When Vanderbilt women’s basketball head coach Shea Ralph lays out her vision for a championship mindset, she speaks from experience. As a student-athlete and assistant coach at the University of Connecticut, she helped shape one of the most successful and sustained championship cultures in collegiate sports history, playing a part in capturing seven national titles.
When she speaks to her student-athletes about preparing for more than the next game or season—for all the opportunities and challenges that will come their way in life—she again wields the weight of experience. After having one career path altered by injuries, she embarked upon another that led her to coaching and eventually Nashville.
Yet Ralph knows that examples can be more persuasive than speeches. And Katie Lou Samuelson, the program’s new director of player development, is a clear embodiment of everything Ralph advocates and every value she stresses.
As an All-American, a national champion and a WNBA starter in the prime of her basketball life, Samuelson can help a shooter perfect her release or find open space on the court. She can show players what it looks like to work harder than you think you can.
And in reuniting with her mentor, Ralph, to help bring out the best in the Commodores, Samuelson represents a truth that is at the core of the program and the university that surrounds it: You’re never done learning, even when you’re ready to start teaching.
“I have so much love and respect for Shea, who has been instrumental in my development as a player and a person,” Samuelson said. “She is so good at bringing out the best in people, and she did that for me in my career. When she offered me the opportunity to help do that for the young women at Vanderbilt, it was really a no brainer.”
Samuelson’s arrival coincides with NCAA rule changes passed earlier this month that allow men’s and women’s basketball programs to add two coaches, effective July 1. As director of player development, Samuelson’s responsibilities at that time will include constructing workouts, leading student-athletes through those workouts, on-court coaching and frequently hopping on the court herself in practice.
While NCAA rules prohibit her from going on recruiting trips, she can assist with those duties on campus and with phone calls. She can also travel with the team and be on the bench during games.
Samuelson brings star power to Memorial Gymnasium. The Gatorade National…