By DONNELL SUGGS (Special to the Daily World)
Fort Valley State University Coach Lonnie Bartley and his Lady Wildcats notched their 11th Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) title on March 3 by defeating the Tuskegee Tigerettes, 62-52, at Morehouse College’s Forbes Arena.
Bartley’s coaching career spans 28 years – all at Fort Valley, his alma mater. A 1983 graduate, Bartley has been either an assistant coach or at the helm of the women’s basketball program since 1981.
“I played ball for the first semester of my freshman year and we went 0-6 before the Christmas break,” Bartley explained. “I hated losing so I decided to help the women’s program win instead of playing.”
So Bartley took over the women’s program in 1984 and subsequently had his first and only losing season as a head coach. From that point on, the program has won more than 600 games, more than any other HBCU women’s program during that span.
To Bartley the 2012 SIAC tournament meant much more than just another trophy.
“I really wanted this one for my seniors. They won it [the SIAC tournament] as freshmen and juniors, so I wanted them to close their college careers on top.”
Those seniors, Jasmine Birdsong, Stephanie Brownlee, Tamara Andrews, Brandi Haynes and leading scorer and SIAC tournament MVP Yasheeka Jones will be missed, but according to Bartley, the cupboard is far from bare. “I have a few freshmen players on this year’s team that can’t wait to get Yasheeka out of the way.
“Fans are going to be very pleased with next year’s team,” he continued.
The type of player Bartley recruits reflects the way he liked to play and the way he likes his teams to play. “I look for an up-tempo kid, girls from good programs that are accustomed to winning,” Bartley explained. “The way I coach, if someone, a parent or friend, attends a game for the first time and sees how demonstrative I am even when we’re up by 20 points, they are likely to think I’m mean. Kids that have come from successful programs have been coached a certain way and know how to deal with it.”
The 28-year coach has once been named Division II “Women’s Coach of the Year” along with collecting a whopping 10 SIAC “Women’s Coach of the Year” awards. With all that success, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t made the jump to either a bigger Division II or a Division I program.
Bartley said he plans on coaching for a long time and has a simple philosophy for himself and his team, “For me to move [to another program] it has to be a great opportunity and feel good to me. I tell my players to give the Lord the credit for whatever they accomplish on and off the court.”