by Doug Ireland
Kim Mulkey’s first really big splashes in basketball took place in Alexandria, at Rapides Parish Coliseum.
Not to age Louisiana’s Queen, but it was almost 50 years ago, when she was known as “The Hammond Honey” as she led her high school to four straight LHSAA state championships in what was then still known as the “Sweet 16.”
Not only did she dominate the games and delight the crowds with her flashy and fluid style, she captivated the media. This was a high school girl who was a 4.0 student, who had no lack of confidence, and embraced the attention. Game coverage of Hammond typically included more quotes from Mulkey than from either coach, and rightfully so, because she was the defining figure.
She was a unicorn of sorts by then. She was among the best baseball players of her age group in Hammond, and at 12 years old, decided to sign up to play Dixie Youth League ball. It may have raised eyebrows around Hammond, but when it came time for All-Star play against other leagues, it raised the ire of small-minded opponents. They pointed out that Dixie baseball bylaws stated the game was for boys, and after some court action, Kim stepped aside rather than cause her team to forfeit. Ultimately she made the All-Star team two of three years she played before she focused on basketball as a high school freshman.
Then she went from something of a footnote to a focal figure. When Hammond arrived at Rapides Parish Coliseum, so did plenty of college coaches. The spotlight was squarely on the pig-tailed Mulkey, increasing in intensity each season, and she did not wilt. After her senior season – there were no “early signing periods” or “verbal commitments” back then — she chose Louisiana Tech, coached by Alexandria native and Bolton High graduate Sonja Hogg.
Both ultimately made it to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on the strength of what they achieved with the Lady Techsters.
Hogg built the program from scratch and set it on a trajectory that carried it to the pinnacle of women’s college basketball for a quarter-century. She launched the Lady Techsters in 1974 and was officially head coach until 1985, although she had hired a former Ruston High School colleague, Leon Barmore, as co-head coach in 1982. She recruited and managed the program. He handled the Xs and 0s. It was an incredible partnership.
Hogg had a Midas touch with staff hirings. Along with Barmore – whose own career earned him Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, and of course membership in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame – her early hires included 2023 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Gary Blair, and
Pineville native Sue Donahoe, also a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame member for her transformational leadership with the NCAA guiding the rise of women’s basketball to prime-time status.
Hogg steered the Techsters to the 1981 national championship in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) before the NCAA brought women’s hoops under its control before the 1981-82 season, and with Barmore alongside, Tech won it all again. Those were Mulkey’s first two seasons in Ruston, and the Techsters reached the Final Four but fell short of national championships in the last two.
Mulkey joined the Tech coaching staff at the encouragement of President F. Jay Taylor while she was pursuing a master’s in business and planning a career in the private sector. She never got there. In 15 seasons working as Barmore’s assistant, Mulkey helped her alma mater go 430-68, reaching seven Final Fours and winning the 1988 NCAA title. Another national championship was snatched away on a buzzer-beater by North Carolina.
Since this century dawned, she’s been a head coach. She took over for the retiring Hogg at Baylor in 2000 and has won 86 percent of the games she’s guided (692-112) there and in the last two seasons at LSU. Included: three national championships at Baylor and last month’s sensational run to her fourth, at LSU.
She’s still not shying away from the spotlight. She dresses with a distinctive flair, with a wardrobe that creates social media buzz seemingly every game. She coaches with immense passion, somehow avoiding technical fouls as she chastises officials. She has a golden touch with strategic moves. Like Hogg, she has built a remarkable staff around her, highlighted by veteran assistant Bob Starkey, who has been on staffs at LSU led by Sue Gunter, Dale Brown and Pokey Chatman, and worked for Blair at Texas A&M.
And she shoots from the lip. There’s no mystery about her perspectives, no doubt about her wit.
Since the NCAA championship celebration, Mulkey has landed perhaps the top transfer in the sport, Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, a 20-point scorer for the Cardinal, who plays in pigtails just like her new coach did.
And just days ago, she sounded the call for a new arena at LSU to replace the 50-year-old Maravich Assembly Center, which just went through a multi-million dollar renovation. Ironically, it was her push for a new on-campus arena (instead of a downtown location in Waco) that revealed a fracture in the administration at Baylor and made her move to LSU more feasible.
This time, it’s infinitely more likely that in the coming years, Mulkey’s latest wish will come true, not simply because of her sheer willpower, but certainly ignited by it. After all, the college basketball world has just watched what this force-of-nature can inspire.
KIM’S LATEST SIGNEE!!!