Florida State’s Sue Semrau and Morgan Jones discuss NCAA Women’s Tournament bid
Florida State will face Missouri State in a first-four qualifier on Thursday.
FSU Sports News, Tallahassee Democrat
Letting go of her sportswriting aspirations set Jamey Givens on an unconventional path to coaching women’s college basketball.
As a student at Florida State, the Tallahassee native covered Seminole athletics for multiple outlets and sought to develop his journalism skills with a communications degree. But after joining the FSU women’s basketball team on a whim, Givens quickly shifted her ambitions elsewhere.
Givens made it to the scout team despite never playing basketball in high school. He then left such a lasting impression on head coach Sue Semrau, former assistant Lance White and the rest of the Seminole staff that they offered him a graduate assistant role.
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After his two-year stint as GA, Givens pursued what has become one of the most fascinating career arcs among Semrau’s decorated coaching tree. The athletic career Givens once envisioned for himself has come to fruition in ways he never imagined.
“I loved to write. I liked to be surrounded by sports. But when the opportunity to be GA came up, I raced it and loved it. I was lucky to make a career out of it,” said Givens, who is in his first season as associate head coach of the Belmont women’s basketball program and sixth as an assistant with the Bruins.
Seeing what Josh Petersen accomplished after serving as the team’s general manager inspired Givens. FSU brought in Petersen as AG. He is now White’s assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh.
Semrau named current graduate assistant Ivey Slaughter as an example of how she often fills that role with a former player. So, the Seminoles raising Givens as they did with Petersen spoke volumes about their belief in his potential.
“There are guys on the scout team that you can tell are sponges, and they want to be there all the time,” Semrau said. “You can tell they’re really persistent in trying to put themselves in a position to be at the next level of a profession.
“There are a few guys selected in the scout team who are different. They are very involved. They have a great understanding of the game. And you just love being with them. They will work their tail.
Former players and coaches under Semrau who became Division I coaches include Cori Close (UCLA), Ronald Hughey (Houston), Danielle Santos Atkinson (Hofstra), Ganiyat Adeduntan (Colgate), Rene Haynes (LIU), Jenny Huth ( formerly Northern Colorado) and Brooke Wyckoff (interim head coach at FSU last season).
There is a chance that Givens will join this list soon. Learning under Semrau gave him a first taste of what it would look like.
“You had to be on your toes,” Givens said. “She’s so sharp, has so much energy and has such a big vision for what every day should look like. So that was a lot.
“It took me a while to get up to speed. The first four, six, eight months, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is different.’ But again, to do what they do, to do it at a very high level, you just need to be hyper focused and committed to doing your best every day.
“She sets such high standards for herself and everyone who works for her that you have no choice but to be inspired to raise your level.”
The other stops of Givens
In Givens’ six seasons at Belmont and five under head coach Bart Brooks, the Bruins enjoyed historic success.
Belmont is coming off its sixth NCAA Women’s Tournament bid in the past seven seasons and is 96-9 in the Ohio Valley Conference over that span. The Bruins also earned their first NCAA Tournament win in program history last season with a 64-59 win over Gonzaga.
Earning a 12th seed after winning 12 straight games, Belmont (22-7) will face five-seeded Oregon (20-11) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. ESPN2 will broadcast the first-round match at Thomas-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee.
FSU (17-13) will start with Missouri State (24-7) in a first-11 qualifying game at 9 p.m. Thursday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The winner of that game, which can be seen on ESPN, will advance to play six-seeded Ohio State (23-6) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.
“I keep track of their scores, but I haven’t been able to watch them all,” Givens said of the Seminoles. “I was glad they got into the tournament. I felt like they probably deserved this. The ACC is wild. It’s one of the best leagues in the country, no doubt. I I will therefore encourage them for sure.
And Semrau will cheer on the Bruins. She remains in contact with Givens and even visited him and his family last August. Semrau’s niece frequents Belmont, so she toured the basketball facilities with Givens during her visit.
Since Givens left the FSU program, he has gained experience at four other schools. He first served as director of women’s basketball operations for one season at UNC Greensboro and two at Wake Forest. Then Givens became an assistant coach at Radford for two seasons before coming to Belmont.
It was a climb that impressed Semrau.
“Being a man right now in this (women’s basketball) business is tough,” Semrau said. “There’s a lot of pressure right now for more female coaches, of which I’m an integral part. I think it’s really important that we push that.
“It’s also important that guys who have come through the ranks of women’s basketball have that opportunity. I like that they stay there. I also like having a man on my team. I think it is important. It’s a great balance. There will be men, but right now those jobs are getting harder and harder to get.
“Then he left as a graduate assistant to become director of basketball operations. And then to go from there to become an assistant coach is also difficult. So he put it at all levels.
Going from sportswriter to associate head coach forced Givens to spend his time at smaller schools. Givens said he also had to take the zigzag path between basketball operations and assistant coaching positions to get to where he is now.
“I also think sometimes it takes time to be successful,” Givens said. “We worked very, very hard in Greensboro, Wake Forest and Radford. And it was a very slow build for me personally as a professional, but also just in these groups to try to find the right formula to win games.
“I look back on all those experiences and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I needed every day, every month and every year to grow. And I still have time to grow.
“It’s a profession where as soon as you feel comfortable, you better look over your shoulder. Because someone is going to catch you.
It remains to be seen when and where Givens will take up his next job.
Maybe Givens will accept an assistant coaching position in a major program. Or maybe a middle school will pursue Givens as a head coach. Either way, Givens said he only wanted a job that would allow him to keep his priorities intact.
And the fact that Givens is perfectly content at Belmont suggests he’s in no rush to leave.
“I have two baby girls and a third baby girl on the way in May,” Givens said. “My ultimate goal is to be a great husband, a great father, and a great coach. And in that order.
As she rose through the ranks of women’s basketball coaching, Givens had little plan. And Givens didn’t have the traditional resume. He didn’t play in high school. He didn’t play in college. Yet he charted his own course.
And what Givens learned at FSU will stay with him wherever he goes.
“That you can be really competitive and want to win at the highest level, but also do it in a way that doesn’t sacrifice what it’s all about,” Givens said of what he learned under Semrau. “Investing in children, helping them grow and overcome the challenges and the real character building that can happen in sports.
“A lot of people try to do both. A lot of people try to win at the highest level, but they take shortcuts. Or, I don’t mean losing their soul, but losing their soul.
“The way they did it, and she did it for so long, really set the standard that you can do both. You can have high expectations, want to win, want to succeed, reach your potential and all those things, but also take care of your players as people first.
“And sometimes it’s a very delicate balance. But they did it beautifully. And that’s something I try to do every day here at Belmont.
Contact Carter Karels at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Carter Karels.
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