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Kamie Ethridge returns to Texas with Washington State as NCAA Tournament opens

Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge is one of only three female athletes whose jerseys have been retired by Texas. She was the point guard on the Longhorns' 1986 women's basketball national championship team, the first NCAA champion to go undefeated.

When Kamie Ethridge found out that she'd be working in Austin this Sunday, she said the first thing she thought about was the traffic.

Was Washington State's basketball coach joking? Most likely. Because that traffic leads to the Erwin Center, there will be too many memorable moments for her to ignore.

Forty years ago, Ethridge scored 35 points at the Erwin Center and led Lubbock Monterey to a Texas high school state championship. Then as a Longhorn, Texas went 62-1 at home with Ethridge from 1982-86, and her No. 33 jersey hangs from the building's rafters. She later won three more times in Austin while working as an assistant coach at Kansas State.

Ethridge's next Erwin Center memory will involve Washington State. The ninth-seeded Cougars meet South Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Erwin Center on Sunday night.

"The fact that we are playing in the Erwin Center is just, it's just kind of a full circle," Ethridge said. "It's pretty humbling and I'm excited for the opportunity."

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Ethridge, who was part of Texas' 1986 national championship, is making her second trip to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. In 2018, she and Northern Colorado were bumped by Michigan in the first round.

Washington State (12-11) is making its first appearance in the NCAAs in 30 years. For a week in January, the Cougars were ranked by the Associated Press for the first time in school history.

Texas' 1986 women's basketball team was honored by the lighting of the UT Tower for winning the national championship. Kamie Ethridge is on the bottom row, second from left, right between fellow Longhorns notables Yulonda Wimbish and Fran Harris.

In her third year, Ethridge has put together a roster that has pulled in talent from eight different countries. The Cougars were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 but ended up with one of the conference's six invitations to the NCAA Tournament. Along the way, Washington State both averaged and allowed 63.7 points per game.

"We had a lot of doubters, obviously going into the Pac-12 ranked 12th. You knew what people thought of us," freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker said. "This is just the beginning. I think over the next couple years, you'll definitely see a lot more of us like this."

This weekend, Ethridge will see the banner celebrating her retired jersey for the first time in person. Since she's a coach, Ethridge's winters are usually busy. So when she became the first woman to have her jersey retired at Texas, the Longhorns honored her during halftime of a football game in 2019. She has not been back on campus since.

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The Cougars will also get a glimpse into their coach's background this weekend. Ethridge figured that her players have seen a highlight or two from her playing days, but that's it. 

"They have no idea what kind of player I was. I think it's just been too long," Ethridge said. "I certainly can't play anymore and I don't even attempt to, so it's real hard for them to understand what kind of player I was and what kind of impact I had as a player."

What kind of player was she? A two-time All-American, Ethridge earned the Wade Trophy during the 1985-86 season. She won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in 1988. Her 776 career assists are still a school record. During her senior year, Ethridge was the point guard on Texas' first and only national championship team.

Ethridge, former teammate Clarissa Davis and softball player Cat Osterman are the only female athletes who have had their jerseys retired by UT. Ethridge was also a member of the inaugural class for the Texas Women's Hall of Honor.

"I've never coached anybody as competitive or as driven as Kamie was," Jody Conradt once told the American-Statesman. "If there ever was an extension of a coach on the floor, she was it."

While the Cougars are eyeing their coach's retired jersey, Ethridge may also want them to take a look at the banner that celebrates that 1986 championship. Texas went 34-0 and was the NCAA's first undefeated champion.

"Things that I did as a player are things that I'm trying to talk to my players about doing for us at Washington State, and it all comes back to my time spent at the University of Texas," Ethridge said. "I'm grateful for that and love every experience that I had there."