Kim Stephens knew it wouldn’t be easy saying goodbye to her alma mater at Glenville State, a place she compiled a record of 191-24 at over seven seasons as women’s basketball head coach.
“I was sick to my stomach about it. I just didn’t want to tell them. I thought I was going to break down in tears and not be able to get the words out,” Stephens said Thursday as a guest on CityNet Statewide Sportsline just three days after she was named head women’s basketball coach at Marshall.
Stephens informed the Pioneers of her departure for Huntington just days after they wrapped up a 33-3 campaign, a season in which Glenville State won Mountain East Conference regular season and tournament championships and advanced to a national semifinal. That came despite the Pioneers having to replace more than 90 percent of their scoring production from a 35-1 team that won the National Championship the season before.
Yet when Stephens got the words out in front of her team, the response was one she wouldn’t have predicted.
“I think God was with me when I went in there and I broke the news to them. They cried. There was some tears, but it was the most remarkable thing,” Stephens recalled. “One of our best players, Breanna Campbell, looked around the room and said, ’What are you guys crying for? Where’s the champagne? Our coach made it.’ Everyone jumped up and gave me a hug. That’s when I started crying.
“They should’ve walked out on me and they didn’t. They were genuinely happy for me and that says so much about them and who they are as people that they didn’t take it personally. That’s rare for young people to not just think about themselves. They’re great people.”
Stephens’ first week on the job at Marshall has been nothing short of a whirlwind. She was introduced Monday at the Cam Henderson Center and is now at the Final Four in Dallas. Stephens is working to assemble a staff around her in the near future.
“It’s been emotional. It’s been chaotic. It’s been exciting,” she said. “It’s felt normal. It’s felt right. It’s been about every emotion you could possibly put on there.”
Having experienced unprecedented success with the Pioneers at the Division II level, Stephens’ quest is to see if that can translate to the Division I level with the Herd.
Her Glenville teams were predicated on pressing, wholesale substitutions, playing uptempo and utilizing depth to wear out the opposition.
“I’m already planning on adjusting some. Do I want to play fast? Yes. Do I want to press? Yes. But you also have to take into account the players on your roster and what they can do,” Stephens said. “It’s whatever is going to be successful. Especially year one, you have to do that.
“I am married to a specific style of play and basketball philosophy when it comes to winning the possession battle and playing fast, downhill and in open space. I do believe in that brand of basketball wholeheartedly.”
Whether or not Stephens can accomplish that at MU remains to be seen. Marshall has qualified for the NCAA Tournament only once, and that came 26 years ago. Previous head coach Tony Kemper left to assume the same position at Central Arkansas after finishing 79-90 and never winning more than 17 games in any of his six seasons.
Still, Stephens, a Parkersburg native, sees no reason why the Herd can’t compete at the highest level in the Sun Belt Conference, which it won half of its 18 regular season games in during its inaugural season in the league.
“Marshall is doing phenomenal things. They’re making improvements to facilities and putting money in the right places and becoming very competitive in the Sun Belt,” Stephens said. “They are committed to winning and that’s important to me. The talent is there that you can be successful and continue to build there. It was kind of all the right things.”
There was another major advantage Marshall had in its pursuit of Stephens — geography. She played at Parkersburg South High School and won a state championship under her father, head coach Scott Stephens. He later went on to serve as an assistant on his daughter’s staff at Glenville before passing away from a severe brain tumor in 2020.
“My dad had a legacy in this state and it’s really important to me to maintain that,” Stephens said.” It’s something I take pride in and it’s something he and I worked toward together to be a basketball name in this state. It’s something I want to continue. I don’t want to go to a different state and maybe be a nobody.”
Of the many adjustments Stephens will face in her transition to Marshall is a major difference in recruiting, particularly as it pertains to the calendar.
“In Division 2, we do all of our recruiting right now. If we’re recruiting for next season, we’re doing it now,” Stephens said. “We’re doing It portal, JUCO and whoever is left out of high school. In Division 1, you do it years in advance, so that’ll be a learning curve for me. It’ll be nice not having to be stressed March until August trying to be track people down and get people to commit, but it will be a major adjustment for me personally.”