Saturday, Oct 21, 2006
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Trouble in the Little Apple

Deb Patterson has brought success to K-State, but behind the scenes, turmoil has left some feeling disenfranchised.

By MECHELLE VOEPEL
The Kansas City Star

On March 31, the Kansas State women’s basketball team celebrated a WNIT title in front of a full house at Bramlage Coliseum. Losing just one senior, the Wildcats entered the offseason hopeful of extending the success that has marked the program since its resurgence five years ago.

But six months after that title, two key players — senior Twiggy McIntyre and sophomore JoAnn Hamlin — have transferred. Assistant coaches Jennie Lillis and Shelley Jarrard also are gone, among the nine people who have resigned from coach Deb Patterson’s staff since the end of the 2004 season.

McIntyre explained her exit this way: “It was a combination of factors and incidents through my three years. It is in the best interest for my career, and for me personally, to separate myself from head coach Deb Patterson.”

McIntyre is not alone in her sentiment. Many former players and staff members spoke to The Kansas City Star about concerns with Patterson. They talked about a team that, despite its meteoric rise, suffered from dramatic behind-the-scenes turmoil.

“I’ve never been in an abusive relationship in my personal life, but that’s what it felt like,” said Donease Smith, a basketball operations director who resigned in 2005 after one season in Manhattan. “My self-esteem was really down when I left there.”

At least one player, all-time leading scorer and rebounder Kendra Wecker, said Patterson and associate head coach Kamie Ethridge “degraded” her character over what Wecker believed was a minor issue and then cut her off from the program when her career ended. Others felt the coach played favorites.

More than a half-dozen players and staff said they felt forced to sit through mandatory religious sessions. And miscommunication hampered the program, leading in one case to the Christmastime resignations of three team managers.

The Star also learned that Patterson bought a laptop computer for a graduating player — a violation of NCAA rules. Despite those issues, Kansas State announced Friday that it had reached an agreement in principle on a new five-year contract with Patterson.

Wecker is a native of Marysville, Kan., an hour north of Manhattan. She was one of Patterson’s most prized recruits.

“Our relationship when they were recruiting me … I thought it was fine,” said Wecker, a 2005 consensus All-American and Big 12 player of the year who now plays in the WNBA. “That’s a big part of why I went there. … But if I would have felt six years ago what I feel now, there’s no way in the world that I would have gone there.”

Not everyone felt as disenfranchised. Some players spoke highly of their time in Manhattan and of Patterson.

“I had a great experience, and it was the time of my life,” former guard Laurie Koehn said. “I wouldn’t like anything more than a chance to step on the floor again with the people I got to play with there. It was a very special experience for me.

“And I respect Coach P because she cares so much about the group, and she’ll do anything to make the group as good as it can be.”

Nevertheless, staff resignations have come after each of the past three seasons and include five assistant coaches. Lillis left in late April to become an assistant at Marquette. She said Marquette would not permit her to comment on her time at K-State.

Jarrard was a senior starter for Vanderbilt’s Final Four team in 1993, when Patterson and Ethridge were assistants there. Jarrard was an assistant for 11 seasons at Utah before coming to work for Patterson in 2004. But she resigned from K-State in June and has not yet taken another job.

“I had to leave K-State in order to find a program that was consistent with my coaching philosophy as a whole,” Jarrard said.

Patterson, who has led the Wildcats to five NCAA Tournament appearances in her 10 seasons at Kansas State, said the departures concern her as well.

“As I look at the changes I’ve seen occur,” she said, “I feel a very strong sense of wanting to find any common threads that may exist as it relates to me for the good of the program.”

Former players and staff members said these problems haven’t risen overnight. They point to a series of events — chapters in a saga — over the last three years that, like dominoes, appear to have triggered or exacerbated the troubles.