TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – “The expectations this year were not to be 9-6 right now.”
If you do not enjoy hearing those words, can you imagine how Jose Fernandez feels when he speaks them?
“Things happen in sports that you cannot control,” said Fernandez, “and one of the things you cannot control is injuries. We have been on the wrong end of that now two years in a row. Last year, we went through a tough time and still won 19 games and got to the postseason.”
Fernandez is drawing a perfect picture of his 20-year career as the head coach of the University of South Florida women’s basketball team. He led a program with only a handful of winning seasons prior to his arrival to the NCAA Tournament six times over the past two decades. He has continually pulled the positives out of unattractive situations. Fernandez has created a culture of winning and, despite a less than stellar start to this season, the team is still competing for a chance to make it to the tournament again.
“I thought we really challenged our team with a really tough schedule in November and December and, hopefully now going into league play, it pays off,” said Fernandez.
What is the secret to overcoming a disappointing start and devastating injuries? A freshman guard, Maria Alvarez, hurt her knee in the game on Sunday. She is the second-leading scorer on the team and, now, she could miss the rest of the season. Elisa Pinzan, a sophomore point guard, and Bethy Mununga, a junior forward, have also been dealing with injuries this season.
“You have to do a great job with recruiting and player development,” said Fernandez, “and guys who were not expecting to get the minutes that they are getting now have to play some valuable minutes for us and that is what is going to have to happen here in January and February.”
I asked Fernandez if he can believe he has been the head coach of this program for 20 seasons.
“This has turned out to be my dream job,” he said. “The City of Tampa has really embraced my family and I am really proud of what we have done to put the program where it is at right now after 20 years.”
Can he name a favorite player or a favorite team over his 20-year career?
“Every different year and every different team have their own characteristics,” he said. “They take their own shape and form but people do not understand how hard it is to get to the NCAA tournament. We’ve been on the wrong side of the bubble plenty of times but I think that 2009 group because they turned such a negative into a positive being one of the last teams left out. They could have cashed it in and they turned around and won the WNIT so I think that that team was really special. Being here 20 years, you look back and I am just thankful for all of the kids who have gone through our program, all of the staff members who have been on our staff to put our program where it is right now, today.”
What does the future hold for Fernandez and this basketball program?
“I am going to keep doing this until it is not enjoyable anymore and have that fire every day to continue to mold and to grow these young ladies to get them ready for the real world when the ball stops bouncing,” said Fernandez, “and to continue to try and get this program to the second weekend of March to be a Sweet 16 team.”
LATEST SPORTS NEWS:
- FSU, UF running backs rooting for each other at 2020 NFL Scouting Combine
- WWE helps grant 11-year-old’s WrestleMania wish
- LSU pass-rushing star says his ‘multi-lingual’ skills would make him a great fit with Bucs
- Vipers head coach hopes energetic crowd at upcoming home game will help bring a win
- WrestleMania 5K Fun Run in Tampa to benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of America