Bulldogs Participate In `Learn, Play, Excel'
Barbee, Griffin Invited To USA Basketball U19 Trials
Three Lady Bulldogs Selected In WNBA Draft
Lady Bulldogs Fall in Elite Eight to Cal
Georgia Battles Cal in Elite Eight
No. 9 Georgia vs. LSU - AP Photos
It's a late afternoon in mid-July and a former Lady Bulldog is en route back to Athens for a quick visit. In the car is a bag of assorted home-grown vegetables intended for delivery to Andy Landers' house.
When the player drives up to Landers' home late in the day, she finds him in the midst of cutting his grass...with the same meticolous attention to detail that he uses to draw up a practice plan on a daily basis.
The obvious question has to be posed. How many college coaches in any sport with 877 career victories can be found pushing a lawnmower?
The aforementioned anecdote tells you all you need to know about Landers, the first and still only full-time women's basketball head coach in the University of Georgia's history. Landers has long preached that "hard work is what built Georgia Basketball and what continues to be the backbone of everything we do." And that goes for him, too.
Formative years on the farm
Landers' work ethic and love of basketball were forged on a farm in Maryville, Tenn., where summers weren't spent lounging. There was always a project or a chore. And on the rare occasion when there wasn't, Landers fostered an affinity for basketball.
"I grew up as a kid in the rural country," Landers said. "You can't go out and play baseball or football by yourself, but you can shoot hoops. When there are no other kids and you're looking for something to do, that's what you have. I gravitated towards basketball and fell in love with it at an early age. I played on teams starting in elementary school all the way up through high school."
And at an early age, Landers knew that coaching basketball was in his blood and in his future.
"I was in sixth grade when I decided that's what I wanted to do," Landers said. "A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had an uncle, A.J. Wilson, who coached at one of the county high schools and had incredible success with both football and basketball. Sometimes experiences like that just stick with you."
From 12-year-old dreamer to 26-year-old UGA coach
Once Andy Landers, just a dozen years old, decided that coaching would be his chosen profession, he blazed a trail to prominence. He became head coach at Roane State College in Harriman, Tenn., when he was just 22 and proceded to compile an 82-21 record and notch two top-10 national finishes in four seasons. He then set his sites on something significantly bigger.
The date was March 7, 1979, when Landers fired off a letter to Vince Dooley, the University of Georgia's newly named Athletics Director, to inquire about interviewing to become UGA's head coach.
"For the past couple of years I have been possessed with the idea that the University of Georgia should feature the outstanding women's basketball program in America," Landers stated in the correspondance's second paragraph. "Georgia has the potential necessary to achieve this recognition and my ultimate goal in coaching is to take a major college basketball program and build it from the ground up into an immediate national power."
About six weeks later - April 24, 1979 - a 26-year-old Landers was introduced as the Lady Bulldogs' initial full-time head coach. Under Landers' direction, the Lady Bulldogs quickly ascended from a program which may not have been even the fifth-best in the state of Georgia to one that is now among the top-5 nationally in virtually every ranking imaginable.
In Landers' first campaign, Georgia posted a respectable 16-12 record. The following year, the Lady Bulldogs won the Georgia AIAW Championship and also captured the WNIT national title. Two years later, Georgia found itself advancing to the Final Four in only the second edition of the NCAA Tournament. Fast-forward two more springs and the Lady Bulldogs reached the national championship game.
Consistency has become a word synonymous with Georgia teams for more than three decades now, perhaps best witnessed by Lady Bulldog Basketball's NCAA success.
"It's actually pretty plain and simple," Landers states matter of factly. "Hard work is what brought Georgia from 6-19 to 27-10 two years later. Maintaining that level has been a never-ending job. I think I'm proudest of the consistency...the fact that we've been consistent for three decades now. I hope we've been a team that other teams across the country would agree that year-in and year-out we've not only been on the leaderboard, but we've been up there near the top."
Georgia is indeed near the top of virtually every numerical ledger associated with women's basketball. The Lady Bulldogs rank No. 2 nationally in both NCAA Tournament bids and appearances in the weekly Associated Press polls, as well as No. 4 in consecutive winning seasons...a tally that by no coincidence began when Landers first arrived.
You're a Lady Bulldog for life
While Landers thrives on winning, truth be told he is significantly prouder of the atmosphere surrounding Georgia Basketball. Only a select few are truly privy to what Landers firmly believes sets his program apart from all others...the Lady Bulldog family.
"The thing about Coach, when you're here playing for him, you know that he's teaching you the things, the basketball skills, you need to be successful," said Christi Thomas, who came to Athens ranked as the nation's No. 57 prospect by one major scouting service and left as the No. 12 overall pick in the first round of the 2004 WNBA Draft. "Everyone who decides to become a Lady Dog knows they're going to get that. What you don't understand while you're at Georgia, is that he's teaching you not only to perfect those on-court abilities, he's showing you how you're responsible for your own destiny after you leave here. He taught me not only the right things to do; he taught me the right way to do those things. Now it's up to me to do them."
Such understanding comes not only from professional players, but from other former Lady Bulldogs who chose different career paths - from teachers to sales reps, insurance adjusters to stay-at-home mothers.
"I wanted to say `I'm a Georgia grad' "
The record of Landers' players in the classroom is even better than their results on the hardwood. All 59 four-year Lady Bulldog letterwinners have secured a diploma from the University of Georgia.
Lady (Hardmon) Grooms' pursuit of her degree is a perfect example of Landers' influence. She was a standout for Lady Bulldog teams of the late-80s and early-90s and went on to an extremely successful professional career, both in the U.S. and overseas in Hungary, Italy and Turkey. When she retired from the WNBA in 2004, one of Grooms' first calls was to Landers to see what she could do to finish her degree. Following the birth of her daughter, Gabby, Grooms completed degree requirements in 2009.
"Right after Gabby was born, Coach Landers called me and said, `Congratulations. When are you coming back to get your degree?'" Grooms said. "Basketball at Georgia was all about working hard. That was instilled by Coach Landers. We were taught to never quit, to always finish at the end."
Kedra Holland-Corn is another successful pro player who made her way back to Athens to complete her degree in 2009. Holland-Corn starred at Georgia and went on to win two WNBA titles with Detroit.
"I thought very briefly about finishing up overseas or in another place, but there was something about it," Holland-Corn admitted. "I didn't want to get my degree from anywhere else. I wanted to say `I'm a Georgia grad'...that I was one of the athletes who finished."
A legendary figure from Dalton to Valdosta
All of the aforementioned helps explain why and how Landers has become a truly iconic figure in the state of Georgia and the basketball universe. From his trademark, slicked-back "doo" to the often gnawed but never lit cigar, folks that know Georgia and know hoops know Andy Landers.
Though numerous factors aligned perfectly to play a major role in the emergence of Georgia Basketball, it's hard to imagine very many coaches would have capitalized as much on their surroundings as Landers did.
"I knew if we relied on the state of Georgia to get all our players, it would take three, four, five years to get all the players and depth we needed with the kind of players we were looking for," Landers said. "I guess I was driven by impatience as much as anything else.
While Landers has become more patient over time, his tireless work ethic is the driving and constant force behind Georgia Basketball...and the upkeep of his front yard.
More than three decades later, Landers drives to work each day occupied with what it will take to accomplish his ultimate goal, the same objective he had driving down Lumpkin Street as a wide-eyed 26-year-old: delivering a national championship trophy to the University of Georgia.