Finally getting to the notebook filled with tidbits from a two-day, see-as-many-NCAA-coaches-as-possible trip to Chicago for USA Volleyball Girls Junior Nationals. There’s more to come in future editions, including an NBA-volleyball tie-in and some great time-zone challenges.
But in this case, we’ll start with, of all things, LSU football.
Yes, LSU football.
One place it was easy to find college coaches was when TAV 17 Black was playing its 17 Open matches. Everyone was there to watch a team loaded with talent that included two daughters of former LSU football players.
One was Macaria Spears, who goes by Cari, and whose dad, Marcus is a familiar face on ESPN. He played for seven years for the Dallas Cowboys before finishing with the Baltimore Raves. Cari, uncommitted, was playing up a year. The other was Jadyn Livings, whose father Nate was a longtime NFL standout for the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys. Jadyn is going to USC.
Both played on LSU’s 2003 BCS national-championship team.
Marcus Spears grew up in Baton Rouge, where I live, and I covered those guys back in the day. It was great to catch up with Marcus, and his wife, Aisha Smith, who played basketball at LSU and later for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. She never played volleyball.
It’s worth noting that she’s 6-foot-2 and Marcus is 6-4. That’s an inch shorter than their 14-year-old son, Marcus Jr. And both parents say 10-year-old Miko is something else and she will be the best athlete of the bunch.
“It was a good plan,” Spears said with a laugh.
Spears came to LSU at a time when the best athletes from the area were going elsewhere. He teamed with another Baton Rougean, Michael Clayton, who was a fantastic receiver for that LSU team and they changed the face of LSU football. Clayton’s NFL career included playing for Tampa Bay and the New York Football Giants, with who he won the 2011 Super Bowl.
Anyway … So I asked Marcus if he kept up with Michael.
He laughed and pointed.
Clayton was two courts over watching his daughter, Michaela, play for OTVB 17 of Tampa.
And we had a reunion and it was awesome.
But there’s more. The daughter of former LSU player Chuck Wiley, Logan, played for the Atlanta team A5 17-Jing and she’s headed to Georgia Tech. For that matter, all three of those aforementioned teams had other big-time players going to major college programs.
The LSU flavor wasn’t limited to players inside the convention center. LSU coach Tonya Johnson and assistant Jill Wilson played at the school. So did Wake Forest coach Randi Smart. Regan Hood, who played at LSU, is an assistant at Oklahoma. Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson Oates, who didn’t make it to Chicago, also played at LSU.
Finally, and she wasn’t at nationals, but former LSU quarterback Rohan Davey’s daughter, Rhaia, was the Baton Rouge-area player of the year last fall and is headed to Mississippi College.
ON TO IUPUI: Andrew Kroger has been on my radar since that time in March 2021 I wrote about him and his La Salle team. The one that finished with six players during the COVID season for a program was closing at season’s end.
Kroger had been an assistant at Villanova and served as interim head coach at North Alabama. Read about him and that incredible La Salle team here.
He was going fine at Ohio when another head-coaching position opened, this time at IUPUI. IUPUI not only finished 9-21 last season, 3-16 in the Horizon League, in February it hired Todd Garvey away from Jacksonville State. Then in late May he resigned. A month later the school hired Kroger, two days before AAU nationals. He went to Orlando and then Chicago. He said he wore a “Hello, My Name Is IUPU” name tag in Orlando.
“There’s been success in the past,” Kroger said. “The past two years weren’t great, but we’re in the middle of some really, really good volleyball. Not that I’m going to limit myself to it, but you could do pretty well just recruiting in a 50-mile radius.
“Lot and lots of local talent. And it’s one of the few downtown Midwest downtown campuses and I love downtown Indy.”
By the way, get those novelty T-shirts while you still can: Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis ends after next school year when it stops being a collaborative.
“We’re just going to be IU Indianapolis,” Kroger said.
PLAY LIKE AN EGYPTIAN: Justin Ingram, the coach at UIC (Illinois Chicago) had in 2021 a 6-10 Egyptian in Salma Adbelhady. Adbelhady, who retired because of medical issues, was one of two players from Cairo. The other was setter Sohila Wafeek, who will be a senior for the 2023 Flames.
UIC has a truly international roster. In addition to players from Argentina, Brazil, Serbia, Philippines, Bulgaria and Italy (and Puerto Rico, which means she’s American), Ingram has another Egyptian in sophomore Ayat Amin.
“I started recruiting Egypt going for the player that’s currently at Kansas (junior outside Aya Elnady), and I want to say it was between us, Kansas and maybe one other school,” Ingram said.
UIC finished 22-10 last season, 13-5 in the Missouri Valley.
Worth noting is that Ingram, who has never been to Egypt, starts his seventh year at UIC, but before that he was the successful coach at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, which happens to be my alma mater.
Here’s the nugget: SIU is in the part of Illinois called “Little Egypt” where there’s the two of Cairo, which is pronounced Kay-roh.
REFFING IN THE SPIRIT OF THINGS: This photo was taken, obviously, on the Fourth of July. The official is Paul Wilk from Memphis and the Delta Region: