Ambitious Goal: New Coach Wants To Win the Big One

Auburn, Ala.--New women's basketball coach Nell Fortner drew cheers from fans on Wednesday evening when she told them that she plans to spend every waking hour in a quest to build a national championship program at Auburn.

Speaking to a gathering of around 500 people on the floor of Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, the former U.S. Olympic women's team coach was not shy about setting the highest goal possible for the Tigers. She told the group that Auburn can win college's basketball's biggest prize and that she plans to do just that as head coach of the Tigers. "We know we can win a national championship here," she said.

Auburn has been very close to winning the big one. Recently retired Joe Ciampi, who directed the Tigers for the past 25 years, led Auburn teams to three Final Fours. Each time the Tigers won the semi-final game, but lost in the championship contest.

Wednesday's event at the coliseum was Fortner's first public appearance since being named head coach to replace Ciampi, who took the Tigers to the second round of the 2004 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament where the Tigers were eliminated by eventual national champion UConn.

The new coach made a pitch to fans to buy season tickets and many of the people who attended the event did just that. They were able to put reserved signs on the courtside seats of their choice that will be their spots to sit throughout the 2004-2005 season. Fortner said her goal is to make AU women's basketball such a happening event that the Tigers will be able to fill the coliseum for home games.

Jeremy Roberts of the athletic department's marketing department, who organized the event, said the meet and greet evening turned out well. "I am obviously pleased, but there is a lot of work to be down," he said. "Coach Fortner is here to help us fill up this place. Hopefully, one day that will happen. She is very energetic and excited about being here. I think there are a lot of people in the community that are happy she is here. That is a good combination.

"Hopefully, we can build on what we started tonight," Roberts added. "We sold around 300 (season) tickets, which is a great start, but there is more than we can do. Our goal is over 1,000, and we are well on our way to that."

Hilary Davis (sitting) and Jeremy Roberts (standing at table) take orders for season tickets.

Roberts said that he and other athletic department staff members will sit down with Fortner in a month or so and work on more ways to promote women's basketball at Auburn. "We will have time to discuss that later because she has been very busy with recruiting, putting a staff together and getting settled into Auburn," he said.

Fortner noted that her staff will be on the job next week and she said that she has gotten calls from coaches around the country congratulating her for being able to line up what Fortner calls a very strong group of assistants to join her at Auburn. Sue Guevara, Kerry Cremeans and Carla McGhee are Auburn's new assistant coaches.

Guevara put together a 123-82 record as the winningest women's head coach at the University of Michigan from 1996-2003. She took her team to three NCAA tournaments, two WNIT appearances and was the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

"I am really excited about the staff," Fortner said. "It has tremendous experience. Sue Guevara has head coaching experience and a lot of assistant coaching experience. She is a high energy person with a lot of great midwest connections."

Cremeans, who coached at the University of Florida last season, was on Fortner's staff during the one year that Fortner was head coach at Purdue in 1996-97. Cremeans coached for seven seasons at Purdue and she was a four-year letterwinner at Florida from 1991-94. "Kerry Cremeans is a tremendous recruiter and a hard worker," Fortner said.

McGhee retired from the WNBA following the 2002 season after playing for the Orlando Magic beginning in 1999. Prior to that, she played pro ball in the ABL and overseas. She played on national championship teams at Tennessee in 1987 and 1989 and won a gold medal for the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics.

"Carla McGehee was a great player at Tennessee, who knows what the SEC is all about and so does Kerry, who played at Florida," Fortner said. "These are two women who played in SEC. Carla was an Olympian who won a gold medal in 1996. She has a great personality. She is good working with players on the floor. I couldn't be happier. I couldn't have put together a better staff.

"Karla will work with the posts," Fortner said. "Kerry and Sue will work with the perimeter players. I will do a little with all of it. There is so much experience with our staff. We have got gold medal winners from the 1996 Olympics and the 2000 Olympics. We have head coaching experience from me and one of my assistants. Kerry Cremeans won a national championship at Purdue and played in another national championship game. It is the experience that is so attractive, but their personalities are what grab you when you meet them. I am just very excited about that."

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