Running lines is an age-old college basketball practice tradition. The team lines up on the baseline. The shot clock is set for the time to beat. The whistle blows. And they're off.
Players run to the nearest foul line and back to the baseline. Then to the midcourt line and back to the baseline. Next to the distant foul line and back. And, finally, all the way to the other baseline and back.
Inevitably, even the best-conditioned teams battle through this portion of a practice, and this September day is no different. The 12 University of Wisconsin women players, 11 of whom had beaten the 35-second limit put on the shot clocks on top of the backboards, bend over, gasping for air.
To the uninitiated, it's an impressive performance. But new coach Bobbie Kelsey, in the early stages of limited preseason practices before the full-blown workouts that start in October, is not especially pleased.
She emphatically tells her team that beating the 35-second mark is one thing, but that the championship-contending teams she is accustomed to working with do it even better, crossing that last line in 32 seconds or better.
"Line up," Kelsey demands a minute or so after that first sprint is finished. Then the whistle blows again. Back and forth; back and forth; back and forth; and back and forth again. The players struggle to catch their breath. It is not clear how many of them have beaten the 32-second goal. What is clear, though, is that this time, four players have not reached the 35-second standard.
"This may not be pretty," Kelsey had advised a visitor only 15 minutes before, just prior to the start of the hour workout. "We're in the baby stage."
If the Wisconsin women's program is once again in its infancy, it would appear the Badgers are in the hands of someone who wants to nurture the program to success.
"I always had a motherly type relationship with my teammates when I was a player," Kelsey says a day later in her sparsely furnished office a few floors above the practice gym at the Kohl Center. "I was always the mother hen."
She says the same qualities inform her as a head coach. "You get the chicks together and make sure they know where they are supposed to go and they get what they need. I've always had that maternal instinct."
Her current post, she adds, is her dream job: "I've never really wanted to do anything else."
A former basketball player at Stanford, Kelsey says she now gets to do what her "old, broke knees" weren't going to let her do on the court.
In fact, Kelsey really started becoming a student of the game when she had to sit out her freshman year in 1992 due to injury, says Tara VanDerveer, her former coach and boss at Stanford.
During her 15 years as an assistant coach at six schools, most recently Stanford, Kelsey had gotten feelers from other schools, but none as promising as a Big Ten Conference school with a nationally recognized athletic program.
When looking for a replacement for Lisa Stone, Terry Gawlik, the Badgers' senior associate athletic director in charge of women's basketball, had a list of candidates, which included a number of already successful head coaches at mid-level Division 1 schools. But Kelsey was on her short list. The only impediment was Stanford's trip to the Final Four.
"We talked with [Stanford athletic director] Bob Bowlsby and told him we were interested in Bobbie, but we would not do anything until the Final Four was over," Gawlik recalls. "To do anything else would not have been fair to Stanford or Bobbie."
Gawlik hesitated to call Kelsey the night of Stanford's heartbreaking, last-second loss to Texas A&M in the national semifinal game, but did so because she didn't want anyone else to get to Kelsey first. The two met at 7:30 for breakfast the following morning, April 4, in San Antonio, where the game took place.
Gawlik had done a lot of research leading up to this moment, talking to a number of sources about potential candidates. "I was just doing my homework," Gawlik recalls, "and I was told I would really be impressed by her."
A week later, as rumors pegged a number of head coaches as top candidates, the new coach was introduced to Madison at a press conference.
"It was intriguing," Kelsey recalls of the process. "Up until my press conference, no one really knew. It was going to be this one or that one. A Stanford assistant came up, but they were thinking it was another assistant. I kind of liked that, coming out of nowhere."
Kelsey says by the time she got the offer she was ready to make the move. "The call came and it was, 'Okay, Wisconsin. I've been to the Kohl Center. It can get loud in there. They have a lot of fans.' After four years at Stanford, four Final Fours and two championship games, it was, how much more can you do? How long do you stay and not take an opportunity, especially one like this one?"
