Former Missouri women's basketball standout returns as opposing coach

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | 10:27 p.m. CST; updated 11:05 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 18, 2009

COLUMBIA — “Two! Two!” an impassioned Melissa McFerrin screamed from the sideline.

With three fingers extended, McFerrin brings them to her mouth and lets out a resounding whistle to get the attention of her players. She then points, stomps her right foot on the floor a couple of times and shouts out directions: “Get in front of the ball.”

It sure is different. For the second-year Memphis coach, a gray blazer with slacks is a far cry from the black and gold Missouri uniform she wore in the early 1980s. Instead of calling out plays while running the point, she now yells out instructions from the sideline.

The fiery McFerrin constantly paces up and down the Memphis sideline, never taking a break to sit down. Whether it’s jawing with the referees or calling out offensive and defensive sets, she is completely immersed in the basketball game. McFerrin’s attitude rubs off on her players.

After being down by 17 points at halftime, Memphis fought back and eventually took its first lead of the game with under a minute to go. Memphis held on for a 75-74 victory.

“I’ve really got to give our players credit,” McFerrin said. “Because they hung with us. They were hanging on every word we were saying in the locker room. We’ve got some young kids that really believe in what we’re trying to get done.”

McFerrin, a native of Cassville, played point guard for Missouri from 1979-83. She was an integral part of Missouri’s 1982 Sweet Sixteen run as well as a Big Eight championship and NCAA Tournament berth in 1983. During her senior season, she averaged 10.9 points per game, leading Missouri to a No.15 national ranking at the season’s end.

“This place (Missouri) is really special to me,” McFerrin said. “That’s a women’s basketball team that I represented one day, so I’ve got real joy in my heart for our players, and I’ve got real sadness in my heart because this is a program I care about a lot.”

Her praise didn’t stop there.

“This institution, during the time that I was here, we were pretty good,” McFerrin said. “I think this institution also taught me pride in what a basketball team is about, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

After McFerrin graduated from Missouri, she started coaching a NAIA program in Texas. She has coached in some capacity for 8 different teams, including the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and New York Liberty as well as Central Michigan University, where she and current Missouri coach Cindy Stein were both assistants from 1984-1986.

“I think she’s a terrific coach,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “I’ve learned a lot from her. We challenge each other basketball wise in every aspect. It’s hard going up against her. It’s even worse losing to her because that means I’m buying next.”

McFerrin has built an impressive resume on her way up the coaching ladder. As an assistant at Ohio State, she was part of NCAA national runner-up team in 1993. As an assistant with the New York Liberty, she helped them reach the WNBA Finals. As the head coach of American University, she led them to the WNIT in 2008, the team's first postseason appearance in ten years.

During McFerrin’s time at Central Michigan, she became good friends with Stein. They shared an office and played intramural basketball together.

“Cindy is one of my very dearest friends,” McFerrin said. “I have a lot of respect for Cindy. She came to Missouri and really kind of put Missouri back on the map in terms of women’s basketball.”

When asked who would win a game of one-on-one between the two coaches, McFerrin laughed before responding: “Cindy would have beat me.”



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