During her 11-year tenure, head coach Carol Ross has molded the Florida women's basketball team into one of the nation's most competitive and talented programs.
Ross also has developed the Lady Gators into some of the country's finest players. Eight former Lady Gators who have been coached by Ross are currently enjoying successful WNBA careers. Two of those players -- Merlakia Jones and DeLisha Milton - have been named to WNBA All-Star teams. In addition, Murriel Page led the WNBA in field goal percentage in 1999 and 2000, while Sophia Witherspoon was one of the top scorers for the Portland Fire.
Milton became the second Lady Gator to play for the U.S. Olympic Basketball team, running with the Red, White & Blue in Sydney. Ross even donned the Red, White & Blue herself in 1998, when she selected as head coach of the U.S. Select Team.
Ross' achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 1994, Ross was selected by her peers as the SEC Coach of the Year. In 1997 she was named the WBCA District 9 Coach of the Year for lifting UF to its first top 10 national ranking and a trip to the NCAA Championship Elite Eight. She received both honors again following the 2001 season after leading the Lady Gators to a 24-6 overall record and a second place finish in the SEC.
At Florida Ross has tutored 18 student-athletes to SEC Academic Honor Roll status 28 times and 14 to All-SEC honors 24 times.
While her abilities to recruit and mold young talent is well documented, what Ross has done with the Lady Gator program is even more impressive.
Before and After
Putting it gently, before Ross grabbed the reigns, the Lady Gators were a competitive bunch in the mighty Southeastern Conference, but not too successful. In the 16 total years - and 11 SEC seasons - prior to Carol Ross' arrival in Gainesville, UF won a total of 14 conference games. In 11 seasons under Ross, the Lady Gators have notched 76 league wins, including a program-record 11 SEC victories in 2001 alone. UF had never received a bid into the NCAA Tournament before Ross. The Lady Gators finished the 2000-01 season competing in eight of the last nine NCAA Tournaments.
Before Ross: UF finished in the top-five of the SEC standings once (1) and never ranked higher than ninth place in the five years prior.
After Ross: The Lady Gators have finished among the league's top-five in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Before Ross: UF tallied one (1) 20-win season in 16 years.
After Ross: UF is averaging over 20 victories per season during her 11-year tenure, and almost 23 wins over the last nine years.
Before Ross: UF was ranked in the top 25 national weekly polls twice (2) in 16 years.
After Ross: UF has earned a spot among the nation's top 25 weekly poll 93 times since Feb. 21, 1994.
Before Ross: Never (0) ranked in the final top 25 poll.
After Ross: Six (6) final rankings in the last eight years.
Needless to say, Ross is already the program's all-time winningest coach, compiling a 229-110 record.
Dreams Become Reality
Witty, warm, feisty and focused; colorful, caring, driven and distinctly southern, Ross has turned the Florida women's basketball program from one without spark into one with spunk by instilling in it personality -- her own.
The 1998-99 season marked the 25th year of varsity women's basketball at the University of Florida. If anyone would know about the ins and outs of the program, it would be its founding "mothers."
When Lady Gator alumnae were asked to list the most significant event in the history of the basketball program, an overwhelming number mentioned "the hiring of Carol Ross."
"I didn't know much about Florida's program when I came in, but Coach Ross and Joi (Williams) had a dream and I wanted to be a part of that dream," said Merlakia Jones, who was a member of Ross' inaugural recruiting class. "I thank God for being a part of that."
Ross and her staff have been able to attract some the nation's best talent, including Jones, DeLisha Milton and Murriel Page, who took a chance on playing at Florida and have never regretted their decision.
Jones also became the first of six All-Americans under Ross at Florida, who share 19 All-America honors.
The Lady Gators are now poised to make a run for the national championship. Its seems a natural progression of success for a coach whose computer screen saver continuously scrolls, "Bite off more than you can chew - then chew it."
"The SEC is the toughest league in the country," Ross states. "Everyone in the league has the privilege to compete but only one team has the honor of being champion; we want the honor of cutting down the nets."
Prior to Florida
Since the day she signed scholarship papers to play basketball at Ole Miss, her home-state university, Ross has spent 22 years both creating and soaking up the traditions of arguably the finest women's basketball conference in the country.
As a player at Ole Miss in the early 1980s, she was a member of the inaugural SEC All-Tournament Team. Ross was a pesky, tenacious guard who still ranks sixth on the league's all-time steals list.
As a seven-year assistant coach at Auburn, Ross reached the NCAA Championship game in each of her last three seasons, 1988, '89 and '90. Gainesville resident and 1996 Olympian Ruthie Bolton, along with SEC and USA standout Mae Ola Bolton, were among the players Ross recruited to Auburn.
Ross' resume of Olympians, scholar-athletes, professional players and basketball coaches is lengthy. Twenty four of Ross' former players and recruits have continued their basketball careers on the professional level, including current UF professionals Tombi Bell (Europe), Takilya Davis (Sweden), Merlakia Jones, DeLisha Milton, Murriel Page, Bridget Pettis, Tamara Stocks, Tiffany Travis, Tonya Washington and Sophia Witherspoon.
