Carbondale woman continues stellar career | PostIndependent.com

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Carbondale woman continues stellar career

Photo courtesy of Montana State UniversityTricia Bader-Binford, the head women's basketball coach at Montana State University, instructs her players during a game. The Roaring Fork High School graduate led the Rams to three straight state titles before moving on to play at Boise State University and in the WNBA.

BOZEMAN, Mont. ” Whatever Tricia Bader-Binford has put her mind to, she has accomplished.

Whether it was beating her brother in a game of 1-on-1, bucking the odds and emerging from the Roaring Fork Valley to play Division I basketball or playing in the WNBA at just 5-foot-4, Bader-Binford’s found a way to make it happen.

“If she decides she’s going to do something, she does it,” said her mother, Lyn Bader. “She’s very strong.”

That strength has carried Bader-Binford, who graduated from Roaring Fork High School in 1991 after leading the tiny school to three straight state girls basketball titles, to heights rarely reached by Western Coloradans.

First came a storied collegiate career at Boise State University, where the diminutive point guard poured in 1,171 career points and left the school as its all-time assists leader.

Then came a professional career that took root overseas in Australia and ended with a lengthy stint in the WNBA with the Utah Starzz and Cleveland Rockers.

Now, Bader-Binford is thriving in her transition from player to coach as she enters her fourth season as head coach at Montana State University, where she’s taken the program from the depths of a 3-23 campaign in 2005-06 to an 18-13 showing this past season.

“It’s going really good,” she said. “Every year, we’ve been able to make big jumps. Every year, we get closer to the style of play we want. It’s a building process.”

And it’s a building process that Bader-Binford intends to see through. She’s loving life in Bozeman, Mont., where she and her husband, Todd, are raising their 4-year-old son, Justin. The couple’s expecting a second child, a girl, in August.

Her family’s happiness and her want to cultivate a basketball legacy at Montana State should keep her up north for some time.

“My family is extremely happy,” she said. “Every decision I’ve made since I’ve been married has been about that. That’s always been No. 1. No. 2 is the program. I came out to MSU to build a program of great stability, to create a championship program. We want to go to the NCAAs. We want to sell out [Brick Breeden Fieldhouse]. We want the Big Sky to be represented in the NCAA tournament beyond the first round. Those are some fun challenges.”

Unless you’re a skier or snowboarder, the odds weigh heavily against a Western Sloper carving out a professional sports career. It simply doesn’t happen that often.

Another thing that doesn’t often happen: Making the WNBA at 5-foot-4.

But long odds did little to abate Bader-Binford’s path to the big time. As a youngster growing up in tiny Carbondale, she’d always seek out the highest level of competition.

“She went out of her way to find people better than her, older than her, to play against,” Lyn Bader recalled.

Bader-Binford’s older sister, Kristin Hall, remembers intense hoops competition between the three Bader children ” Tricia, Kristin and Jeff.

“That probably does have a lot to do with her success,” Hall said of little sister, the baby of the family. “[Jeff] would play against her all the time. One of the funny stories I remember is that one day he came in and he was very mad. Mom asked, ‘What happened?'” He said, ‘She finally beat me!'”

Jack Smith, the head girls basketball coach at Rifle High School during Bader-Binford’s prep heyday, shared a similar recollection.

“All she ever did was play against the boys,” he said. “She played just like a boy.”

Her skills constantly improved as she grew older, and Bader-Binford’s work ethic was second to none.

“From day one, I wanted to become the best basketball player I could,” she said. “That’s ultimately what I focused on.”

She paid no mind to her size or where she grew up. It’s always been about basketball for Bader-Binford, even though opportunities beyond high school were relative unknowns to her as a result of her rural upbringing.

“When I was growing up, the WNBA wasn’t established,” she said. “I didn’t even see a collegiate game until I played in my first one. I never had the opportunity to watch CU or CSU. They were always playing far away. My role models were my brother and sister, my parents, Rhonda Henderson. My junior year in college, my assistant coach approached me about the possibility of playing overseas. I didn’t even know about those opportunities.”

By simply playing the game to the best of her ability, those opportunities came in droves.

And, though it didn’t come easily, she took full advantage.

“If somebody ultimately really wants to pursue something, they have to understand a lot of sacrifices have to be made,” Bader-Binford explained. “They have to be truly passionate about it. No. 1, you have to want it enough to put that type of commitment in. No. 2, you have to find situations to really challenge yourself. It’s easy to put yourself in a comfort zone.

“My brother was the first sign for me. I went against him every day in the driveway. He’ll still say I never beat him in 1-on-1. Things like that make a world of difference.”

That kind of work ethic is a coach’s dream.

Roaring Fork boys basketball coach Larry Williams, who started as an assistant with the girls program during Bader-Binford’s freshman year, witnessed firsthand Bader-Binford’s unflappable determination. To this day, he evokes her story.

“Not only coming from a small place but her small stature,” he said. “Every year and every sport I’ve coached, I’ve used her as a reference to how far heart and dedication can take you. She’s a great example.”

Bader-Binford’s found her calling as a coach.

Her coaching career began back in 1999 at Boise State, where she’d return during the WNBA offseason as an assistant coach.

“I was living in Boise in the offseason and doing camps,” she said. “The first time I was introduced to the other side of it, I loved it from there.”

Having herself won at all levels of the game, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Bader-Binford’s Bobcats are traveling a winning path under her leadership.

“From the coaching element, it’s ultimately about the student-athlete,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting everybody on the same page of what’s best for the program, rather than on individual needs. To get a student-athlete to value a role and maybe playing less minutes than a star, to take just as much pride in that, is always a challenge. It takes a lot of molding, a lot of building chemistry.”

Chemistry is something she knows from her days at Roaring Fork, where a selfless group of gym rats joined forces for a dynastic run.

“Those championships are pretty special,” Bader-Binford said. “I think what I really appreciate is the players we had on those teams. Those things only come around every so often. We had so many gym rats with such a passion for the game. Every player served their role with great pride. I try to take a lot of those experiences into coaching, even at the college level.

“That’s why we were really good at Roaring Fork. We may have had some players that didn’t score as many points, but we had some of the best rebounders, some of the best passers, some of the best defenders and some of the best screen setters.”

Judging by the program’s swift turnaround, Bader-Binford’s players at MSU are buying into her team-first coaching philosophy.

If her track record speaks to future success, she’ll no doubt check off each and every goal she’s set for the MSU program. That means a championship-caliber program, a sold-out fieldhouse and an NCAA tournament appearance are in the offing.