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When then-Athletic Director Chris Peterson decided to make a change in his University of Arkansas at Little Rock women's basketball program in 2003 Joe Foley was happy at Arkansas Tech, where he had won two NAIA national championships.

His wife Chris had a good job in Russellville. His kids C.J. and Miranda were happy.

It was all daffodils and sunshine, although there was that squeaky little place in Foley's competitive spirit that made him wonder about coaching on the Division I level.

When Peterson told a group of confidants his plan, Johnny Johnson, who was then-athletic director for the Little Rock School District, basically told Peterson he didn't need a nationwide search, just look 70 miles west. There he would find one of the best coaches Johnson, a former coach himself, had ever seen.

Peterson and Foley were on the same page. They wanted to win. A twist of irony was a few years later Johnson became the Russellville athletic director.

During Foley's first Sun Belt media days -- and his first trip ever to New Orleans -- at a social function where Foley knew none of the coaches, he drifted from a group of coaches to another group of coaches, listening and learning.

He walked by one group of women's coaches whose body language said don't stop here, and when he was out of earshot one of them said, "Winning a national championship in the NAIA isn't like winning at the highest level."

At that time, UALR had won one conference game since joining the Sun Belt, but that coach probably didn't know that Foley's first national championship team had just six players dress out.

In his first season Foley beat the coach who made that comment for the school's second league win ever, but it was the beginning of a dynasty.

Foley has now been named Sun Belt Coach of the Year five times and this Saturday, against Florida State, UALR will make its fifth NCAA Women's Tournament appearance.

Many of the players from Foley's Tech days say he has mellowed. Many of the players from his current teams don't agree.

He's a strong disciplinarian who believes if you don't do it right in practice you won't do it right in a game, and his teams run a beautiful motion offense and will suck the life out of you on defense.

However, UALR is a huge underdog as the No. 14 seed which has to play on the Seminoles' home court, yet, observers closest to the program know never count Foley out and say this may have been the best job of coaching he's ever done.

UALR will need its best effort of the season.

The Seminoles are 25-6 on the season and their losses were twice to No. 1 seed Notre Dame, at No. 2 seed Texas, at No. 4 North Carolina State and at No. 8 Syracuse.

Until the NCAA goes with neutral sites for all games the home teams will always have a huge advantage.

At first, Foley was all smiles, just happy to be part of March Madness with a group of players who got better as the season progressed.

Of his eight-player rotation two are true freshmen -- both starters -- one sophomore, three juniors and two seniors. His tallest starter is 6-1, while the Seminoles have three players 6-2 and one who is 6-3.

Foley knows all of that and much much more, and the smiles have faded to miles of hard work and preparation.

It has almost become a rite of spring for the UALR women to be playing in postseason and for Foley's phone to start ringing. A lot of athletic directors around the country now know what Johnny Johnson knew all those years ago.

Joe Foley is an excellent coach.

Sports on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Foley can definitely handle the NCAA game

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