A week beyond his 750th career victory, Joe Foley demurred his grand introduction at the Downtown Tip Off Club luncheon Monday afternoon in Little Rock.
He is the four-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year who led the University of Arkansas at Little Rock women's basketball program to its first 20-victory season in 2006, its first NIT Tournament in 2007 and its first NCAA Tournament in 2010.
"You go back over all that and we'll be done," Foley said, the crowd laughing in the conference hall at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock.
Before the hundreds of victories, Foley said, there was a trailer next to the Oxford High School gymnasium, where he'd stay late into the night coaching all the levels of basketball from 1979-1981.
It was where his girls varsity team once won a game after foul trouble left just two players on the court.
"There looked like there was three because some of the lights were out," he said.
It was where his boys varsity team once lost in triple overtime because he couldn't solve a 1-3-1 half-court trap.
"That stuck with me all these years, because I wasn't prepared," he said.
Foley said it may have been the best job he ever had. Perhaps it was because of its simplicity, the grass-roots innocence of small-town ball.
Nearly 40 years later, after his ascension from Oxford to Arkansas Tech to UALR, Foley intimated some of the game has lost its luster. It's the higher rate of collegiate transfers ("Loyalty, that's what's missing.); the player-compensation debate ("They don't need to be paid."); the inflated salaries of coaches ("Coaches don't need to be paid $6 million."); and the "entitlement" of an entire generation ("These millienials, they're something else.").
The fight against these forces keeps Foley tied to the game. Coaching, he said, is teaching kids the values to be successful. Basketball then will take care of itself.
Foley left Arkansas Tech University for UALR after 14 conference championships and two NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993.
The Trojans had only 100 victories in the 14 seasons before Foley arrived in 2003, and the program was without a winning season.
Foley said he asked former Razorback and NBA center Joe Kleine to help out with his post players during that first season. Kleine arrived at practice and asked who his posts were.
"Pick your five and go work with them," Foley said. "All we had were 5-7 players."
Fifteen seasons and 296 victories later, Foley has a new challenge.
On Saturday, UALR (7-8, 4-0 Sun Belt) beat Georgia Southern 64-34 to earn the program's second consecutive 4-0 start in conference play. The Trojans, which beat Oklahoma 68-56 on Nov. 28, are beating their conference opponents by an average of 25 points.
"They've won four conference games, but about three weeks ago, I said, 'You guys are so worried about yourself that you don't even know what a team is,' " Foley said. "'You don't know what you're supposed to be doing together, and I'm tired of watching you play.'"
The Trojans were 3-8 at the time and had lost four consecutive games to Louisiana Tech, No. 3 Mississippi State, Kansas State and LSU.
Foley took away the Trojan-emblazoned practice jerseys and placed them in a closet.
"We haven't worn practice gear with Trojans or Little Rock on it in three weeks," he said. "And may not. May not. Because to me personally, if you don't put your teammates first, you don't need to play."
Foley addressed why the team's leading scorer, junior forward Ronjanae DeGray (12.8 points per game), isn't starting.
"Before I benched her, she was averaging six points," he said. "There's a reason that bench is over there. It's to get their attention. To me, Bobby Knight said it best: 'That bench goes straight from the butt to the brain.' "
Sensing the crowd -- which included the Tip Off Club's Player of the Week, Little Rock Christian junior Reagan Bradley -- Foley added "sometimes I can get pretty tough."
"So, Reagan, this is not a recruiting spiel, but it will tell you how I am. It will help you make a decision. Everybody knows we're recruiting her, that's all I'm allowed to say today. If you think we're dumb enough not to recruit her, you're crazy."
"I'm looking for challenges," Foley closed. "I've got a good challenge this year. And after that, we'll look for some more."
Sports on 01/09/2018
Print Headline: Foley lets views fly at luncheon