By Marvin Luu
The UC Irvine women’s basketball team officially welcomed former New Mexico State associate head coach Tamara Inoue last week after the departure of coach Doug Oliver, who retired after the team’s first round exit of the Big West Conference tournament.
Inoue spent six years overseas in Australia, where she played until her career ended due to an injury. She would then go on to accept a coaching position in the Victorian Basketball League before returning to the United States in 2008. Inoue made a collegiate coaching debut as an assistant coach for Santa Clara.
In 2012, Inoue departed Santa Clara for Mark Trakh’s New Mexico State where she would serve as an assistant coach and subsequently, associate head coach. During her five-year tenure there, Inoue helped lead the Aggies to back to back appearances in the big dance. Last year, the Aggies witnessed their best season in years, tying their school record in most victories with 26.
Inoue’s emergence in Irvine marks her first return to Orange County since playing for Long Beach State. During her senior year back in 2002, Inoue led the Big West Conference with 5.9 assists a night. This past week, Inoue took the time to discuss her personal love for the game, the different experiences that she has collected as a player and a coach, and her plans for the program in the near future.
1) What was it about basketball that first drew you into it?
I grew up in Hawai’i on the island of Kauai and I used to watch the Lakers all the time. I loved watching Magic [Johnson] and Byron Scott and so I kinda just started going out to a local gym over there and playing with the guys and I loved seeing the ball go in the hoop so I started playing a lot more. I mean, I didn’t know too much about basketball…I just knew that I loved playing it with the guys. When I got into high school, I didn’t know much about college…I’m the oldest among my siblings so I was really the first to get familiar with the education system as far as universities go. I started getting recruiting letters and I didn’t realize you get scholarships [for basketball] so [my family and I] were like ‘sweet this is great!’[and] I knew I wanted to play as long as I could.
2) Did you always envision yourself becoming a coach someday?
Yeah…I loved my college coaches. Dallas Bolla, she was wonderful and really encouraged me to play as long as I could and then as far as coaching, she always thought that I would be a good coach…so I pursued it and went for it.
3) Having played in college and professional as well as coaching, what are the differences between the two experiences?
As a coach, when I first started, I appreciated my coaches a lot more…[laughs]… and I hope that my players will appreciate me too. [As a coach] you understand the why…you know why you get pushed and you understand the intensity that [coaches] bring. Coaching is a different beast. It’s not maybe what players think it is as far as just being on the floor and showing up everyday to practice. There is a lot that goes into it behind closed doors and there is a lot that goes into it as far as the steps you take to make your program successful and I think that when you appreciate that as a player, you play harder. My staff…my assistant coaches and I are just going to constantly teach them and make them competitors and that’s what we plan to do.
4) You spent some time over in Australia where you have played professionally and then became a coach. How has that experience shaped your understanding of the game and helped you transition from being a player and then a coach?
Australia is probably one of the best experiences that I have ever gone through. They don’t like defense so that was something that I wasn’t used to because we were a very defensive team when I played. But it was fun. They don’t play for much money…it’s really for their passion and so it’s a pure sport out there. They showed up to practice and games because they wanted to. It wasn’t forced upon them or anything like that. They really gave me an opportunity to coach and try new things and make mistakes out there and keep pushing forward and…I can’t say enough good things about them. It’s probably the best experiences that I have gone through as far as coaching where I started there…it was awesome to get to know the kids and deal with parents and all of that kind of stuff. It was awesome.
5) You have moved around quite a bit in your professional coaching career from Santa Clara to New Mexico State. How has those experiences been like for you?
As far as Santa Clara goes, it was a great experience being back in division I again and it was good. Being an assistant coach was an adjustment as far as being the top [in Australia] and coming down but you learn and you just constantly be a sponge and see what out there and learn the conference… the West Coast Conference was a little different for me [since] I played in the Big West. Then heading out to Mexico State, I met one of the best mentors I had [in] Mark Trakh. He exposed me to so much and allowed me to really grow and prepared me [for this position] because being a head coach is not as easy as people may think it is…like in that move 18 inches over is a tough thing to do and you really have to be prepared for it and I think Mark has really prepared me and allowed me to do so many things. We rebuilt in New Mexico and to see the success for it is the most rewarding thing…it really is…and it makes you want to coach harder and coach longer.
6) Why did you feel like UCI would be the next step in your career?
The Big West Conference is where I played in and as far as this conference goes, I really believe that it’s a coach’s conference. I think that there are so many great coaches in this conference that can really get their teams to play hard and that’s something that is attractive on my end of coming in here and do the same thing. I’m probably one of the youngest in the conference and the newest, obviously. I’m looking forward to learning from them and really coming in here and trying to do what coach Trakh has taught me and get [UCI’s team] going. It’s a great conference and I think it’s one of the best on the west coast.
7) How do you plan on reshaping or rebuilding the program here at UCI as you had done in New Mexico State?
When you walk into a program like this, coach Oliver and his assistants have done a great job here. The record may not show it but the players they bring into [the program] are great. It’s just maybe new blood might be a good thing as far as just getting the excitement back with these players [but] I think they’ve recruited well and what we have coming in and what we [currently] have to work with…we’re going to have a lot. It’s going to be a process… everything is a process. The best thing that I always get told is [that] it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we’re going to use that mentality and do our best and get there. We’re in a great spot…we’re in Orange County [and] Newport Beach is 15 minutes down the road…this is a great university and I think that [future] players will want to come here…we just got to show them why.
8) How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
I’m definitely up-tempo as every team on the west coast is. I’m tough. I don’t think I’m easy…and the way that I coach, I demand but at the same time I feel like I’m compassionate enough to know when to give a kid a hug and tell them it’s going to be okay. I’m a player’s coach and I pride myself on being a player’s coach and I pride myself on winning. Winning is what we’re here for and to get a great education but we’re aiming to be champions…my mentality is set on championships so we gotta get there. I don’t think any player signs a division I scholarship anywhere expecting to lose so that’s the expectation that’s going to be here as well [and] we’ll get there. I think the players here are tremendous and so far they have had tremendous work ethic. Really, I appreciate them giving me a fresh start and really giving me an opportunity to come here and coach them.
9) What are some of the goals that you have for the upcoming season/year?
The biggest goal I think for what we have for the upcoming season is for them to play hard…just play hard and enjoy themselves but really compete. We want a very competitive culture and I want our players to compete. If you come out as a fan and come out and watch our games, what I can promise you is that we’re going to play as hard as we can and give 100 percent everyday so that’s going to be the expectation that I have right now. It’s way too early as far as wins and loses goes but I know that my players, my team will play hard all the time.