Originally published July 20, 2011 at 12:00a.m., updated July 20, 2011 at 07:33a.m.
Terry Nooner, who played combo guard at Kansas University from 1997-2000, will be working with the bigs in his first season as assistant women’s basketball coach at Southern Illinois University.
That’s right: The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder’s area of expertise will be the players who roam the paint rather than the backcourt.
“When I was at KU, coach Williams coached the post players,” Nooner said, referring to Roy Williams, who stands 5-10. “He’s the one who worked with the big people every day. I don’t think you have to be a 7-footer to work with post players. I think you’ve got to know the game. I’ve been under the tutelage of Danny Manning the past five years.”
The 33-year-old Nooner — who worked as president of Kansas City Pro Am Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides basketball instruction, since 2007, in addition to teaching special education and also coaching the Missouri Phenom girls AAU team — managed to find time to attend numerous KU basketball practices.
“I’ve been getting myself prepared these past few years,” said Nooner, who joined coach Missy Tiber’s Saluki staff on June 30. “I talk to Danny a lot. He can answer anything. I call him on the phone or just drive out there and watch workouts and practices.”
Nooner has also spent time with KU women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson and her staff.
“I saw Bonnie in Nashville when we were out recruiting (last week),” Nooner said. “I’ve been to her coaches clinic a few times. We talk pretty regularly. I talk to Steve Woodberry (assistant, Missouri State). I talk to a lot of people who coach.”
Nooner says he’s committed to coaching the women’s game. He started with the Phenom AAU program as a favor to his cousin, whose daughter’s team needed a coach.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s basketball,” Nooner said. “Of course, athletically is the biggest difference — the athleticism and size of players. Girls players are getting taller, bigger and faster every day. Since I’ve been coaching, at tournaments I’ve seen girls dunk and all that kind of stuff. I think from boys to girls or women to men ... in my experience the women listen a little bit better, take instruction a little bit better as far as the people I’ve dealt with.”
Nooner says he thinks he’ll be a good recruiter. He enjoyed being on the road for the first eight days of the July evaluation period — except for the fact he couldn’t speak with any of his former Missouri Phenom players in attendance in accordance with NCAA rules.
“I saw my old team play in Vegas. I saw them play in Nashville. I had to sit over there and watch as a college coach as opposed to being their coach,” Nooner said. “You can’t have any contact with the players. It was just looking. A lot of times it was tough, especially if they did stuff I wouldn’t have approved of.”
SIU’s team went through a tough 2-28 season a year ago. Nooner sees better times ahead for the Missouri Valley school located in Carbondale, Ill.
“We have a top-rated recruiting class coming in. We have one senior and one junior, six freshmen and six sophomores. We are young with a lot of new talent,” Nooner said. “I expect big things from our team.
“I’m not used to losing like that. I’m used to losing two and winning the rest of the games,” he added with a laugh. “I’m expecting big things.”
As to a timetable for his becoming a head coach, “I have no idea,” Nooner said. “I’ve not put a time on it. I’m just going to get in here and work my butt off and go from there.”
Nooner spoke with former KU assistant coach Neil Dougherty the day Nooner was hired. Neil died July 5 while jogging in Indianapolis.
“He gave me a good pep speech,” Nooner said. “I told him after getting the job I was kind of nervous — excited, but nervous. He let me know to not be nervous and work hard, that I’m ready and that kind of stuff.
“It was tough,” Nooner added of reacting to Dougherty’s death, “just the type of man he was and the way we connected with him. He has the ability still after all this time to be part of our lives. He’s somebody we can call and talk to about anything. He’s there to help you out. To have that kind of relationship with somebody — especially me. It’s not like I was one of the stars of the team. For him to still be willing to help and give me advice even after I graduated in 2000 is a testament to what type of man he was.”
• A previous version of this story has been updated.