By KATELYN MASSARELLI
Just above women’s basketball head coach Tom Jessee’s office door in Martinez Athletic Center is a picture of last year’s women’s basketball team. They had become Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Champions and were huddled together holding their trophy. On the outside, Jessee is standing by and supporting his players.
The tables turned at the away game against Saint Leo on Jan. 29 when the women pulled out another win ending the game with a score of 66-39. It was Jessee’s 300th win in his 14 years coaching for UT. His players were playing for him.
“I think it means a lot to us girls to grab Coach’s 300th win because we know he doesn’t coach for himself, but instead he coaches for us,” freshman point guard Rachel Warden said.
For 23 years, Jessee has coached at the collegiate level. Before UT, he coached for nine years at Bluefield State College in Virginia where he attended college. Throughout his coaching career at both schools, his record stands at 470-227.
Since finding a home at UT in 2002, Jessee has taken pride in creating a family environment amongst all his players. Creating a family unit and a mutual respect within the team translates into hard work on the court, according to Jessee.
“All players come into the program knowing we care for them on and off the court,” Jessee said. “We are a family.”
Though his milestone is based of his ability to coach his team to victory, Jessee’s 300th win is not a milestone he credits to himself, but to the many players who have stepped on the court since taking on head coach at UT, especially his team this year.
“It’s about the players,” Jessee said. “I’m honored for the players. They all achieved something and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Jesse was clear that it is not about winning, but helping the players and supporting them throughout their collegiate career. He’s proud of all the players who have come into the program and graduated.
Jessee’s ventures in basketball started as a player in high school and college. Becoming a coach stemmed from his love of the sport, but he stuck with it because he saw it as way for him to help players transition into adulthood.
For junior transfer guard and forward Faith Sanders, confidence was one thing she lacked when she first came to UT, and Jesse has helped her gain it again.
“He’s helped my decision-making processes on and off the court,” Sanders said. “I’ve matured so much in the five months that I’ve been in Tampa.”
This is something women’s basketball assistant coach Caitlyn Mitryk has seen in her six years coaching beside Jessee. Mitryk being the only coach beside Jessee, she sees him continue to study and learn how to motivate each player because no one player is the same. Most coaches just have one style, but Jesse has many different styles, according to Mitryk.
“Coach Jessee has an uncanny way of motivating players like I have never seen before,” Mitryk said. “He knows how to prepare teams, how to challenge teams, and how to get the best out of teams on a nightly basis.”
Mitryk was a former UT women’s basketball player for Jessee and her performance on the court led her to awards like SSC Defensive Player of the Year. Mitryk believes her experience as one of Jesse’s players has aided in their ability to work together and trust that they are on the same page as far as strategy and technique.
Mitryk and other players on the team felt pride in being apart of Jessee’s 300th win. Jessee noted the last two practices before the game against Saint Leo as the best practices they have had all season.
“It means the world. It’s amazing to be able to say, ‘I was a part of the team that won Coach Jessee’s 300th win,’” Sanders said. “One day he’ll have 500 and then 1000, but it all starts from somewhere. I’m just thankful that I was a part of the 300th and proud of Coach Jessee. We would not have won without carrying out his plan. He deserved it.”