It's been a wild six months since Kelsey landed the Wisconsin job. She's made a cross-country move. She was married in August. She's been traveling the country and Canada recruiting. There have been the meet-and-greets with boosters and alumni and the requisite golf outing fundraiser. Of course, there was also the matter of getting to know her players and establishing the standards she will want them to meet in her first season.
About the only thing she hasn't done is prepare for winter, though Stanford coach VanDerveer gave her a pair of Ugg boots when she left. "We have to get our gear. I think if we layer up, we'll be okay," she says, laughing that her husband, Kwame Grayson, will also be adjusting to his move from California.
But there is no sign of exhaustion in Kelsey's voice or actions. When she arrives one morning at her office, she is pulling a large metal cart loaded with boxes. Normally, that is the sort of task a head coach can get a team manager or someone on the support staff to do. But that's not Kelsey's way, off or on the court.
She doesn't have a problem, though, with using her authority.
"I have a strong personality. I'm not going to be asking [the players] to do things two or three times. If Mom says something, you're getting up and doing it."
Born in Pontiac, Mich., when her mother was visiting relatives, and raised in Decatur, Ga., the 38-year-old Kelsey paid her dues on the assistants circuit at places like Florida and Virginia Tech before going home to Palo Alto, where as a player she helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four three times and a national championship once. Then, in four years as an assistant under VanDerveer, one of just nine women coaches in the Hall of Fame, she helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four four times.
But hidden deeper in that résumé is one honor that may surpass all the others. The year in college she tore up her knee and was unable to play, her teammates still voted her the most inspirational player on the team.
Kelsey says her parents have been a source of inspiration and support in her own life.
It was her dad, Melvin, who constantly told her to watch video of her own play in order to get better.
"Now I've watched more video than anyone can imagine," she says with a laugh, recalling some of her responsibilities from her assistant days.
Recently, mom Janice took care of so many wedding details that Kelsey was able to smoothly step out of her off-season duties for her big day in Atlanta.
"They have supported me my entire life, in anything I've wanted to do," she says of her parents.
At this stage, Kelsey will be getting up and doing a lot for herself. She talks about a variety of subjects during a 45-minute interview ranging from expectations for her team this year - "We need to see them improve" - to the evolutionary process of recruiting. "It's like a spider web."
"Practices at Stanford were always boring, and that's how I want it to be here," she says. "We'd work on the same things day after day in practice and then bring those things into a game."
Kelsey clearly has a vision for her team. In her first few months at UW, she met with several high school players who had verbally committed to playing for Lisa Stone. After their talk, only one decided to go through with it.
"We gave them a fair assessment and let them know what we thought we needed to take it on up," says Kelsey. "No knock on those kids, but I felt they weren't the type of player we needed."
That usually doesn't sit well with those in high school and AAU basketball circles. But Kelsey says the negative feedback has been minimal, consisting mostly of sarcastic comments from individuals wishing her well in finding other recruits.
"I don't worry about those folks," she says.
What she does think about is restoring some luster to the UW program.
"There is some tradition here," she says. "What we haven't been able to do is sustain it. That's what we need to do."
The Wisconsin's women's program has been viewed as an opportunity more than once.
That was the framing when Mary Murphy replaced Edwina Qualls in 1986. And when Jane Albright-Dieterle took over for Murphy in 1994, after 135 losses and too many turnovers to count later. Albright lost not only the hyphenated portion of her last name over the next 10 years but too many critical late-season games as well before Lisa Stone ushered in eight more frustrating years.
Each of these coaches had her moments. But, as Kelsey notes, the three were never able to sustain the taste of success they achieved. Each went to NCAA tournaments. Each revved up the fan base. But disappointment was the inevitable result in all three cases.
In the late 1990s, Cheryl Marra, then an assistant athletic director in charge of oversight for the women's basketball program, boldly predicted that the UW women's team would soon become self-sustaining. That forecast was roundly greeted with a skepticism that now proves accurate.
