An Afternoon with Shannon

In an exclusive interview student manager Shannon O'Connor discusses taking stats, running the clock, and wiping up sweat.

Years ago, the fate of Kansas basketball was a beach ball teetering on the nose of a clown on a unicycle peddling down a high wire over a pit of ill-tempered, horny cobras. In other words, it wasn't very certain. With the potential departure of Head Coach Roy Williams, there was no apparent sure fire successor lined up. Is it a mere coincidence that Shannon O'Connor was brought on so recently after Coach Williams' near-departure? Kansas fans can rest assured that -- should Roy be unable to perform his duties in Lawrence for any reason -- our basketball program is in capable hands.

Bill Cross: How did you feel when Roy was thinking about leaving?

Shannon O'Connor: I was a big KU fan, but nothing like I am now. I was really disappointed, but I knew that - with the prestige of our program - we would get a good coach. When he stayed, I was so excited because I knew our program would be so much better with recruiting and the loyalty to the players and the program as a whole.

BC: We understand that, for now, your position on the team is that of "manager". What does this job entail, besides the visible watergirl/towelgirl duties that everyone sees?

SO: We do basically everything but play and coach and administrative stuff. We have to be at the fieldhouse an hour and a half before practice starts. We gather up all the practice stuff. We set up the court, set up the clock, get everything ready. Everything is just minute-to-minute in practice and we have to know exactly where we need to be at exactly what time with what ball and what towel. It's very, very planned. During practice, we take stats, run the clock, help with drills, wipe up sweat, get water. If the players forget something in the locker room or the coaches need something, we help out with that. Then we have to clean up the court; we have to do their laundry; we have to get their towels in the locker room. We have to order food on the days before the game - we have to take all the orders and fax them in. There's so much, that's just day-to-day stuff. Then, every day one of us has to come in and help out in the basketball office for a couple hours. For game days, we have a whole other list of activities that we need to do, then on the road there's even more. Do you want me to explain all of them?

BC: No, I think we get the idea. I was the manager of my high school football team for a year after a back injury, and I absolutely hated being called "the waterboy" (Note: This was, unfortunately, the same year that a certain Adam Sandler movie was released.) Do you ever have the same problem?

SO: I don't really care. I think it's funny. It's really comical to me. I'm referred to as "towel girl behind Roy." That's what everybody calls me. I hate being called a trainer instead of a manager because I don't do anything that a trainer does. I can't take credit for any of the tapings or any of the things that they have to do. I'm not a trainer; I'm a manager, towel girl, whatever. It doesn't really matter.

BC: What is Coach Williams like in practice?

SO: He is very focused. He has one goal in mind, and that's just to be the best team in the world.

BC: Is he more easy-going or easily frustrated?

SO: It's "we'll be here until we get it right." He plans minute-to-minute. But if something doesn't go as planned in one drill, they stay there until we get it right. He obviously recruits guys that are intelligent enough to pick up a play one day and be able to execute it in a game the next day. If they don't, we'll stay there until it's complete.

BC: Besides "dag gummit," have you ever heard him cuss?

SO: These are things that stay in the gym.

BC: Fair enough. How did you become manager?

SO: I was actually manager for our guys basketball team in high school, and it was just so much fun. My best friend and I did it. I came here, and I heard about the managers and whatnot. It's a really hard process to get into. You have to write letters and get letters of recommendation. You send those to the basketball office. From there, I think they go through and they pick fifty or sixty people to work at Coach Williams' camp in the summer. We're actually camp counselors. We kind of run the camp behind C.B. McGrath and Jerod Haase. They do a lot of stuff too. From that, they look and see how you work with the kids, how you work with the coaching staff, the players, and other people in general, how hard you work, your work ethic. They look at how you do with very little sleep and no pay, because that's basically what my life is right now. They put that all together and think, "could he" or "could she fit in our program." I think they do a really good job of picking. It's such a hard process to get into that once you finally get down to actually becoming a manager, they definitely pick the right people. There's usually one or two spots open per year because people graduate

BC: Why did you decide to become a manager?

SO: I honestly never thought that I would be a manager. It was just kind of a fun thing, like "oh yeah, that'd be really cool!" Then Coach (Ben) Miller called me into his office, and I thought he was just gonna ask me to help with Christmas wrapping or something like that, like he does with everybody else. He's like "yeah, we'd like you to join our family." And I was like "Pshya*!. Are you kidding me?" It was a real surprise because I hadn't worked as long as a lot of the other people had. It was a surprise to me. I honestly don't know why (I wanted to be a manager). I just thought it would be really fun, and it has been. I've learned so much and I've met so many amazing people and traveled everywhere.

BC: Do you think there will ever be a female coach in men's college basketball?

SO: Quite possibly. I think, of course, it will be a while. We need some assistant coaches first. I always joke with Coach Williams that I'm going to be a head coach some day, and he's like "Mmhmph*! That's funny!"

BC: Do you think players, of either gender, respond differently to coaches based solely on the gender of the coach?

SO: I think it's more of an issue with guys. I think they would respond differently to a female coach as opposed to females responding differently to a male coach. Male coaches have always been going on in female sports. I don't think it's that much of an issue, but I think that a female coach in a male sport would be an issue. Even being a manager, there are things like after the games, we can't go in there because they're changing. Every time I walk in the locker room, I yell "hello" because I have to make sure nobody's in there. There are just small things like that

BC: Do you feel that being an attractive woman coach would somehow affect your credibility with players on a male team?

SO: It can work for you or it can work against you. It depends on the age, I think. If they were close in age, I think it would be hard. If it was a female Coach Williams' age, and players our age, I don't think it would have any effect. I think the closer in age, obviously, sometimes the male players would not take the female coach as seriously because they look at her in a different way.

BC: Do you closely follow any sports besides college basketball?

SO: No. I love track. I love watching track, but I don't follow any sports.

BC: Do you go to the KU track meets?

SO: Yes.

BC: Don't you love Jimmy Buffet?

SO: What?

BC: You know. Parrotheads, margaritaville…

SO: I...I'm not a huge fan?

BC: Hrmph.


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