Seabury Academy girls basketball coach and personal trainer Becky Bridson loves to talk about basketball with one of her clients: former Kansas University athletic director Lew Perkins.
Those conversations, held over the past couple of years during regular workouts, became the starting point for Perkins’ new role as assistant girls basketball coach at Seabury.
“It’s just one of those things where the timing was perfect. The person was perfect,” Bridson said. “It just kind of evolved, and we’re all very happy he’s on board.”
Bridson is ecstatic to work with somebody who had a direct influence on the development of the women’s basketball program at the University of Connecticut. As a senior in high school in 1995, Bridson idolized the Huskies as they won their first of seven national championships.
Perkins served as athletic director at UConn from 1990-2003. Though he wasn’t responsible for hiring current coach Geno Auriemma, Perkins did continue to extend his contract and help the program grow into a national powerhouse.
“He knew a good coach when he saw one,” Bridson said. “That’s history right there. He had influence on Geno Auriemma and he had influence on all those basketball players and some of the greatest female athletes of our time.”
Seabury athletic director Eric Nelson said that Perkins’ experience with high-level basketball was important.
Perkins could not be reached for comment. Nelson said Perkins would not be talking to the media about the hiring.
Perkins announced his retirement from athletic director at KU on Sept. 7, 2010, moving up by a year his initial retirement plans.
“He’s got time,” Nelson said. “He likes the school and he’s a friend of our school. He wants to do something to help the kids.
“It’s very simple. There’s no motive. He’s not doing it for any reason at all. He’s been the AD at Kansas. He doesn’t need to do this but he wants to.”
The personal trainer relationship isn't Perkins’ only tie to Seabury. His daughter, Amy, served as admissions director in 2007-2008.
The school is required to pay Perkins, but he will only be paid a small amount — likely in the area of a dollar — to coach. Essentially, Perkins is volunteering and will donate any income back to the school.
Seabury’s program only started two years ago, and the Seahawks haven’t played a full varsity schedule yet. Perkins’ exact role hasn’t been established, but he will work with all of the teams, from the varsity to the new sixth-grade team.
“I just think that he’s probably going to wear a lot of hats,” Bridson said. “He’s going to be a huge help to us. He’s really going to help elevate our program and take it to the next level.”
Seabury participates in the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class 1A athletic programs.
Bridson expects Perkins to be at every practice and on the bench for every game. She said she’s already learned a lot from Perkins in the preliminary stages of their working relationship.
“I don’t think any of us really know the far reaches that this can take us,” Bridson said. “I’m so happy for the kids because they’re such good kids and they work their butts off. Sometimes when we go into competitive situations, that isn’t reflected.”
This won’t be Perkins’ first go-around in coaching. He served as the men’s basketball coach at the University of South Carolina Aiken from 1969-79.
Rob Matwick, currently the executive vice president of ballpark operations with the Texas Rangers, played for Perkins at USC Aiken during the 1978-79 season. He remembers Perkins’ toughness as a coach.
“Tell any of those kids when they’re running back on defense, they better make sure they turn their heads and look at the basketball,” Matwick said. “Because Lew can hit you in the head with a basketball with as much precision as a Nolan Ryan fastball.”
Matwick appreciated that intensity and said he still thinks of Lew and his wife, Gwen, as second parents. Perkins spoke at Matwick’s induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
“There was no finer person as a mentor and a father figure than Lew,” Matwick said. “He’s always been a special person for me.”
Bridson said Perkins has reasons for taking the job beyond helping Seabury, including gaining the satisfaction of helping a young program improve.
“He’s super excited. He’s super enthusiastic,” Bridson said. “I can’t wait for it to be November 15, basically.”
— Big 12 blogger Eric Sorrentino contributed to this story.