Former Alabama assistantto coach U women’s hoops

Aaron Kirscht

After spending most of her first meeting with the local news media explaining the many reasons why she took the job as Gophers women’s head basketball coach, Cheryl Littlejohn confessed there’s just one problem.
“The one thing that I’m not excited about — and I hate to say this — is the weather outside,” she said. “But that’s OK, because it’s going to get hot in the Sports Pavilion.”
And so began the Littlejohn era, one that, if nothing else, is likely to be rife with enthusiasm, high hopes and a sense of humor. Winning, she said, will follow.
“The one thing I promised (the players) is that we’re not going to look back,” Littlejohn said. “When you look back, you lose progress. We’re looking forward to the future of the program, and it’s going to be bright.”
Littlejohn, 32, will take over for Linda Hill-MacDonald, who resigned March 7 after seven years at the helm. The Gophers finished last season with a 4-24 record, including a 2-33 mark in the Big Ten over the last two seasons.
The native of Gastonia, N.C., signed a five-year contract that will pay her up to $100,000 per year with a base salary of $90,000. Hill-MacDonald would have made $87,500 next season.
The Minnesota position is Littlejohn’s first as a head coach. But she boasts a long resume as an assistant and recruiter.
After playing under Pat Summitt at Tennessee from 1983-87, where she was on the 1987 national championship team, Littlejohn went to work for the Drug Enforcement Agency. But a call from Summitt convinced her to return to basketball.
In 1991, Littlejohn was hired as an assistant coach at North Carolina State, where she remained until taking the same job at Alabama. There Littlejohn acquired a reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters.
“I was looking for a good recruiter,” said women’s athletics director Chris Voelz, “but I found more than that. She is a great recruiter.”
Littlejohn oversaw the signings of back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes the last two seasons, including 1996 first-team All-American Shalonda Enis and 1997 Southeastern Conference MVP Dominique Canty.
Even though her duties will change as a head coach, Littlejohn said she plans to continue her personal emphasis on recruiting, especially in Minnesota.
“That’s one thing I’m not letting go of,” she said. “That’s my strength. I’m going to keep that strength, and I will recruit. But I’m also going to hire someone whose strength is recruiting.”
Littlejohn lacks the name recognition of some of the dozen or more other coaches who were contacted about the job. Already, however, she appears to have gained the allegiance of her players.
“When we saw her walk in we were like, ‘Who’s she?'” said Angie Iverson, the Gophers’ leading scorer and rebounder last season. “But her excitement and enthusiasm really came through.
“It wasn’t so much what she said, it was how she said it that got us all pumped up.”
Voelz contacted Alabama athletics director Bob Bockrath last week to inquire about Littlejohn. On Thursday, Bockrath said he gave Voelz a “hearty recommendation,” but head coach Rick Moody admitted that Littlejohn’s departure is a loss for Alabama.
“There’s no question in my mind that she’ll be able to turn that program around in a relatively short period of time,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a sad day for our program because we hate to lose her.”