PHOENIX – When Louisville’s Stephanie Norman takes the floor with the Cardinals against fellow No. 1 seed South Carolina today, it will be her fourth trip to the women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four as an assistant coach.
“The realization of how good we can be is coming to the forefront in the four wins in this tourney to this point,” Norman said.
Her college roots start in Tempe, where she played at Arizona State for head coaches Juliene Simpson and Maura McHugh. She averaged 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and was a self-described “role player.”
Although she wasn’t a superstar, she learned a lot about the game sitting on the sideline, she said.
“Some of the best coaches are the ones who have to sit back and analyze the game,” Norman said. “I appreciated that I was a role player and learned more about the game that way.”
Norman, who grew up in Oregon, began her coaching career at the University of British Columbia in Canada, coaching the junior varsity team – something Canadian colleges have similar to high school’s in the U.S. Then spent a season at University of Hawaii before a seven year run as an assistant coach at Oregon. Next came Oregon State and Vanderbilt before settling in at Louisville, where she’s in her 15th season with the program and 10th as associate head coach.
Former ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne, who recently announced her retirement after 28 seasons as a head coach, said Norman has made her mark on the game.
“She might be considered the best recruiter in college women’s basketball,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s amazing and has done so much for Louisville and every program she’s been at. She’s just a winner.”
While at Vanderbilt, Norman helped establish the No. 1 recruiting class in 2003, which produced the No. 10 and 14 picks in the 2007 WNBA Draft. At Louisville, her list of recruiting accolades is long. She inked the No. 1 class of 2015 that featured three McDonald’s All-Americans, the No. 6 freshman class in 2016, the No. 4 class in 2017 and the No. 5 class in 2020. She helped Louisville grab the 12th-best recruiting class in 2008, followed by three-consecutive top 10 classes (2009, 2010 and 2011) with the 2010 class coming in at No. 5 nationally.
“She’s a tireless worker, players love her and I can’t say enough great things about her,” Turner Thorne said. “I’m just so proud of her and I think she’s definitely one of the best in the game.”
Norman reciprocated the praise
“My alma mater means a lot to me and I always peak at them from afar and that place holds a special place in my heart,” Norman said. “She is really legendary and to be able to go out on her own terms and to be somewhere for 25 years is not common.”
After Louisville defeated Michigan 62-50 on Monday, Norman received a congratulatory tweet from Turner Thorne.
— Charli Turner Thorne (@ASUCoachCharli) March 29, 2022
“That’s the type of person she is and she bleeds Sun Devil maroon and gold,” Norman said. “The common denominator of ASU rises above everything. It’s super cool to see someone of her prowess to recognize what excellence looks like. We’re in that same family together.”
Last season, Norman was named Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year. She helped lead Louisville to a 26-4 record and an Elite Eight appearance.
“She’s an influencer and the people around her are getting better and what separates people that always are successful (is) number one their work ethic, and I think also just like who they are as people,” Turner Thorne said.
The popularity of women’s basketball has grown in the last few years. In fact, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament just set an attendance record for this year’s first and second round games.
The first 48 games of the tournament saw an attendance of 216,890 spectators across 32 sessions, topping the previous high of 214,290 in 2004. In the 2018-2019 season, the last full season before the pandemic, more than eight million fans consumed college women’s basketball.
Three teams saw attendance north of 10,000 fans for their first round games – Connecticut (10,167), Louisville (10,414) and South Carolina (14,382). The game is as popular as it’s ever been and Norman credits Turner Thorne with helping the growth of the sport.
“She’s a rockstar for our industry and has fought for women’s sports,” Norman said. “The game and people matter to her.”
Turner Thorne appreciated Norman’s compliments. In 2000, ASU hosted the first-ever women’s basketball game at then-Bank One Ballpark when they took on Tennessee and legendary coach Pat Summit.
“(Norman is) a great coach in our game, she’s visionary and she mentors,” Turner Thorne said. “She makes people better which allows them to be successful.”
Louisville will battle South Carolina today at 4 p.m. Arizona time.
“We’re gonna play hard with a lot of energy. We have a plan and great players too,” Norman said. “We’re gonna do what we’ve always done and won’t change anything. We’re gonna play a style of basketball that will be fun to watch.”