Kurt Budke dies

Kurt Budke touched the lives of many people in his years as a women’s basketball coach. Now they are left trying to come to grips with the Oklahoma State coach’s sudden death.
Budke and assistant Miranda Serna were killed when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.
“The tragedy at Oklahoma State, which has known its share of tragedy in the past, leaves you with a helpless feeling” – Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “My heart goes out to the families of Kurt and Miranda and everyone associated with the basketball program and university. The women’s college basketball community just lost two family members and all of us are feeling the effects. There won’t be a day that goes by this season that we won’t think about them in one form or another.”
Budke’s mentor at Louisiana Tech, Leon Barmore, was on vacation with his family at Disney World when he heard the news.
“It’s so unbelievable” – Barmore said. “I truly enjoyed being around him. We lost a family man and a great friend. When I retired after 25 years, you don’t want just anyone to take your place. I thought Kurt was the right guy to do it.”
The 50-year-old Budke went 80-16 in three seasons running the Lady Techsters before taking over at Oklahoma State. Barmore got to know him when Budke was coaching junior college Trinity Valley and he was recruiting future Louisiana Tech star Betty Lennox. Barmore was impressed by Budke’s repartee with his players.
“When I first went there and got into the gym, I saw eight players in the outer office hanging around, enjoying themselves and relaxing” – he said. “This was a player’s coach. The players loved to play for him. He presented an environment which was relaxing. He made you feel warm and at ease – that always stood out to me.”

Kurt Budke dies
Kurt Budke.

Lots of stories about former Lady Techsters coach Kurt Budke are being bandied about today after Leon Barmore’s once hand-picked successor died on Thursday, along with three other people, in an Arkansas plane crash.
One thing that must be said about Budke is that you rarely saw him without a smile on his face.
From the time he lumbered onto the Louisiana Tech campus, until he left for the megabucks offered by Oklahoma State, the native Kansan was all about accentuating the positive. Often looking more like a Pentecostal preacher than a Division I basketball coach, Budke would walk into Tech media relations director Malcolm Butler’s office after tough losses, which rarely happened under his watch, shaking his head but still smiling.
“Guys, we didn’t play well tonight. We got it taken to us. But we will learn from this and we will get better” – he might say.
After taking over the program in 2002-03, the Lady Techsters were 80-16 with three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Budke’s leadership. He inspired devotion from people like OSU recruiting coordinator Miranda Serna, who played for him at Trinity Valley, then followed him to Tech and died with him in Thursday’s crash.
Unlike some coaches, Budke didn’t pull punches, didn’t make excuses, didn’t try to gloss over bad play to make himself or his players look better. That’s something we could all respect in him. Maybe that’s because he always knew there would be a brighter day on the other side.
After one game with Fresno State, he was late getting to Butler’s office because he had spent several postgame minutes in the bowels of the Thomas Assembly Center listening to an obviously upset Fresno State coach Stacey Johnson. Several media members had heard bits and pieces of Johnson’s ranting about her assistant coaches. But when questioned about it later, Budke wouldn’t disclose the details of the conversation. He had worked with Johnson and wanted to keep their public conversation private.

Kurt Budke turned Oklahoma State’s women’s basketball team into a winner and hoped he had found the place where he would coach until he retired. Miranda Serna had passed up opportunities to leave his side, staying loyal to the man whom she had helped to win a junior college national championship.
Having succeeded together, Budke and Serna died together, perishing in a plane crash on a recruiting trip.
Budke, the head coach, and Serna, his assistant, were killed Thursday when the single-engine plane in which they were passengers crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.
The pilot, 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his 79-year-old wife, Paula, also died when the plane sputtered, spiraled out of control and nose-dived into the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, 45 miles west of Little Rock.
“This is our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed” – Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis said at a news conference. “To lose anyone, especially these two individuals who are incredible life forces in our family, it is worse beyond words.”
The crash was the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade. In Jan. 2001, 10 men affiliated with the men’s basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
After the 2001 crash, the university required that planes used by the school’s sports team undergo safety checks before travel. Hargis said that coaches were not bound by the same rules and that the school left such decisions to their discretion.
The school’s women’s soccer team, which has lost only once all season, went forward with its NCAA tournament game Friday, defeating Illinois 1:0.
Budke was married and the father of three, including a daughter at Oklahoma State.

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