The Queen of Illinois hoops: Stein to be inducted in IBCA Hall of Fame

Coach+Cindy+Stein+signals+to+her+players+during+SIU%27s+77-54+win+against+Wichita+State+on+Friday%2C+Jan.+13%2C+2017%2C+at+SIU+Arena.
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The Queen of Illinois hoops: Stein to be inducted in IBCA Hall of Fame

Coach Cindy Stein signals to her players during SIU's 77-54 win against Wichita State on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at SIU Arena.

Coach Cindy Stein signals to her players during SIU's 77-54 win against Wichita State on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at SIU Arena.

Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto

Coach Cindy Stein signals to her players during SIU's 77-54 win against Wichita State on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at SIU Arena.

Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto

Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto

Coach Cindy Stein signals to her players during SIU's 77-54 win against Wichita State on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, at SIU Arena.

By Tamar Mosby, Sports Reporter

Cindy Stein, Saluki Women’s Basketball head coach, is set to be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 4th at Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois.

“This is a great honor and I appreciate all of the amazing things the IBCA has done for the sport of basketball,” Stein said. “It’s humbling to be amongst so many talented individuals and teams.”

An induction into the IBCA Hall of Fame is considered a great honor among Illinois coaches, but Stein revealed being inducted was never one of her primary goals.

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“It wasn’t something I strived for,” Stein said on her induction. “I was just focused on being the best player, coach and person I could be; but I do think it’s awesome when you’re able to get recognized for being successful.”

IBCA Hall of Fame committee member and long time acquaintance Mark Kleeman was the first in the Coaches Association to take note of Stein’s remarkable career.

“We look for someone who played their high school career in Illinois and had a great impact on their team,” Kleemann said. “Cindy was definitely a pioneer for women’s basketball in both high school and college.”

Stein said she fell in love with basketball at a young age and was introduced to the game by her older brothers.

“My older brothers were very sports oriented and I just followed them around,” Stein said. “My neighborhood was also full of guys and I would always play against them.”

During the time Stein was coming up as a player, women’s sports were often times overlooked and frowned upon but she did not let this deter her from doing what she loved.

“I was very fortunate that my parents just let me be myself,” Stein said. “They didn’t try to fit me into a mold. I knew I was going to play sports regardless of what people thought because that’s what I loved.”

The head coach is no stranger to Illinois hoops, spending the entirety of her playing career at schools in the state while setting numerous records.

Stein hails from Peoria, Illinois where she played basketball for her local team at Richwoods High School.

“I grew up in a basketball city,” Stein said. “In Peoria, they love the game of basketball and I think that had a lot to do with me being so successful in it growing up.”

The Peoria Richwoods women’s program has recently notched their 1000th win into record books with several of these wins belonging to Stein and her teammates.

“Cindy was in one of the first strong classes at Peoria Richwoods,” Kleemann said. “We recently recognized the school for their 1000th win and she was a very big part of that.”

From Richwoods, she went on to play two seasons at Illinois Central College where she and her team made back-to-back appearances in the NJCAA National Tournament. Stein also earned All- American honors and set several school records during her time at Illinois Central.

After her time in the NJCAA, Stein transferred to the University of Illinois to play in the Big Ten Conference. While playing for the Fighting Illini, she and her team achieved two winning seasons and a second round NCAA Tournament appearance.

“My first year at the University of Illinois was the first year of the NCAA Tournament for women,” Stein said. “I am very fortunate that I was able to be apart of something that the women before me fought for.”

Stein’s ability to effectively pass the ball helped her to etch her name into Illini record books as eighth overall in total assists with 323, second in assists on a season with 170 and fourth in assists on a single game with 13.

When she graduated from Illinois, she began her coaching career as a graduate assistant for the University of Central Michigan while earning her master’s degree in physical education.

After moving around as an assistant coach, Stein found her first head coaching job at Emporia College in Kansas.

During her time at Emporia, she turned the program around to achieve two winning seasons and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Her efforts earned her the honor of being named the National Coach of the Year by three publications, one of them being from the Women’s Basketball Association.

When asked about her main focus as a head coach, the Peoria native surprisingly did not name wins and losses.

“I always want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Stein said. “When so much focus is placed on winning and losing, it takes away from the development of the person.”

Before settling into her job as SIU’s current head coach, Stein also coached for Illinois Central and Mizzou. She spent 12 seasons in Columbia, Missouri as head coach for the Tigers and in that time span, won 185 games and appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times.

Stein’s players at Mizzou earned a total of 24 All-Big 12 honors and five of her players went on to play professionally in the WNBA.

“I am very excited for them because I know how much it means to them,” Stein said. “Those kids worked their butts off to get to where they are, so a lot of credit goes to them.”

Since Stein’s arrival in Carbondale in 2013, the SIU Women’s Basketball program has greatly improved, posting four straight winning seasons and setting school records in career points, rebounds and blocks.

“My favorite part of coaching is the girls,” Stein said. “They all have great personalities. It’s fun to watch them grow as players and people.”

It seems Stein’s love for her players is not unrequited as SIU women’s top performer, junior forward Nicole Martin, described Stein as an amazing leader who is secretly humorous.

“She is a great leader,” Martin said. “She brings us together and encourages us when we play. By far, my favorite thing about her is her sense of humor. She’s hilarious!”

Stein’s personality and kindness was also one of the things Martin said made her want to commit to a collegiate career at Southern.

“When I came on my visit she was very nice to me and so easy to talk to,” Martin said. “That’s what made me want to commit to SIU.”

Martin said the biggest lesson she has learned from her head coach is patience.

“The most important thing Coach Stein has taught me is patience,” Martin said. “I am a hot head at times, but she has always been very patient with me and my teammates. She gives you a chance to be a better person.”

Individuals outside of the SIU program, like Mark Kleemann, have also taken notice of Stein’s bond with her players.

“The way she relates to her players and sets standards for them is one of the great things about her as a coach,” Kleemann said. “Her players are invested in her coaching and the process.”

Sports reporter Tamar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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