Feb. 11, 2014
RUSTON - When Louisiana Tech hosts Charlotte Thursday night at the Thomas Assembly Center in a nationally televised game on Fox Sports Net, a familiar figure will be part of the television broadcast crew calling the game.
Former Lady Techster assistant coach Nell Fortner will sit alongside Pete Pranica on the broadcast team for the contest.
Fortner was a two-sport star at the University of Texas from 1978 through 1982 where she lettered for both the Longhorn basketball and volleyball teams. She had plenty of on-the-court success in both sports, leading head coach Jody Conradt and the Texas basketball program to its first national ranking while compiling a 127-26 record in her four seasons.
As a member of the UT volleyball program, Fortner played middle hitter and helped guide the program to the 1981 AIAW National Championship.
After coaching at Killeen High School from 1983 through 1986, Fortner joined the collegiate ranks serving as an assistant coach for Gary Blair at Stephen F. Austin. The New Braunfels High School graduate made a name for herself in Nacogdoches and was hired away from the Lady Jacks by Leon Barmore in 1990.
"I thought she had a dynamic personality that reached out to fans and to recruits," Barmore said. "She had the ability to coach the game too. She was an excellent floor coach and recruiter. She was a young rising star when she was here and her success did not surprise me. She had a bubbly personality and charisma. You couldn't ask for more in an assistant coach. She was one of the top assistants in the country during her time at Louisiana Tech."
During her first two years in Ruston, the Lady Techster program - which was coming off of four straight Final Four appearances, including the 1988 national title - struggled, posting an 18-12 mark her first year and a 20-10 mark her second season. However, it didn't take long for Fortner to help get Tech back among the nation's best.
"We had come off a Final Four appearance in 1990 and then the program dipped for a couple of years," Barmore said. "We still made the NCAA Tournament those years, but we weren't at the same level. I give Nell a lot of credit for bringing us back to an elite status. She recruited Debra Williams and some other key players, and I thought she was a key ingredient that kept us among the elite in the country."
"My five years at LA Tech were the absolute best thing that could have happened to me in my coaching career," Fortner said. "It allowed for me to work with Leon and learn so much about the game of basketball in an environment of Lady Techster basketball. Not just Leon but with Kim Mulkey. It was a phenomenal opportunity for me to grow as a coach."
Following her five years in Ruston, Fortner worked with the US National Team, serving as an assistant coach for one year under Tara VanDerveer. Prior to that squad capturing the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Fortner and Team USA came to Ruston to play the Lady Techsters in an exhibition game.
It would be the first of two trips by Fortner and Team USA to Ruston. Fortner was named the head coach of the team in 1997 and prior to winning the gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, she brought Team USA to play an exhibition game against the Techsters in 1999.
"It was so nice," Fortner said, recalling the trips to Ruston. "We had a great time. The community was so wonderful to us; they treated us great. The game was so special, seeing so many great Tech fans. Lady Techster fans have always been phenomenal. The players were excited to play the Olympic team and it was a neat experience. I was glad we could do that for the Tech community and Leon for what they gave me during my career."
She spent the three years leading up to the Sydney Games traveling the globe, coaching 10 different USA Basketball squads to an impressive 93-14 overall record as a USA Basketball head coach. She then capped that with a the gold medal and a perfect 8-0 record in Sydney, bringing her total USA Basketball head coaching record to 101-14, the most wins of any coach in Women's USA Basketball history.
Fortner has also served as the head coach at Purdue and Auburn, while coaching the WNBA's Indiana Fever.