Former Gophers women’s basketball coach Pam Borton has taken her passion for mentoring to the pro level, so to speak.
Her nonprofit, TeamWomenMN, is holding its third annual leadership conference at Golden Valley Country Club on Friday. Kim Valentini, founder of Smile Network International, is the keynote speaker at the event where entrepreneur panelists will include Martha of Sweet Martha’s Cookies fame and Sarah Buxton from St. Helena’s Vineyard in Napa Valley. TeamWomenMN.org has additional details.
“I think there is a need for women supporting women and networking, mentoring, helping other women reach their full potential,” Borton told me. “Mentoring and role modeling for 18- to 22-year-olds, actually, that was the part of my job which I absolutely loved. … I wanted to be able to do that at a whole different level with a different age group of people.”
In her first interview since being fired in March after 12 years as head coach at Minnesota, Borton talks about her current feelings toward the U. She had surprising answers about what broadcasts she never tunes into and the basketball essential that she doesn’t allow at her home.
My startribune.com/video also features her agreeing to do something I’m sure her former players will enjoy watching. Keep watching past the video credit.
Q: What are your feelings about the U right now?
A: I’m always going to have a special place in my heart for the University of Minnesota. Going to the Final Four, being part of history and the storied tradition of the University of Minnesota’s women’s basketball program. But to see the campus transformed — from TCF Bank Stadium to the biomedical area to Northrop’s renovation to the light rail going through campus and renovation of the Rec Center to all the new medical buildings on campus to the new student organization across from Weismann — I just feel extremely blessed to be part of the golden years of the University of Minnesota.
Q: What was your emotional state while awaiting word on whether you would continue to be the coach?
A: Very positive. Calm. That’s just me. It’s the nature of the business. We’ve got new leadership over there and a lot of times they want their own people, their own regime around them. It is what it is. Things like that happen in this profession.
Q: Does reading and hearing media speculation about whether you’ll be fired make you more anxious or sanguine?
A: That’s an interesting question. You hear about that every year for football coaches and women’s basketball coaches all around the country. … I’ve been here for 12 years in this media market. Been through a lot of successes, challenges so I am really used to the attention, either positive or negative. In our jobs we don’t have time to pay attention to the unnecessary speculations, the gossip and the social media. If you spend your time paying attention to that you’re not doing your job.
Q: Is there a U booster from whom you are surprised that you’ve heard nothing since your dismissal?
A: [Extended laughter] Booster or people you thought were your friends? Or in your close circle? You know what — I’m not surprised by anything. I’ve been through a lot of challenges since I’ve been here at the University of Minnesota. I think the people you think are in your big circle of friends, when things like this happen your circle gets really small.
Q: When you were coaching at the U what time did your day begin?
A: Seven in the morning. I’d get up and work out. I think it’s a responsibility of a coach, you’re coaching athletes, you need to stay in shape and work out, so you can function on the basketball court. So you can function being active for a full day. I get work done here at home — e-mails, phone calls — even before my workday began. Get to work and then I’m working until 11 o’clock or midnight every single night, seven days a week.
Q: What’s your day like now?
A: Oh, heaven. I’m still up early. I get an extra long workout in, get an extra long walk with my dogs. I’m out in the community and still doing a lot of things in the community I was doing before, connections. I’m actually getting some projects done that I haven’t be able to do to my house. Spending extra time with friends and family. Enjoying life and getting a new perspective on things and resetting myself.
Q: What’s next?
A: I really haven’t thought about what I’m going to do next. I’m really taking some time off. I’ve been coaching Division I basketball 27 years, 12 years here at the University of Minnesota. There is very little time during your professional career that you get to take a month or two off, sit back and evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. A lot of things happen for a reason. A lot of times when you hit a speed bump it takes you a lot further than you were. I’m going to stay extremely involved in the community. I’ve got deep roots here. I’m going to get deeper roots, put more time into my nonprofit TeamWomenMN and take that to another level: speaking engagements, work with the Lynx a little bit this summer. There are a lot of options out there.
Q: Is there one thing college women’s basketball needs to do to attract more people to the games?
A: Absolutely. Marketing departments really need to put a lot more money into marketing women’s basketball. That’s your marquee sport, No. 1 sport at most schools. They need to make the environment a lot more fan friendly like the WNBA. They play music. They have a lot of events. They keep fans engaged. That’s not what college women’s basketball does a very good job at right now.
Q: Is there one thing that the sports-attending fans needs to know about women’s basketball that would make them realize they should attend the games?
A: It’s all about our student athletes. Our student athletes work so hard. What they do, it’s not easy. They put blood, sweat and tears into training, school, studying. There are a lot of pressures, expectations on those kids. They need to come support the student athlete, more than anything.
