SPRINGFIELD – She should have seen this sales job coming.
After all, she’s dealt with them her entire basketball life.
Tamika Williams-Jeter got her first college recruiting letter when she was a sixth grader growing up on Retford Drive in Jefferson Township.
Once at Chaminade Julienne High School, she became the No. 1 ranked recruit in the nation. She’d score 2,015 points, win Ohio Miss Basketball honors and, at age 17, get a seven-page spread in Sports Illustrated.
When Ohio State recruited her, the Buckeyes sent a private plane for what she said was “like a 10-minute ride.”
Georgia coach Andy Landers had her to his house for a pig roast. When the main course, which was cooked underground, arrived with an apple in its open mouth, she and another recruit went squealing in uncertainty back into the house.
The Purdue coach added a personal touch and drew a picture of the Williams’ schnauzer, Pooter.
And UConn’s Geno Auriemma had her over for steaks on the grill and several Italian specialties that tapped into his Italian roots.
She chose UConn, became the National Freshman of the Year, would score 1,402 career points, win two national titles and end up in the Huskies’ Ring of Honor.
A first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Lynx, where she made the WNBA’s All-Rookie Team, she played seven seasons in the league and then embarked on a 17-year coaching career as an assistant at Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Penn State.
At each stop she was a recruiter, yet the enticement this spring initially caught her off guard.
Brian Agler, who’d drafted her No. 6 overall out of UConn and initially coached her in Minnesota, had returned to Wittenberg University, his alma mater, as the new athletics director.
This came after several years as a college coach and then 25 in the pros, where he won two titles with the Columbus Quest in the old American Basketball League and then two more WNBA crowns with the Seattle Storm in 2010 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016.
He had been a standout point guard at Wittenberg in the late 1970s, starting on the team that won the Division III national title in 1977, and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1995.
Now he was back to take over a program that has perennial success in several sports and in 2019 had christened its stunning, new $53 million, 265,000 square foot Health, Wellness and Athletic Complex – called The Steemer – that includes an indoor football field, six-lane, 330-meter track, a 7,000 square foot weight room, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, high-tech classrooms, offices and locker rooms.
Last spring, a couple of months after taking over the job, he called Williams-Jeter, an OSU assistant coach, living in Columbus with her husband, Richard Jeter, a former pro basketball player, and their two sons, 6-year old R.J. and 2-year-old Jo Jo.
“Brian called and asked me to come look at his new job,” she remembered. “He was like, ‘I need help.’ He’d been coaching professional basketball for 25 years and felt like a fish out of water. And I’d been in college sports, so I figured it’d be like, ‘Well, as an AD, you gotta do this and this and this.’
“But after a couple of visits, he goes, ‘You know, we’ve got a head coaching job open.’ And I was like ‘Really? I can help you with some candidates. Who you trying to get?’
“And he just looked at me and said, ‘You!’
“The whole time I didn’t realize he’d been working me,” she laughed. “The thing is, I never wanted to be a head coach. I liked being able to make personal connections with players and as a head coach your plate is too full to do some of that.”
Yet, she said there had been some D-I offers and some interest from the WNBA and the NBA. With the latter, she’d be following the path of two former UConn teammates:
Asjha Jones is now an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers and Swin Cash is the Vice President of Operations for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Agler, though, was going to do everything in his power to lure her to Wittenberg, which had gone through three head coaches in just over a year.
“Take basketball away from Tamika and she’s still a championship person,” he said. “She’s just got those qualities. She connects with people. She’s cordial, engaging, energetic and genuine. Add in her basketball pedigree and her experiences with people and you can’t help but have total respect for her.”
He stressed she could have more balance in her life. More time at home with her husband and two boys, not to mention her mom, who is dealing with some health issues.
“It wasn’t an open and shut decision for her,” Agler said. “She came over a couple of times and then she brought her husband, and then her sister and then the kids.”
She met with various people on campus, including Wittenberg president Michael Frandsen, and eventually she was offered a Senior Associate Athletics Director position to go with the coaching job.
She accepted and that left the Wittenberg players – several not even born when their 41-year-old coach was playing at UConn – doing some quick research.
“We hadn’t heard of her, but we looked her up on line and watched videos and I was like ‘Oh my gosh! This girl is legit!’” said senior guard Abby Yunker. “She played with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and played for Geno. Those are all people we watch today.”
“We were all in awe that she was our new head coach,” said sophomore forward Jade Simpson. “It was crazy that we were getting an opportunity to play for someone who was a big star.”
Senior guard Kristie Kalis, the team’s leading scorer, agreed: “She and Brian Agler both being here, two people from the WNBA, it’s just so random. It’s exciting.”
While Agler and Williams Jeter bring a stellar past with them, both are looking for a starry future.
While her Tigers open the season next Friday against visiting Illinois Wesleyan with nine freshmen, Williams-Jeter has her sights set on one thing:
“We want to win a national championship.
