Sports

Louisville's Walz believes in being brutally honest

ST. LOUIS — As a freshman in her second practice, Louisville guard Becky Burke earned the wrath of her new coach last fall after stumbling through a drill three times without getting it right.

She recalls Jeff Walz threatening to "send her butt back to Pennsylvania" and making her fill water cups for 15 minutes while the Cardinals continued to practice.

"I thought, 'What did I get myself into? What's going on?' " she said. "At the beginning of the season, all the freshmen thought he hated us. He wasn't like this before. Why is he yelling at me for tying my shoe wrong? Just everything you did, he was on you."

But it wasn't just the freshmen. Walz has a reputation for being brutally honest with his players in contrast to the pleasant demeanor he exhibits away from practice.

The second-year coach is the first to admit that he likes to get to the point, even if it occasionally means being cruel. Players say that approach is one of the keys to the team's rapid development.

Walz only wishes that more people subscribed to his technique.

"That's what we've done for two years I've been there," he said. "My players, at that moment, might not appreciate it. Every player when they leave the locker room after a game goes back to their parents, and the first thing they say is 'Great job.' Well, it's a lie. Just tell them the truth.

"So, I told our kids after the UConn game (a 75-36 loss), when you walk out there, if your parents say you did a good job, they're lying to you. Just tell them you were awful."

Over time, players learn to accept Walz's harsh words because he draws the line when they leave the court. And ultimately the things he says have an impact.

That was the case Sunday night when he told All-American Angel McCoughtry at halftime that she was an embarrassment after scoring four first-half points and going 0-for-7 from the field against Oklahoma.

She responded with 14 in the second half on 6 of 10 shooting to lift the Cardinals into the championship game.

Point guard Deseree' Byrd said Walz rode her last season for playing a "street ball" style that he wanted her to change. She said the start to her career was "10 times worse" than what this year's freshmen endured.

"He doesn't say things if he thinks it's going to hurt your feelings," she said, before backtracking. "I take that back. He really doesn't care. Some stuff he says shouldn't be said, but that's part of coach Walz's style. He's here to make us better people, and no one else would tell us those things. It helps more than it hurts."

Burke said the criticism sometimes extends to off-the-court moments such as Walz telling a player to fix her hair if her appearance is messy.

Players admit there are moments when they don't like their coach, as happens anywhere. They also express their ultimate approval.

"That's what they appreciate now because they at least know they're going to get the truth," Walz said. "When our kids play well, I'm the first to praise them. So, we motivate by telling the truth and our entire program is based on that. Our players learn to respect that, and that's all I really care about."

The approach has coincided with the program's mercurial rise to national championship contender.

After 12 years as an assistant with four schools, Walz is 60-14 at Louisville. He took the Cardinals to the program's first Sweet 16 appearance in 2008 and was named the rookie coach of the year before moving well beyond that point a year later.

For all she has been through with Walz, McCoughtry rates her coach's motivational skills as a 50 on a scale from 1 to 10. Burke praises him for never telling a lie. Keshia Hines said he has made her a better person.

"He's really, really intense," forward Candyce Bingham said. "But we know in the end he's there for us and will do anything to make us successful.'

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