‘Boo’ Randall still giving her all for basketball

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Semeka Randall-Lay hasn’t played in the WNBA in 20 years, but last weekend she joined former teammates in Las Vegas to be recognized for their ties to one team. From the perspective of the former Lady Vol guard and now college coach, it’s what happens when owners respect the game – and put women in executive positions.

Mark Davis is the primary owner of the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA and the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL. Neither organization originated in Las Vegas, so he has made it a point to honor the past connections to his teams.

“This is the third year that Mark Davis flies us with a guest and puts us up in a hotel and pretty much wined and dined us,” Randall-Lay said. “We go to the game, and we have a banquet. It all goes back to the fact that we were a part of building this organization.”

Las Vegas Aces photo: “They paved the way so we can play. Welcome back to The House alumni of the Utah Starzz, San Antonio Silver Stars, and the San Antonio Stars!” (Semeka Randall-Lay is in the back center next to a woman in a green dress.)

As better owners become part of the WNBA, the teams reap the rewards as this columnist wrote about HERE last May after former Lady Vol Candace Parker joined the Aces.

Randall-Lay took her husband, Matt Lay, as her guest. The couple reside in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where Randall-Lay is entering her fifth season at the helm of Winthrop women’s basketball.

She saw former teammates Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Adrienne Goodson, Jennifer Azzi, Natalie Williams and Danielle Crockrom Fontenot, along with former Lady Vol Nikki Caldwell Fargas, who is now president of the Aces. Azzi is chief business development officer for the Aces, Williams is the general manager, and Fontenot serves as executive director of the Aces Foundation.

Semeka Randall-Lay and Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis.

“I said to him people are about their words and their actions,” Randall-Lay said. “I’m grateful for Mark Davis because he has put women in very high leadership roles. When we get done playing a sport, not everyone tips back to help. We get into coaching because that’s the closest thing to it. No one puts us in these positions.

“But to see that Mark Davis is a man of his word, that he’s given these women these opportunities and platforms, I hope more WNBA teams do that as leadership starts to change.”

Randall-Lay had two other guests in twins Alyssa Strickland and Brittney Strickland-Varnedoe. She coached the twins at Alabama A&M as a head coach in 2013. The twins, who paid their own expenses to see their former coach honored, are both now in management at UPS in Atlanta and connected with Randall-Lay at the Aces game.

Semeka Randall-Lay holds her pendant.

The former players also all received a replica pendant of the Aces’ 2022 WNBA championship ring, gala dinner and game tickets.

Randall-Lay, who is from Cleveland, Ohio, played for Tennessee from 1997-2001, and was part of the three famous “Meeks” – Semeka Randall, Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw – who won a national title in 1998 on the perfect 39-0 team for the late Pat Summitt’s sixth national title.

After graduation, she was drafted by the Seattle Storm – former Lady Vols Jordan Horston and Mercedes Russell are Storm teammates now – and also played for the Utah Starzz and San Antonio Stars, the predecessors of the Aces franchise. Her overseas career included professional basketball in Israel and Greece.

Randall-Lay’s college coaching career started in 2003 as an assistant at Cleveland State, followed by a position at Michigan State in 2005. She joined one of her former college coaches, Al Brown, as an assistant coach on the staff of Joanne P. McCallie. In the full circle category, after Brown left Tennessee for Michigan State, Summitt hired Fargas as an assistant coach, and Tennessee won two national titles in 2007 and 2008. That propelled Fargas into head coaching and later the Aces president.

Randall was a high-energy All-American guard who could score and defend for Tennessee. She also was a fixture in some epic Tennessee vs. Connecticut games, including one that earned her the nickname of Boo after Tennessee fans flipped the ire directed her way by UConn fans.

Semeka Randall (Tennessee Athletics)

It was Jan. 10, 1999, in Storrs, Connecticut, and Randall and Svetlana Abrosimova, a beloved UConn player, got into a pitched skirmish for possession of the ball. Husky fans booed Randall the rest of the game, but she scored 25 points on the way to a 92-81 victory. Tennessee fans booed Randall at the next home game as a way of tribute, and the nickname stuck. To this day, she is still called Boo Randall.

When Randall got the job at Michigan State, she had only been out of college for four years, and the Spartans played a game at UConn. Randall’s name provoked a reaction during pre-game introductions.

“They were announcing the head coach and the assistants, and they started booing me,” Randall said.

Understandably confused, the Michigan State players told Randall: “ ‘Coach, that is disrespectful. Why are they booing you?’ ” I said, ‘It’s an inside joke. Don’t worry about it. Just focus. It startled everybody, and I just laughed because I know why.’ ”

Semeka-Randall Lay and twin sisters Alyssa Strickland and Brittney Strickland-Varnedoe.

Randall-Lay’s other coaching stops included West Virginia, Ohio, Alabama A&M, Wright State and Cincinnati before Winthrop. Outside of the Power 5 conferences, coaches are in the trenches with the primary motivation being love of the game and wanting to help young women. She has a retooled roster buttressed by the transfer portal and several freshmen.

“I’m excited,” Randall-Lay said in an interview Monday. “This is year 21 for me. We definitely need to win, but I’m excited to be able to continue to keep giving back to these student-athletes and trying to help them along the way. I’m fired up. Today was our first day of school. Until God tells me to move on from it. I still enjoy it.”

Randall-Lay, like so many of the other coaches in the Summitt tree, can still hear her head coach’s advice:  “This is why you do what you do. Don’t make it about you. Make it about the journey.”

Her players also can still make her smile.

“One of my players came in the other day, she was like, ‘Coach, I watched you play. You were pretty good,’ ” Randall-Lay said. “I died laughing because the way she said it was so nonchalant.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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