Q: Do you foresee a day when a woman will coach a Division I men’s basketball team?
A: I sure hope so. I hope women just stay in the game coaching women right now. That percentage has gone down. There are lot of men coaching women’s sports. For women to cross that line and go on the men’s side, I hope that happens, but I hope women stay involved in coaching women, period.
Q: I could have seen former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt coaching men, but is coaching men something you would like to do?
A: I really enjoy coaching women. Women need a role model, a mentor.
Q: I thought those Minnesota State footballers looked like chuckleheads for saying they wouldn’t practice with their reinstated coach, Todd Hoffner. What did you think?
A: This makes you shake your heard. I think they’re kids, they are really immature. This day and age, kids feel like they deserve to have their voices heard. Accountability and respect for your elders and respecting authority, those have gone by the wayside. That’s how we grew up. You would never think about doing that to your coach and your parents. The times have really changed.
Q: Now some college kids think they’re in charge in a way other generations didn’t?
A: That starts at home with the support system at home. Kids are sometimes telling their parents what to do and really running the household and the parents’ lives.
Q: What’s going on in the minds of students when U officials tell kids not to go rioting after the next hockey game and a bunch of them decide to do it anyway?
A: We all should take a lesson in reverse psychology. Maybe we should have invited everybody out to riot to see what [would happen]. Kids are kids. It’s a college environment. It was something that was built up and talked about a lot. The students did not want to disappoint all the big talk, so they showed up ready to go.
Q: Do you think college athletes should be paid beyond their scholarships?
A: College athletes should be paid based on what they’re worth. If you ask the college athlete, ‘Should you get paid?’ they would say yes. Then I would say, ‘I will pay you on how much you are producing. Are you playing, sitting on the bench, dropping 20 points a game? You’ll get paid on production.’ I think they would have different answers then.
Q: A guy on Twitter insisted to me that when college athletes unionize they will select their coaches. Really?
A: I think athletes feel they should be selecting coaches now. The 20-year-olds feel they should have a say in everything that happens, every decision that’s made. How dare you make that decision without asking me? That’s just the type of kids we are dealing with now.
Q: You are very fit. Can you explain the out-of-shape coach to me? I’ll give passes for medical conditions, but if you are the coach and at a workout facility most days of the week, why aren’t you holding meetings while you’re on the treadmill or circuit training?
A: I think coaches have a responsibility to stay in shape. That’s being a good mentor, role model. Being able to demonstrate on the court on what you want your athletes to do. You have to be active, be able to put in more hours. The whole energy level. Your passion for what you are doing. That’s all about staying in shape and being a healthy person.
Q: What’s the most unhealthy item you eat?
A: I eat junk food. I do a really good job of working out every day, but I eat chocolate, I’ll eat chips, fried chicken. I like it all. Anything in moderation. You can’t have it every day.
Q: What do you do as a coach to get a player’s attention when they are not engaged?
A: A lot of different methods. Completely stop and be silent. [She treated me to three seconds of uncomfortable silence.] Stare at the person like that. [She demonstrated.] I would be like, “Right, C.J., don’t you agree with me?” Use their name. Calling them out in front of their teammates.
Q: Name your WNBA roster, players you are certain you could coach to a title.
A: The WNBA roster that would guarantee a world championship would be Lindsay Whalen as my point guard, [Elena] Delle Donne as one of my forwards. Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus. I’m going to have to take Rebekkah Brunson — she is such a great role player, great rebounder. She has really accepted her role to do the dirty work. You need a kid like that on your team. I feel like I’m forgetting somebody. My sixth player is Janel McCarville. She’s one of mine. I know what she’s made of, I know what she’s all about and I have to have her on my team.
Q: When you hear your name on the radio, do you switch stations?
A: I do not listen to sports talk radio. It’s just, ah … I don’t even want to say what it is. I’ve got to listen to music, things that get to your soul and lift you up, not bring you down.
Q: Are you related to the Borton Volvo dealership family?
A: [Laughter] I have been asked that so many times. I wish. I have a great relationship with them. I had a courtesy car with them for many, many years and I do own a couple of their cars.
Q: Where is your basketball hoop around this house?
A: There is not one. I’ve had a basketball hoop around me ever since I was 5 years old. I’ve been a coach and I live it, drink it, sleep it. Around it all day long. When I come home I don’t want to see a basketball hoop at my house.
Q: Because you’re a basketball coach, there has to be an athletic element to this interview. Drop and give me 25 push-ups.
A: Twenty-five! I can give you a couple. Do you want them with one hand? Do you want me to clap? Kidding! I’m just kidding.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”