SDSU women’s basketball transition from coach Burns to Terry

by Brandon Truffa, Senior Staff Writer

The past three seasons have been a transition period for the San Diego State women’s basketball team.

The Aztecs have been transitioning from the era that former head coach Beth Burns left behind, and into the new era which has been established by current head coach Stacie Terry.

Burns coached the Aztecs for nine seasons (1989-97), before landing a head coaching job with the Ohio State University Buckeyes. She spent five seasons in Columbus, which included leading OSU to a WNIT championship in 2000.

At the end of the 2002 season, the Buckeyes refused to renew her contract, and three years later, Burns returned to the Mesa for her second stint with the Aztecs.

For the next eight seasons SDSU would win two Mountain West Tournament and regular season titles, and make three NCAA tournament appearances, going as far as the Sweet 16 in 2010.

Additionally, former SDSU guard Jene Morris would be drafted in the first round, 11th overall, of the 2010 WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever.

But in April 2013, the unexpected happened.

Burns retired, one season after the Aztecs finished 27-7 overall, 15-2 in the MW, and made it to the second round of the WNIT.

“I wasn’t really expecting that at all,” senior guard Ahjalee Harvey said. “It was difficult. When you come to college you don’t necessarily anticipate that you’ll go through a staff change, or coaching change like that.”

Having the opportunity to be coached by Burns was a large part of why Harvey chose SDSU, and a large reason why senior forward Deidra Smith decided to transfer to the Mesa after her freshman season at Boston College. But both Harvey and Smith would only play one season under Burns.

Burns left as the winningest coach in program history, and controversy surrounded her departure. Many believed the move was not voluntary due to rumors of conflict between her and the athletic program. 

Since then, the team and school have moved on, and the 2015-16 season marked the end of the third season in the Terry era.

Shifting from Burns to Terry was an enduring process. Harvey even considered transferring after Burns left to avoid such a change.

“I thought to give it a chance, (and) give it an opportunity and kind of see where it went,” Harvey said.

Ironically, the staff that originally recruited Smith at Boston College was let go right after she transferred to SDSU in 2012. After her first year as an Aztec, where she redshirted under Burns, she once again had to adapt to a new system.

The direction the program went, and is still going, under Terry was night and day compared to her predecessor.

“It was weird getting a very different feel from one coach to another coach,” Harvey said. “Coach Burns is very, very intense, very passionate about the game, and then (Terry), she really brought a family of closeness atmosphere to the court. So it was interesting to get both elements.”

Smith also elaborated on Terry’s “family feel” approach.

“They’re two different coaches,” Smith said. “The atmosphere changed a lot it was definitely more of a family feel. It was definitely less stress.”

Both Terry and Burns are passionate coaches, however Smith said Terry is more of an open book off the court, while Burns was a little more reserved.

“Coach Burns was a mystery,” Smith said. “She was just about basketball, that was her business. We didn’t really know much about her, but coach Terry is definitely more of an open book and you can go and talk to her if you need to.”

Terry’s more welcoming approach allows players to feel comfortable going to her for advice on anything.

“If there’s something personal going on with your life you can go and talk to her and she won’t have any judgement,” Smith said.

“(Terry) is a little more easygoing,” Harvey said, “and that makes it easier for a player to kind of gravitate toward her, and feel a little more comfortable.”

On the court, Burns’ passion was translated via her intensity, while Terry’s energy helps convey her passion.

“(Terry’s) personality kind of just translates onto the court,” Harvey said. “She’s always high energy. You feel that energy from her.”

In the three years under Terry, the Aztecs have gone 37-55, including 23-31 in the MW. But Smith thinks the early struggles are from Terry inheriting a team, rather than having the opportunity to build one.

Now that Terry has had time to recruit the team that fits her system, Smith believes she has the team heading in the right direction.

“It was a little more difficult for her coming in because she didn’t recruit any of us,” Smith said. “So now that she has the pieces that she wants, it’s probably going to go in the direction she wants.”