By Rhiannon Potkey, LCH Correspondent
Jody Wynn first fell in love with basketball while attending Long Beach State women’s games as a young girl.
Wynn sat in the stands watching players like LaTaunya Pollard, Cindy Brown and Penny Toler lead the 49ers to multiple conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.
Wynn became immersed in their success and inspired to play in college.
Last April, things came full circle for Wynn.
Following a successful playing career and 13 years as a college assistant, Wynn received her first head coaching opportunity when Long Beach State hired her to replace Mary Hegarty.
Wynn, 35, would love nothing more than to return the program to the level it was in the 1980s when she watched Joan Bonvicini guide Long Beach State to 10 Big West Conference titles and two Final Four appearances.
“We have great fan support within the community and I think they are as hungry as anybody to get back to winning,” Wynn said. “There have been fans here since Long Beach State was going to Final Fours, but many of the kids don’t know about that. They weren’t even born during those days, so if we start winning and doing great things maybe we will be able to keep some great players here in our backyard.”
Born and raised in Brea, Calif., Wynn led Brea Olinda High School to three state championships and received a scholarship to USC. The starting guard was four-year letter-winner and helped the Trojans reach the NCAA Tournament three times.
Wynn entered coaching in 1996, and spent 13 years as an assistant to Mark Trakh at Pepperdine and USC. Wynn’s husband, Derek, has been alongside nearly every step of the way as a fellow assistant and will continue that role at Long Beach State. The couple has two young daughters, Jada and Kaeli.
Trakh coached Wynn at Brea Olinda, and has been equally influential in her professional life. He resigned from USC after five seasons just one day after Wynn was named the head coach at Long Beach.
“Mark allowed me to grow and develop and coach and pretty much have my hands in every part of the program,” Wynn said. “I have been pretty fortunate to have a mentor like him who allowed me to be behind the scenes, in the middle of it and up front and center, so I don’t feel like this is a huge step. I feel like I have been preparing for this my entire assistant coaching career.”
Although Long Beach State has won 21 conference titles, made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and reached two Final Fours, the last decade hasn’t been nearly as successful.
The 49ers shared the Big West Conference title with perennial powerhouse UC Santa Barbara three years ago, but haven’t made an NCAA appearance since 1992. The program last reached the postseason in 2000, when the 49ers lost in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
Long Beach State finished last in the Big West last season, and were 8-21 overall.
This year’s team returns eight seniors, including leading scorer and rebounder Whitney Fields, all-Big West guard Karina Figueroa, who redshirted last season, and forward Sahfiya Brown, who returns from a knee injury.
“Right away we have a wealth of experience and we are very fortunate that they all bought in beautifully,” Wynn said. “They were just ready and excited and we really connected well with them. Sometimes that can be the other way around, so it has really been a blessing.”
Wynn has earned a reputation as a strong recruiter, and knows the Southern California recruiting landscape well. Her connections with local club and high school programs should benefit in building for the future.
Wynn and her staff don’t plan to put any limits on the prospects they seek.
“We understand we have a long way to go, but if you don’t recruit a kid because she is better than you how do you know unless you go after her,” Wynn said. “What if a young lady wants to attend Long Beach or be a part of our Beach family or wants to stay local. This is a really great location and I think it has a lot to offer. I could see myself going to school here, so it is easy for me to sell the program.”
Long Beach State plans to employ the read-and-react offense that Wynn implemented at USC last season. The Trojans were the second-leading scoring team in the Pac-10 playing the up-and-down style that spreads the floor and allows guards to create off ball screens and with dribble penetration.
“We want to play 94 feet and try to feature an exciting brand of basketball,” Wynn said. “We want a brand that generates crowd support and excitement for the university and our program.”
As she begins molding her own program for the first time, Wynn is preaching effort, attitude and toughness.
“When people come to watch us play, I want them to say they left everything out on the court,” she said. “I want people to walk away thinking those girls are together and truly enjoy each other and have a lot of fun.”
Wynn said she knows success might not happen instantly, but she doesn’t shy away from discussing conference titles and NCAA aspirations.
“We want to turn this program around and have it be a place where it’s an alternative to USC and UCLA in Southern California,” Wynn said. “There are a lot of great programs in Southern California, and we just want to be one of them.”