Kurt Budke touched the lives of many people in his years as a women's basketball coach. Now they are left trying to come to grips with the Oklahoma State coach's sudden death.
Budke and assistant Miranda Serna were killed when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.
"The tragedy at Oklahoma State, which has known its share of tragedy in the past, leaves you with a helpless feeling," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "My heart goes out to the families of Kurt and Miranda and everyone associated with the basketball program and university. The women's college basketball community just lost two family members and all of us are feeling the effects. There won't be a day that goes by this season that we won't think about them in one form or another."
Budke's mentor at Louisiana Tech, Leon Barmore, was on vacation with his family at Disney World when he heard the news.
"It's so unbelievable," Barmore said. "I truly enjoyed being around him. We lost a family man and a great friend. When I retired after 25 years, you don't want just anyone to take your place. I thought Kurt was the right guy to do it."
The 50-year-old Budke went 80-16 in three seasons running the Lady Techsters before taking over at Oklahoma State. Barmore got to know him when Budke was coaching junior college Trinity Valley and he was recruiting future Louisiana Tech star Betty Lennox. Barmore was impressed by Budke's repartee with his players.
"When I first went there and got into the gym, I saw eight players in the outer office hanging around, enjoying themselves and relaxing," he said. "This was a player's coach. The players loved to play for him. He presented an environment which was relaxing. He made you feel warm and at ease — that always stood out to me."
Lennox was devastated when she heard the news while heading to a Tulsa Shock community event.
"I dropped down into tears. It was very difficult and I had to walk away for a couple minutes. I picked up my phone and tried to call him and that was a mistake," she said. "He definitely taught me several things. One thing that stood out to me was to be who I am. If I won't be who I am, I won't be successful. He taught me to be a go-getter, to believe in myself. I was able to pick up the phone and call him any time of the day and he was there, open, and positive. I will miss him for those type of things, not just on the court."
Budke played basketball for Barton County (Kan.) junior college and graduated from Washburn in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in physical education. After some early small-college jobs, he built the JUCO powerhouse at Trinity Valley before hooking up with Louisiana Tech.
UC Santa Barbara coach Carlene Mitchell played for Budke at Trinity Valley and helped him win his first national championship at the school. She stayed in touch with her former coach, who helped her get her first head coaching job this year.
"He was so proud. He put in a ton of calls for me and I remember him yelling and screaming in his country drawl when I told him I got it," a devastated Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who grew up in Arkansas, said that Budke's plane went down a few miles from where her high school coach lived.
"It's a trip I've made many times," Mitchell said. "He used to call me his little Razorback. I'm sick and sad. I don't know the right words right now. His kids and his wife, that was the priority for him."
Budke met his wife, Shelley, when he was an assistant for the men's team at Friends University. She was playing for the women's team at the time. His boss told him he couldn't date her until after her career was over. They have three children, including a daughter who is at Oklahoma State.
"I've known Kurt for many years and enjoyed watching his success all along the way," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "He was a great guy and a wonderful family man. He had such a great passion for teaching and coaching the game of women's basketball."
Budke coached Serna and Trinity Valley to a junior college national title in 1996. Serna went on to play for Houston before returning to the community college to become an assistant coach under Budke. He kept Serna on his staff when he went to Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State. She was the recruiting coordinator for the Cowgirls.
While Mitchell didn't play with Serna at Trinity Valley, she got to know her through the years on the recruiting trail.
"Miranda was a really great person," Mitchell said. "She worked hard and believed in him. That's why she stayed. She had some opportunities to look at some other jobs, but she wanted to bring in players and help him win at Oklahoma State."
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said the deaths would have a wide impact.
"There's a bigger picture out there and it's not a basketball game. It puts life in perspective." Mulkey said. "I feel for the Oklahoma State community. How many more tragedies can they endure?"
Mitchell was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State in 2001 when 10 people affiliated with the university's men's basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
"You want to say that program's cursed," she said. "For it to happen again, I truly can't describe how I feel."
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Stillwater, Okla., contributed to this report.
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