STILLWATER — Jim Littell said he won't concern himself with who's on the opposite bench when his Oklahoma State squad faces Texas Tech Saturday afternoon.
Even if it's somebody he helped groom.
Saturday's first matchup of the season between the No. 11 Cowgirls and the Lady Raiders also marks the first coaching duel between Littell and first-year Tech coach Candi Whitaker, who played for Littell at Seward County Community College in Kansas in the late 1990s and spent last season on the Cowgirl staff as associate head coach.
“I know it's a cliché or whatever, but to me, it's another game,” said Littell. “It's home game. It's a must-win for us.
“I don't care who I'm coaching (against). I'm trying to prepare my team to get ready for a win.”
Still, it's worth looking back at the history between the two coaches.
During her sophomore season at Seward County in 1999-2000, Whitaker led the nation in assists and was an honorable mention All-America selection by the National Junior College Athletic Association. Then she moved on to Texas Tech, where she was the starting point guard for two Sweet 16 teams under legendary coach Marsha Sharp.
“She was a coach on the floor, there was no doubt about that,” Littell said of Whitaker. “She understood the game and had a very high basketball IQ when she was 18. You can tell she was well-suited for (coaching) if that's what she chose to you.”
Following two seasons on staff at Valparaiso and eight at Missouri-Kansas City as an assistant and head coach, Littell brought Whitaker to Stillwater.
Littell called Whitaker a “complete coach” because of her ability to recruit, interact with players and draw up the Xs and Os. She even filled in as head coach for the Cowgirls' loss at Iowa State last season, when Littell was ill.
And when Kristy Curry left Tech last spring to take the head coaching job at Alabama, Whitaker got the opportunity to go back to her alma mater.
It's been a struggle so far in Whitaker's first season, as the Lady Raiders will enter Gallagher-Iba Arena as losers of six straight and with an 0-5 mark in conference play.
Tech's starting lineup is largely overhauled from last season, but Amber Battle has been one of the Big 12's breakout players. She ranks fourth in the league in scoring (18.2 points per game), third in rebounding (8.1 per game) and possessing a motor that Littell compares to Cowgirl point guard Tiffany Bias.
“We told our players (Thursday) that sometimes 0-5 teams are as dangerous as 5-0 teams,” Littell said, “because they're hungry.”