Kim Caldwell finds footing in basketball

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Kim Caldwell grew up in a basketball family and her earliest memory of the game is a family excursion on foot in West Virginia to get a Slurpee while dribbling all the way there and back.

“Our dad would make us dribble a mile to the end of our neighborhood,” Caldwell said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “There was a 7-Eleven down there, and we would dribble down with our right hand, we would stop, we’d get a Slurpee, we’d all sit on the curb – my sisters, my mom and me and him – and then we’d have to dribble lefthanded on the mile back.

“I will always remember that and I remember that – as the youngest you get away with some stuff – I always gave my ball to my mom on the way home because my left hand was never any good.”

Caldwell was the last of Scott and Linda Stephens’ three daughters, and she and her older sisters, Anne and Jill, all played basketball at Parkersburg South High School for their father. Known then as Kim Stephens, she would have a successful playing career at Glenville State in West Virginia and lead the team to the 2010-11 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth in Division II.

Kim Stephens, now Kim Caldwell, with her father, Scott Stephens. (Family photo)

As the Glenville State head coach, Caldwell led the school to its first-ever Division II national championship and a 35-1 record in 2021-22. She earned the Pat Summitt Trophy, which is presented annually to the national coach of the year in five divisions, as the WBCA NCAA Division II Coach of the Year in 2022.

Stephens went into coaching because of her father, and he served four seasons as an assistant coach for his daughter at Glenville State. Scott Stephens died on Nov. 21, 2020, two months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“It was sudden, but sometimes sudden is a blessing,” Caldwell said. “He didn’t ever want to be sick, and he wouldn’t have done very well being sick. He was not a very patient person. He always wants to be on the go. It was heartbreaking. I think God does really does give peace to the brokenhearted. He lifted my whole family up. My siblings and my mom and I we were obviously devastated. We loved him. We had a great relationship with him. We still talk about him all the time. We still have little things that pop up where we know that’s him.”

While the diagnosis and death came fast, he had always told his family that he wanted to go quickly and he had discussed the particulars of his funeral arrangements. His tweet in 2020 about his illness is poignant years later and reflects his trademark sense of humor.

“I do think it’s important that you have conversations with your family about death before it happens,” Caldwell said. “It did make it easier, and we’ll see him again someday. He would be so proud of where I am, but my mom tells me, ‘You are so lucky he’s gone because he’d be right there in your office every single day and he’d be wanting to come with you and he’d be wearing you out, and he’d be embarrassing you on social media.

“We talk about him all the time. He was a huge influence on my life. He would be over the moon.”

A lengthy story about Caldwell that also was part of the interview can be read HERE.

Caldwell has been on campus a little over two months and has spent her time in the typical whirlwind of a coaching change from meeting with the team, hiring a staff, adding transfers, handling media, seeking permanent housing and waiting for her belongings to join her in Knoxville.

Last season, she led Marshall to the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney in her debut Division I season, earning the 2024 Spalding Maggie Dixon NCAA Division I Rookie Coach of the Year and Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors.

The season barely ended before the head coaching job at Tennessee opened up on April 1 with Caldwell in place a week later.

Tennessee coach Kim Caldwell fields questions at her introductory media conference. (UT Athletics)

Caldwell is familiar with East Tennessee, as it apparently has appeal for visitors from West Virginia. Former Lady Vol Emily Saunders, who is from Mullens, said the family vacation destination was Pigeon Forge. Caldwell and her husband, Justin Caldwell, got married in Pigeon Forge in 2023.

“Pigeon Forge is within probably five hours of most of West Virginia and it’s an amazing place,” Caldwell said. “You can do everything you want, you’ve got the Smoky Mountains, you’ve got all the attractions, and we wanted to rent a big cabin there with all of our friends and there was a perfect place for place for us. We had visited here two or three times, and we loved it, and it’s a good vacation destination within driving distance.”

It also is not uncommon for women’s basketball fans in West Virginia to pull for Tennessee, something that has as much to do with the late Pat Summitt as the proximity of the state.

“It was Pat and how great they were, and it is fairly close,” Caldwell said. “But I think that you’re going to have Tennessee Lady Vols fans everywhere because of what Pat did. For so long, Tennessee was just so much better than everyone else.”

Caldwell and her family watched the Lady Vols. At her introductory press conference in April, Caldwell said, “The part of history I need no catching up on is Pat Summitt‘s legacy and how powerful the Lady Vols family is.”

She keeps a journal – something Caldwell started when she became a coach – and has read all of Summitt’s coaching and leadership books. After a copy of the one written by this writer of Summitt’s final season was dropped off at the basketball offices for Caldwell, a handwritten note of thanks appeared days later in my mailbox. It was a move right out of Summitt’s playbook.

Maria M. Cornelius, a senior 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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *