August 05, 2005

Former LSU women's basketball coach dies

Sue Gunter, a Hall of Fame coach and pioneer in women's college basketball, died Thursday. She was 66. LSU said Gunter, who had suffered from emphysema, died at her home in Baton Rouge.

She coached for 40 years, 22 at LSU where she took teams to 13 NCAA tournaments and laid the foundation for trips to the NCAA Final Four the past two years. She was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in March and will now be inducted posthumously on Sept. 9 in Springfield, Mass.

"I learned so much from Sue about the X's and O's of the game of basketball," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in women's college basketball.

Summitt played on the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team on which Gunter served as an assistant, and she was an assistant to Gunter on the 1980 U.S. team.

"She made playing basketball fun due to her ability to connect with her players," Summitt said. "Personally, I am going to miss her tremendously and I know the game is going to miss her,"

Gunter had missed only one game in her career - for her mother's funeral - before suffering a severe emphysema attack on her way to a game in Jan. 2004.

"I'd had some trouble over the years. They'd done a lot of tests, checked my heart," Gunter said in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press. "They hadn't identified it, but it wasn't as sudden as everyone thought."

The condition forced Gunter, a smoker for more than 30 years before kicking the habit in 1994, to the sidelines for the rest of the 2004 season.

Tethered to an oxygen tank, she continued to attend practices and film sessions for the rest of the season, but was unable to be at games. Her longtime protege, Pokey Chatman, filled in for her and took the team to the Final Four, then was named her successor when Gunter retired at the end of the season.

"It's obviously been a difficult day for me," Chatman, who had played for Gunter and joined her staff in 1991, said Thursday. "Not only have I lost a great friend and mentor, but the game of basketball has lost one of its true pioneers. She not only made a huge difference in my life, but in the life of everyone associated with women's basketball."

After retirement Gunter limited her activities because of the illness. She watched all the LSU games on television, however, including their Final Four run in 2005 when she was hospitalized with pneumonia.

"Sue was one of the keystones of women's basketball," former Auburn coach Joe Ciampi said. "She was a role model for all players and coaches to use. She had the ability to be a great competitor on the court as well as have great compassion for her players and fellow coaches."

Gunter saw women's basketball go from half-court to a full-court high speed game that had begun to rival the men's game in popularity.

"A lot of the things you see today in the game of women's basketball are due to a large price earlier paid by people such as Sue Gunter," Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said.

Gunter was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June, 2000.

"We've lost one of the giants in this business," former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore said. "I have always felt like Sue was one of the top three or four coaches in the women's game."

Gunter had 21 seasons with at least 20 victories and 708 wins overall. She was not credited for two years at Middle Tennessee, when her teams were 44-0, or her first four years at Stephen F. Austin, because official records were never turned over to the NCAA.

Even with the six missing years, Gunter was No. 3 in wins and games coached and fourth in 20-win seasons.

Gunter played on the 1960-62 U.S. teams that competed against the Soviet Union.

"I loved her," said ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Ann Meyers. "There was always a lot of respect, not just as a coach, but in life. She was an unbelievable friend and sister. I will always cherish what we had. And she was a hell of a coach."

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