NICEVILLE — Patrick Harrington searched for the answer, but ultimately it escaped him.
“You’ll have to ask Ramsey,” Harrington said when asked about the win-loss record during his four years as Northwest Florida State women’s basketball coach. By Ramsey, he meant Athletic Director Ramsey Ross.
With a little research, it’s later revealed his record in Niceville is 100-25, which amounts to a glowing 80-percent win mark.
Some may chalk it up to a lapse in memory, but that’d be incorrect. Harrington knows his stats, like this one: 87 percent.
As in: 20 of his 23 players have moved on to Division I programs.
Or this one: 100 percent. As in: All 23 of his players have continued their careers at four-year universities.
“Winning is part of our process, but my greatest responsibility is we have to put the players in the best position to succeed,” said Harrington, who rattled off the names of all 23 players. “If we don’t win, I’ll get fired. But I think it’s more important that these six sophomores are able to transition to a place where they want to further their career.”
On Friday, Harrington’s commitment to that goal was personified with a packed Arena full of representatives from 24 Division I programs coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and smaller universities.
Welcome to Panhandle Practice Days.
Currently in its fifth year, the annual pilgrimage to the Emerald Coast by Division I coaches began because, of all inspirations, Cam Newton.
“When Cam Newton had his Pro Day back when he was at Auburn, I had this idea to create an event where our players could get exposure,” said Harrington, whose Raiders are just one of five stops on a two-day slate that includes stops at conference foes Chipola, Gulf Coast, Tallahassee and Pensacola State.
Think of it as a similar format, albeit on a much smaller scale, to the one adopted this year by Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who is inviting NBA scouts to evaluate his Wildcats in October.
“It’s kind of funny because Calipari is copying my idea,” Harrington said. “He got the idea from me and he’s going to bring it in this year. He brings in NBA people, we bring in Division I college coaches.”
One of those coaches happened to be former WNBA star Crystal Robinson, an assistant at Texas Christian University.
“I get to see some of the best juco players in the country,” Robinson said when asked what makes this two-day slate so appealing. “The Panhandle is a really tough conference and we get to see a lot of D-I transfers, some good coaching and some great players.”
Troy head coach Chanda Rigby is no stranger to the talents of the Panhandle Conference. She was, after all, the head coach at Pensacola State for seven years.
“I’m on the other end of it now, so it’s a great opportunity,” Ribgy said. “We know before we come over here that there’s going to be tons players that can come help us in the Sun Belt at Troy University, so we’re not so much looking for talent as we are wanting them to see us and start that recruiting process from day one.”
Even with the coaches in attendance, Harrington made it clear before practice that it’d be business as usual.
“I hope you read what I put on the board,” Harrington announced to his players at midcourt. “Today’s no different than any other day.”
What was on the dry erase board in the locker room was the following message: “We don’t play for Pro Day at NWF State. We play for banners, championships, cutting down the nets and national championships! Pro Day Practice is no different than last Friday! Concern yourself with getting better, having great effort, intensity and communication.
“Pro Day is like winning. It’s part of our process. It is what comes with great effort, intensity and talk.”
That message was not lost on sophomore guard Takisha Jordan.
“We treated it like a normal practice,” said Jordan, who averaged 9.7 points last year for the 26-7 Raiders who made a second straight national quarterfinal appearance. “Coach said to forget about the coaches coming in, to play hard, and bring the same energy we do every day.”
But the excitement of getting the exposure couldn’t be masked. “It feels good to get to play in front of D-I coaches, and it makes you feel like you’re working hard and in a good position,” she added.