In a recent report of the 120 major schools that make up Division I football, the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, reported that not one school made money in women's basketball. In fact, only one unnamed school - reportedly Baylor - broke even, declaring no deficits but no revenues either in its report to the NCAA.
In a Bloomberg News study last spring, the 53 public schools from the six major conferences across the country all reported losses. The study found median deficits of more than $2 million on revenues of $804,577. The NCAA report found a median deficit of $1,168,000 per program.
By contrast, 56% of the men's basketball programs in the NCAA study were self-sufficient. One of those men's programs is Wisconsin's.
"Part of the thing that makes [self-sufficiency] harder is coaches' salaries," says UW's Gawlik.
Prior to Kelsey's arrival, the Badgers spent nearly half their women's basketball budget on salaries and fringe benefits. In the 2009-10 budget year, UW spent almost $800,000 of a $1.61 million allotment on salaries. Last year, the salary/fringe outlay was $796,000 from a budget of $1.57 million.
Figures for the current budget year are not much different. The Badgers have a $1.7 million budget for women's basketball, and $803,500 is directed to staff salaries and fringe benefits. Kelsey's salary is $300,000.
The numbers are similar at schools around the country. At Michigan State, for instance, the Spartans raised nearly $955,000 in revenues last year, according to the Bloomberg study. They spent nearly $834,000 in coaches' salaries.
"It's insane," Andrew Zimbalist, a noted sports economist from Smith College, told Bloomberg News. "You show me a Fortune 500 company that would be profitable if the CEO got 75% of the revenue."
But women's basketball doesn't operate like a business. Title IX requires schools to treat women's and men's athletics as equals. That means the women's program at Wisconsin and other schools usually feed off the two main revenue-producing sports - football and men's basketball. In Wisconsin's case, men's hockey also helps funding.
"When you have a great football team and a great men's basketball team, it trickles down to everybody else," Kelsey says.
It's a costly business that doesn't trend well. And while women's basketball is likely here to stay, there always will be a second-class feel to programs that cost so much to operate and bring so little in.
"It makes a difference whether you make money," Bernadette McGlade, the commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference, told Bloomberg News. "For the amount of resources going into [women's basketball], there is going to be a time where there has to be a rational decision of, is it worth it?"
Right now, it's worth it for Wisconsin. Optimism abounds about the future of the program, even if the present isn't as promising.
Officials say a record-setting number of season tickets have been sold at $85 a package. Attendance at a meet-and-greet - more than 400 - broke a school record, and more benefactors came out for the golf outing than one held for the football team.
That optimism should grow if the Badgers can translate their work into a few unexpected victories. It's happened before, so why not now?
But the odds are against the Badgers this season. The three best players from last season have graduated and taken two-thirds of last year's offensive output with them. There is not a lot of size for a game that now demands more women in the over-6-foot range.
But Kelsey has seen an important ingredient - heart. And the players appear to be buying into what Kelsey is selling. "They're working harder than they have ever worked before," she says, "or at least that's what they're telling me."
While that may not translate into immediate victories, the impact may be seen down the road. New coaches who get returning players to invest in their ways often see the dividends later.
Kelsey says her superiors at UW, including the man who made the final decision to hire her - athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez - understand that building a program is a process. Alvarez, of course, knows something about taking over a hibernating program and turning it into a success.
"He has realistic expectations on what will happen here going forward," says Kelsey. "He knows my background. He knows I'm not afraid to tell people what I think in a respectful way, and what I think and believe will work, though that doesn't always mean it will."
Kelsey sees the Kohl Center attendance growing as enthusiasm for the program amps up. Average attendance last year was 4,664, which isn't enough to fill a quarter of the Kohl Center.
In turn, she sees the Badgers eventually attracting the same level of player she recruited at Stanford. Down the road, that will be the mark of her success.
"We had the ability there to get the highest-level player," Kelsey says. "We're not there yet here. But there are kids who are very talented who want to come or at least are interested in looking at our place. Once they get here, it's our job to make them say, 'Wow.'"