By Dave Wagner: PNT sports writer
As Marsha Sharp’s assistant and recruiting coordinator for 23 seasons at Texas Tech, Eastern New Mexico University is hoping new women’s basketball coach Linden Weese can translate some of that success to the Zias.
The 51-year-old native of Higgins, Texas, was introduced Monday as the school’s choice to replace Dan Buzard, whose contract was not renewed following the season after 17 years in the program, including the last four as head coach.
“We feel extremely fortunate to have Linden Weese with us,” ENMU athletic director Mike Maguire said. “He impressed our players, coaches and staff with his professionalism and enthusiasm for the game.”
Weese coached under Sharp from 1982-2005. The Lady Raiders went 555-173 during that time, winning an NCAA national championship in 1993.
He was not in coaching last season, but said he has been interested in becoming a head coach.
He said he spent a lot of time watching Lubbock Christian’s NAIA program last season, and thinks the Division II level with the Zias will be a good fit.
“I wanted to get to a school at this level,” Weese said. “Division I (at Tech) was great to me. To be honest, these guys gave me an opportunity.”
The Zias struggled through an injury-plagued 2005-06 season. They started 6-1, but lost five players to season-ending injuries over the course of the campaign and finished 11-17, including 3-11 in the Lone Star Conference South Division.
“I’m very excited and I know the team is,” said forward Elizabeth Richards, who missed most of the past season with a knee injury. “I feel blessed to have coach Weese here, and I think he’ll have a great program.”
Richards will graduate in May, but plans to attend grad school and has potentially two seasons of eligibility remaining. Last year she averaged 13 points and nearly eight rebounds before going down with her injury in just the fifth game.
She said she’s anxious to get going, although she doesn’t expect to be ready for full activity until sometime this summer.
“I want to think I could play right now, but I can’t,” said Richards, who helped Texico capture three consecutive Class 2A state championships from 2000-02. “But I’m getting better.”
The Zias graduate only one player, although it’s All-South forward Tiana Bryant. Weese said he will spend time evaluating the returning talent and get busy on adding players.
“I watched basketball games (last season as a spectator) from a different point of view,” he said. “I just like the kind of kids we have on this team. I’m going to take a look and see what our needs are, and go from there.”
He also said Haley White, an ENMU grad assistant the past two seasons, has been promoted to fulltime status.
“I think the transition with coach Weese will provide Eastern with the experience that he can bring out the talent down to the last player on the floor,” said White, whose husband Josh is an ENMU football assistant. “He knows the game of basketball. I’m excited, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to stay here.”
ENMU president Steven Gamble said he’s confident the school has the right person to lead the program.
“I think this is a day where, a decade or two from now, we’ll look back and say this is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” Gamble said.