The Illinois connection: Split loyalties for MU women's basketball coaches

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | 10:08 p.m. CST
MU coach Cindy Stein, who graduated from Illinois in 1984, returns to Champaign, Ill., tonight.

COLUMBIA—Wednesday night when the MU women's basketball team runs out on the court at Assembly Hall to play the University of Illinois, and the Illinois pep band plays the school fight song "Oskee Wow Wow," there will be at least two people on the MU bench that will be filled with pride and nostalgia.

Wednesday's game

Missouri (0-1) vs. Illinois (2-0)

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill.

MU coach Cindy Stein and associate head coach Lynnette Robinson are both Illinois graduates and former basketball teammates. Robinson graduated in 1982 and Stein in '84, and the two were teammates during the 1981-82 season. Stein later worked at Illinois as a recruiting coordinator and assistant coach from 1993-95.

The Tigers have played the Illini several times during Stein's tenure at MU, but those games were played in either St. Louis or Columbia. This will be the first time Stein has returned to Illinois as a head coach of the opposing team. But despite her change in alliance, Stein still retains memories of her years spent in Champaign.

"It was probably the best time of my life," Stein said. "I loved going to school there. I've got great memories of everything from ALS Library to Hopkins Hall to Huff Gym. You name it. There's just a lot of great memories there and I met a lot of great people and made a lot of great friends like Lynnette."

Robinson shares Stein's sense of sentimentalism and said she will always have a connection to Illinois no matter what team she is coaching.

"You never truly outgrow the school you go to," Robinson said. "You always have a special place in your heart for your alma mater."

 As teammates, Stein and Robinson were part of a dramatic turnaround at Illinois. The Illini won a combined 15 games during Robinson's freshman and sophomore years, but during her junior year the team went 20-11 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Stein transferred to Illinois from Illinois Central College for Robinson's senior season, whic the Illini finished with 19 wins and a return to the NCAA Tournament's second round.

Both coaches said that even though they coach for one of their alma mater's biggest rivals, they still keep a close eye on Illinois athletics and always hope for a positive result.

"If we're not playing them I'm checking the scores, I don't care what sport it is," Robinson said. "Even last week when the soccer team was  here. It just makes you want to keep up with what everybody's doing at your alma mater."

Stein and Robinson have known each other since high school when they played on opposing softball teams. The two stayed in touch after they parted ways at Illinois, and as assistant coaches their paths crossed numerous times over the years at games, meetings and on the recruiting trail.

"We always liked coaching," Stein said. "But I thought maybe I'd be working for her."

The Tigers will play Illinois Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. MU's next home game is Nov. 22 against Western Illinois.


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