Jane Albright is the women’s basketball coach at the University of Nevada, Reno, and she recently reached a wins mark that only roughly 50 other women’s collegiate coaches have accomplished in their careers.
We often attribute a coach’s success by the number of wins that they get as a head coach, but Albright is a different kind of coach that relies heavily on her faith and what she has learned from former coaches and mentors like Pat Summitt, Kay Yow and John Wooden. All of these names are among the best college coaches to ever step foot on the hardwood, and Albright had the pleasure of learning from each of them.
I’ve had the chance to sit down with Coach Albright a couple of times over the last six months. I first spoke with her in August 2015 about how she became the coach that she is today and what the season might hold for her team. A lot has changed since then, yet she maintains a positive attitude and a calm, faithful demeanor.
Her 500th win didn’t come to her as quickly as she expected it to during the 2015-16 season, but she still reached it when her team beat Mountain West conference foe San Diego State 70-64 win on Jan. 27.
As I sat down and spoke with her on Thursday, we casually talked about the past few games and how her team has fought hard after facing adversity during the first week of the season.
DB: Once you picked up win No. 500, how did it make you feel? Was it any different than any other win for you?
JA: I felt loved. Just the way my players were in the locker room, you know. I heard from people that I hadn’t heard from in a really long time.
The way the world is now with social media, where anyone can find you, our university [Nevada] did a really good job of setting up the last four or five days; just getting the word out there.
I got flowers and cards, and heard from kids I hadn’t heard from in a long time. Former staff and other coaches as well; I just felt really loved.
DB: The video tribute to you reaching 500 was just another avenue of that and was really cool to see. Nevada did a really good job with that.
JA: They did a really good job and even kept some stuff from me.
They had a lot of time to work on it because of the three injuries we had to our starters.
The [500 wins] poster that they did for me was really cool. Our radio guy, Don, even asked me if I remembered who my first win was against. I had no idea where it was; then I looked at the poster and it was Indiana State. So, I didn’t know that (laughs).
DB: That poster was impressive and Nevada did nice work with that.
JA: I’m really blessed to work at a school that values people, and I think the way they did things was a really great gift.
DB: I think the community [Reno-Sparks] can be very supportive, and having grown up here, I’ve seen things change in terms of support of the school.
It used to be that Nevada was more of a football school and not many people would go watch a basketball game. But going to see some of the women’s games recently, it was nice seeing some of the same people and getting to talk with them.
The community does have work to do, but it seems that they are starting to intertwine with the school a little more. With the diversity here, it is hard for the school to get people to come out for the games because we have Lake Tahoe, Mt. Rose and some other things. There is so much to do here, it kind of pulls away from supporting the college many times.
JA: Well, the people that come to our games are very passionate for women’s athletics and for what our team stands for. Our team is heavily involved in the community and giving back and many of those people appreciate it, and it should be like that.
This community is really important to us and we are blessed.
DB: And it teaches your girls the importance of community, which is in line with your servant leadership approach. It ties in with a biblical approach that you have with your girls. You understand and teach them that they are more than athletes and students and you want them to become better young women.
When they move on, you’ve helped them build a foundation for living and being better people.
JA: The one thing we’ve learned this year is that everyone has had a season of life like we are having. When you’re expecting something big to happen — we think we can compete for a championship and have everything in place — and three starters go down with season-ending injuries.
We have really struggled and have been beat by 40 points, but they haven’t quit, and everyone has been through that. Watching my team persevere and compete — one time through conference — we’ve been in every game. Everybody got better and we’ve competed and they’ve become an unselfish team; I think that is what has been special about the year.
DB: Again, it goes back to life and how you deal with adversity.
What are some of the things that you tell some of your younger players when you are in that situation? It’s go time now and you’re learning on the run.
JA: When we got back from Christmas, it was very obvious to me that I was more excited to be back than they were. They are 18-22, and I’m older than that, and I think the Lord helped me understand that we’ve had our brains beat out and they really didn’t think they could win.
We went right to “Project believe” to teach them that we’ve got to believe this before we can do it. We’ve talked about having faith of a mustard seed, and we even separated them into who believed in the team this season and who didn’t. We had about six people in the non-belief group and some in the belief group, and told them that the goal is to get everyone into the believe group. You have to decide if we can do this, and we had one player in a game say, “I believe coach, I believe!”
They went downtown and had pictures made with the believe sign and we’ve told them that it isn’t magic. The definition of faith is believing in something when you don’t see it, and you have to just keep working. We can choose to continue to work hard and better ourselves, and they believe we can win any game now.