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November 16, 2012

Budke's spirit still lives in Oklahoma State basketball

He usually sat a few rows up, his right leg crossed over his left while he leaned against the row behind him and smiled.

It's there he sat every Monday, a few members of the media gathered around asking questions about his team. It didn't matter if it was a big-wig from ESPN or a student-reporter from the school newspaper like me just trying to make ten bucks on a story.

He treated everyone the same.

Kurt Budke was a coach like no other. He was a father-figure to the Oklahoma State women's team, a friend to his coaches, and a buddy with the media.

He always sat right there in that second row in the south student section of Gallagher-Iba Arena while he talked to us. It didn't matter what we asked, he always answered with a smile.

When the interviews were over, he made genuine small talk. Most coaches rush off because their lives are hectic, and we know that, but Budke never did. He really did want to know how my classes were going, and he really wanted to know what kind of trouble I was trying to find this weekend.

In practice, it was more of the same. When his players messed up, he was there to correct them in his gentle, yet affirmative way.

That guy in the second row with his right leg crossed over his left was a winner. He didn't construct winning basketball teams, he constructed winning families that loved each other. That showed two years ago when Texas A&M came to town. Sure, the Pokes lost the game, but they shut down the dominant Danielle Adams and gave one of the best teams in the nation all they could handle.

He concentrated on developing the woman and the player alike. The team's record took care of itself.

It's unfortunate that such a giant of a man was taken from the Oklahoma State family so early along with assistant coach Miranda Serna and Olin and Paula Bransetter. It isn't fair that tragedy had to strike the same school twice. But at the same time, it's like Budke never really left at all.

Go watch the girls play in Gallagher-Iba one weekend and you'll see. Coach Jim Littell has taken over since the tragedy and done splendidly, and Littell's team has done their best to move on, but you can tell they have a chip on their shoulder.

It's just as evident this season as it was earlier this year when the Cowgirls narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. Instead of getting down on themselves and mailing it in early, they knew they were playing for more than just the names on the front of their jersey. They finally ended their season by taking the WNIT title, and taking a team picture with the trophy-A team that included their teammate and coach Budke's widow, Shelley.

It's interesting that such a simple man's spirit could still be so evident in a program a year after he's gone, but it shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knew him.

Even though he's been gone for a year as of today, the coach never really left.

His spirit still lives there- Sitting in the second row, right leg crossed over his left, smiling.


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