“It might not happen this year or next year, but I wouldn’t want to coach anywhere and not want to win it all. I tell every recruit that.”
‘Snotty-nosed kid from Jefferson Township’
She has a husband and a “boyfriend.”
Richard Jeter played professional basketball around the globe: Russia, Turkey, Lithuania, Ukraine, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Greece, New Zealand and Brazil. He’s now the director of the Columbus-based AA program – Ohio United.
The couple’s parenting is a collaborative effort.
“I get up about 6:30 and wake the six-year old at 7 and get him in the shower,” Tamika said. “Richard handles the two-year-old while I get breakfast started and make sure to check the homework.
“R.J. is in first grade and he likes to take the bus, so his dad walks him out to the bus stop. Jo Jo’s daycare is right down the street so Richard takes him while I get ready. It’s a 45-minute drive and I handle my calls on the way.”
In the evening she tries to get back home in time to be with her sons before bedtime.
“When I walk in, it’s like ‘Mommmm!’ and they come running down the hall. I call my six-year-old my boyfriend. During the day, he calls me on FaceTime and says ‘Where are you?’
“We try to get him in bed by 8:30. I go over his sight words with him and he has two books he reads every night.”
Much of the way she parents – and some of the way she coaches – is based in the way her parents – George and Jo – raised her and her two sisters (Tangy and Tiffany) and her brother (Mike).
Her late father was a Vietnam vet and a real personality. Her mom was a longtime teacher at Colonel White High. Mike played basketball at Miami University and Tangy played at Bowling Green.
“Mike and Tangy are nine and 11 years older than me and Tiffany is six years younger, so I was on my own and I didn’t play sports until late,” she said. “I was scared of the expectations, scared of being compared to my brother and sister.
“Finally, Ann Szabo, who just passed away, she was the first person at Corpus Christi to say. ‘You need to play volleyball.’
She’s the first person who put sports in my mind, and then she gave me a basketball and a softball.
Finally, she talked to my parents and said, ‘This kid is pretty good.’
“My mom eventually moved me over to St. Alberts and, well, the rest is history.”
Over the years she, too, has traveled the world through basketball.
“Whoever thought a snotty-nosed little kid from Jefferson Township would do all this?” she smiled. “I’ve been to Sri Lanka and lived in the south of India for two months (coaching the national team.) I’ve been to China, Ukraine and Africa five or six times. “And now there comes a point when you want to take all those experiences and dump them into young people. That’s what I get to do every day now. Just help them grow.”
She’s got help now, too.
This summer she made Trendale Perkins her assistant coach. He’s the former Patterson Co-Op All City star who played football at Ohio University and spent the past seven years as a women’s basketball coach at Sinclair Community College.
The last three years he was the head coach and in his first season his team won the conference title and was named the conference coach of the year.
But then Sinclair cancelled its sports programs at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and hasn’t reinstated them.
This season Perkins vowed to be coaching somewhere and when he heard Williams-Jeter was running a camp in June, he volunteered to work at it.
Perkins said he hit it off with her husband and her – “I just get a good vibe from them” – and as the summer progressed, he decided to see if he could be a volunteer coach for her.
In July, when he heard she needed a new assistant coach, he applied and eventually was offered the job,
That left him with a big decision. He’d worked the past 16 years as a social worker for Montgomery Country Jobs and Family Services and would have to quit.
“My wife Dianne supported me,” he said. “She said, ‘It’s time. You’ve been waiting to coach full time for a long time and here’s your opportunity. You have to take it.
“And every day now I realize I absolutely made the right decision. With Coach Mika and everything else, we have a true gem at Wittenberg.”
‘I love this job’
Williams-Jeter is trying to develop her players outside of basketball, too, and that led to a team Zoom call with Cash.
“I asked Swin to talk to our players and she said, ‘You want me in my office?’ I said, ‘No, I want you the way you and me would talk at 7 at night.’
“So our kids are expecting this glamour girl – this Olympian and world champion and NBA VP – and instead they get Mom!
“Swin’s there holding her infant son who just spit up. She’s got her ball of hair on top of her head. Her mom is chasing her four-year-old in the background. And she goes ‘Hi guys!’
“They asked her questions and she talked about being the only woman in the room and making million-dollar decisions and transitioning from an athlete to being taken seriously in the front office.
“I wanted them to know Swin is just like their mom, trying to manage her life and still doing it all. I think those lessons are invaluable.”
Perkins talks about Williams-Jeter’s office being like a revolving door with students, coaches and people from campus coming into it all day long.
“I just love the energy here,” she said. “I love this job.”
You could see that in her practice the other evening and afterward, as she sat on the sideline, talking about her journey.
And that’s when she nodded to the court: “There are still kids out there working. As a team, they come to the gym for extra work more than anyone I know.”
When the last of the players was walking out, she called out: “Good job today! Stay safe!”
Once the gym was deserted, she readied to go home.
She had story books to read.
She had a boyfriend waiting.