976, big living would have meant a road trip to Waco. Conradt had other ideas.
"If we went anywhere, Ms. Conradt made sure we saw the sights," said Waggoner, Glen Rose High School's volleyball coach. "She wanted us to have culture on our trips, not just basketball. We flew everywhere and stayed first-rate at Hiltons."
A year after Texas didn't play a game outside its home state, Conradt's Lady Longhorns were jetting off to New York and Philadelphia for nonconference games. No longer were the Lady Longhorns a penny-ante outfit.
From those days of Conradt fighting for her program's legitimacy, she has come far. When No. 17 Texas (11-4, 4-0 in the Big 12) hosts No. 7 Texas Tech (15-1, 4-0) tonight, the Longhorns can give Conradt career victory No. 800 and a place in college basketball's pantheon.
Conradt (799-262) would join current Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (802-158) as the only college women's coaches with 800 victories. Men's basketball coaches Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Jim Phelan, Clarence Gaines and Jerry Johnson all won 800 games, with Gaines and Johnson doing it at the NCAA Division II level.
"It's such a great thing for this sport," Texas Tech women's coach Marsha Sharp said. "Everyone understands what we're up against. Texas is so great at home, and making that happen for coach Conradt in a home atmosphere will be a big factor."
Waggoner said when she played, Conradt often threatened to retire after five or six years. While Conradt didn't rule with the proverbial iron fist, everyone knew she was in charge.
One year, Texas traveled to a tournament in Portland, Ore. The event was sponsored by a wine company.
"They served wine at a banquet, and all the other teams got to drink it," said Waggoner, Conradt's first four-year letter winner. "She didn't let us touch ours. We had to send it back. She wouldn't let us drink."
Conradt was tough enough that Waggoner remembers more than a few recruits leaving the program. The 1976-77 season was only Texas' third in women's basketball, and Conradt was doubling as the school's volleyball coach. Her days were full, and the coach had little time to baby anyone.
"She was a tough coach, but she was a wonderful person," Waggoner said. "For me, she was just an excellent role model."
Eight of Conradt's former players, including Waggoner, were named to various All-America teams. Eleven went on to the WNBA and 22 to professional teams overseas. One, Nell Fortner, coached the 2000 U.S. Olympic team and is now coach of the WNBA's Indiana Fever.
Conradt's recruiting efforts even ventured into Southeast Alaska, as former Juneau and Sitka resident Andrea Lloyd (now Andrea Lloyd Curry) signed up to play for Texas in the mid-1980s.
Lloyd Curry, who graduated from an Idaho high school after brief stints at Juneau and Sitka, was a member of Texas' undefeated NCAA national championship team in 1986 and was a Kodak All-American in 1987. She went on to win a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Lloyd Curry played professional basketball in Italy before returning to the U.S. to play for the Columus Quest of the American Basketball League and with the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA.
"Texas spoiled me, it's so extraordinary here," Lloyd Curry said when she was inducted into the University of Texas Women's Athletics Hall of Fame in November 2002. "As I went on and played pro basketball for 13 years after leaving Texas, as I went on to pursue new things, I don't know if I ever found this 'pursuit of excellence' anywhere else like I found it here at UT."
"I did this because I wanted to, not because of the financial reward," said Conradt, who coached at Sam Houston State (1969-73) and UT-Arlington (1973-76) before arriving at Texas. "Most of us were hired as teachers and educators first, and coached as an aside."