Intramurals to NCAAs, Hampton coach savors ride
It wasn't too long ago that David Six was content with his office job at Hampton University, happy to be running the school's intramural department.
Now he's preparing to coach in the NCAA tournament - at storied Cameron Indoor Stadium, no less.
``I enjoyed intramurals,'' Six said Friday, ``but obviously, I enjoy this even more.''
Most of the attention at the four-team subregional hosted at Duke will fall to its three nationally ranked teams - the Blue Devils, LSU and Hartford - but the most compelling story here this weekend just might belong to Six.
The title-winning high school coach and self-described ``unknown commodity'' is in the midst of a rags-to-riches run that took him from intramurals to the NCAAs.
He'll make his tournament debut Saturday when No. 15 seed Hampton takes on No. 2 seed Duke, after No. 7 seed LSU faces No. 10 seed Hartford, in the first round of the Memphis Regional.
``When I got the opportunity to do this,'' Six said, ``it was a dream come true for me.''
For Six, that matchup closes out a busy week that has capped an even more eventful year for the one-time high school coach who took over as the interim coach of the Pirates' women's program when athletic director Lonza Hardy opted not to renew Walter Mebane's contract.
After guiding Hampton (20-11) to its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title and NCAA berth since 2004, the school stripped the interim tag and gave him a three-year contract.
``It has been a tremendous ride in the sense of watching (his team) grow from day to day,'' Six said. ``I used to tell them, 'If you want to win the MEAC, you have to talk about winning the MEAC.' No one ever did anything they didn't talk about doing. And I would come in, slowly but surely, and they would have up on the board, 'MEAC champs.' So they started buying in, their confidence grew - it was like watching a little baby grow into an adult.''
His next challenge: Trying to slow down a Duke team that's coming off Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles and has won 12 straight NCAA tournament games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The only team to beat the Blue Devils (27-5) on their home floor since 2008 was top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut.
``For us, it's about focus and it's about creating our own story,'' Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ``(Hampton's) is a great story, but I will say that I think our team is a great story. ... We've had a great deal of fun, but yet we haven't hit on all cylinders, either. So that's the story that I'm going to focus on.''
The Hartford-LSU game features a coaching matchup of student and teacher. Before taking over as the Hawks' coach 11 years ago, Jennifer Rizzotti won a pair of WNBA championships in two seasons with the Houston Comets and coach Van Chancellor, who's now at LSU.
``I couldn't think of a better first-round opponent,'' Rizzotti said.
It's a rare first-round matchup of teams ranked in the final AP Top 25. No. 25 Hartford (27-4) rolled to a 16-0 record in America East play in the regular season, was beaten by Vermont in the league championship but claimed the first at-large NCAA berth in school history.
In the process, the Hawks continued establishing their own identity in a state that's dominated by UConn, Rizzotti's alma mater.
``We certainly don't feel like second-fiddle in the state,'' Rizzotti said. ``We're real fortunate to be at a place that cares a lot about women's basketball.''
For 21st-ranked LSU (20-9), it's a second chance to get things rolling again. The Tigers opened with nine straight wins and were 13-1 before hitting a mid-January lull in which they dropped six of eight. They went one-and-done in the Southeastern Conference tournament for the first time since 2000.
``We know now that the record's 0-0 for everyone,'' LSU forward LaSondra Barrett said. ``It's all about who plays the hardest and the toughest, and it's not about talent or any kind of seeds. So we know that now, and we pretty much put the past behind us at the beginning of the season and just learn from all the games we didn't close out or the games we really regret and want back. And we're just using that to focus our energy on Hartford.''