Ross earned her Bachelor's degree in Education from Ole Miss in 1982. After which she served as a volunteer assistant at Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., for one year before returning to the SEC as an assistant at Auburn. During that time she advanced from graduate assistant to top assistant and chief recruiter. She played a key role in the school's development and maturation into a perennial NCAA Tourney team.
The Oakland, Miss., native enjoys the Florida sunshine and all Gator sporting events. When the University hosted the 1999 NCAA Women's Tennis Championship, Ross volunteered her services to operate the scoreboard, field press box questions on the phone and soak in another successful season. She is a great tennis fan, having attended several professional Grand Slam events.
Ross has embraced the Lady Gator program and it has responded. She is very determined and works hard in every avenue of her life.
Ross is an active member of the Gainesville community, having served as a board member for both the American Cancer Society and the Coaches vs. Cancer organization, which honored her as its 2000 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award winner. She has volunteered for a variety of community organizations through speaking engagements with UF student-athletes on topics such as literacy, while also participating in fundraising efforts for numerous charity groups.
She has taught the Lady Gators how to win in the ferocious SEC and have fun in the process. Nothing has been able to come between Ross and what she wants. And now she and the Lady Gators are ready for more.
|Total||229-110||76-57||117-31||8 NCAA , 1 WNIT|
|22 Upsets under Ross|
|Ross' teams have defeated||When her team was...|
|No. 18 Vanderbilt, 74-68 (home)||Not Ranked (1-9-91)|
|No. 19 Bowling Green, 69-67 (away)||Not Ranked (3-17-93)|
|No. 10 Alabama, 80-75 (away)||Not Ranked (1-16-94)|
|No. 10 Georgia, 59-46 (away)||UF No. 18 (2-8-95)|
|No. 11 Alabama, 97-88 (home)||UF No. 18 (1-15-95)|
|No. 17 Ole Miss, 69-48 (home)||UF No. 20 (2-11-96)|
|No. 10 Vanderbilt, 83-73 (neutral)||UF No. 18 (3-2-96)|
|No. 12 Iowa, 68-58 (neutral)||Not Ranked (12-13-96)|
|No. 12 Auburn, 71-58 (home)||Not Ranked (1-4-97)|
|No. 17 LSU, 74-57 (home)||UF No. 24 (1-18-97)|
|No. 8 Tennessee, 71-62 (home)||UF No. t-19 (1-21-97)|
|No. 11 Vanderbilt, 70-56 (home)||UF No. t-19 (1-25-97)|
|No. 6 Alabama, 83-72 (neutral)||UF No. 10 (3-2-97)|
|No. 5 La. Tech, 71-57 (neutral)||UF No. 7 (3-22-97)|
|No. 5 North Carolina, 68-48 (neutral)||UF No. 9 (11-23-97)|
|No. 6 Vanderbilt, 62-46 (away)||UF No. 14 (2-1-98)|
|No. 13 George Washington, 82-59 (N)||UF No. 20 (11-22-98)|
|No. 9 Alabama, 77-71 (away)||UF No. 17 (12-10-98)|
|No. 20 Mississippi St, 85-72 (home)||Not Ranked (1-6-00)|
|No. 11 Penn State, 92-79 (home)||Not Ranked (12-3-00)|
|No. 7 Rutgers, 66-58 (home)||UF No. 19 (12-29-00)|
|No. 5 Georgia, 75-64 (home)||UF No. 9 (2-1-01)|
|*All rankings from Associated Press polls|
Carol Ross has invested 22 years in the SEC
Four years as a player (Ole Miss)
Seven years as an assistant coach (Auburn)
11 years as a head coach (Florida)
Carol Ross at a Glance
Hometown: Oakland, Miss.
Birthdate: June 11, 1959
Education: Ole Miss (B.S. in Education, 1982)
- Finalist for 2001 Naismith National Coach of the Year
- Named 2001 WBCA District 9 Coach of the Year
- Named 1997 WBCA District 9 Coach of the Year
- Named 2001 SEC Coach of the Year (media)
- Named 1994 SEC Coach of the Year (coaches & media)
- 2000 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award recipient
- Named head coach of the 1998 USA Select Team
- Nine consecutive postseason berths
- Eight NCAA Championship appearances
- Seven 20-win seasons
- All-time winningest coach at Florida
- Coached players on the 1992, '96 & 2000 U.S. Olympic teams
- Coached the 1997 Wade Trophy winner
- Coached 1997 SEC Player of the Year
- Coached Florida's first-ever first team All-American (Kodak & Associated Press)
- Helped 24 students-athletes to All-SEC accolades
- Tutored 34 student-athletes to SEC Academic Honor Roll status
What former players are saying about Carol Ross
"Without Coach Ross' mentoring, I would not have learned as much about the game of basketball. More importantly, though, she helped me to get to know myself as a person. I am definitely a product of Coach Ross' leadership and friendship."
- DeLisha Milton, '97
"Coach Ross is a great coach because she can separate things on and off the court. I love her because she can be your mother and best friend at the same time. She sincerely cares about her players."
- Murriel Page, '98
"Coach Ross is someone who has inspired me to be the best in everything that I do. I am constantly thinking of what she would tell me to do. She is straight-forward, honest and sincere. That's what you want and expect from a person, as well as from a coach."
- Ruthie Bolton, Auburn '89