Temple coach Cardoza playing her cards right
Quakers face Owls, whose coach spent time with powerhouse Connecticut
January 20, 2012, 12:24 am·
After having served as an assistant at college basketball powerhouse Connecticut for 14 years, Temple’s Tonya Cardoza has accrued a wealth of coaching experience.
In her time at UConn, she was a part of four undefeated regular seasons, five national championships and she helped sculpt WNBA stars Sue Bird, Renee Montgomery and Diana Taurasi along the way.
But when she thinks back to her time under Hall-of-Fame coach Geno Auriemma, she has a favorite success story — the blossoming of Rita Williams, a former UConn Lady Husky who would go on to play in the WNBA.
Williams joined UConn’s program as a transfer from Mitchell Junior College. At that time, she barely came off as a capable Division I player, let alone an all-star at the professional level.
“No one thought she could play there,” Cardoza said. “Her first year was a horrible year.”
“She used to get thrown out of practices, it was so bad,” Cardoza continued. “And to see her, a kid who couldn’t get anything right, to be playing in the WNBA, being drafted, [that] is what I’m most proud of accomplishing in my time at UConn.”
Cardoza, who will lead her Owls (9-9, 0-1 Big 5) when they take on the struggling Quakers (7-7, 0-3 Big 5) on Saturday afternoon at Temple’s McGonigle Hall, also has impressive basketball credentials as a former player.
In four years as a guard at the University of Virginia, she led her squad to the NCAA tournament each year, earning all-Final Four team honors her senior year.
Cardoza’s path from player to assistant to head coach may seem very sensible, but it was not always her intention.
“After I graduated, one of my teammates said that [Auriemma] was looking for an assistant coach and that my name had come up,” Cardoza said.
Once she met with Auriemma, she knew that taking the job was the right move.
“I wasn’t looking out to be a coach,” Cardoza said. “But it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Over those 14 seasons, Cardoza worked under Auriemma and absorbed as much as she could get.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime, to learn from one of the best, someone I respect and would do anything for,” Cardoza said.
Of all she learned from Auriemma, his most important message was “not settling for anything,” Cardoza said. “He doesn’t settle for just winning. You have to win the right way.”
That message may be the reason why Williams’ story sticks in Cardoza’s mind to this day. Even when Williams had the odds against her, she never settled.