Law lays it down, redefining ‘hard’



By Wesley Deberry

Unfamiliar faces stared at Jolette Law as she entered the Bielfeldt Athletic Administration Building after being appointed head coach of the University of Illinois women’s basketball team on May 11. This was the first time Law would meet with the women of her new squad.

Sitting next to Law was Illini sophomore forward Lacey Simpson.

“What style of basketball do you want to play?” Law asked Simpson.

“I want to be a fast-paced, defensive team,” Simpson said.

Looking directly into Simpson’s eyes, Law asked, “Are you willing to work to get that?”

Simpson said, “Yes, I am.”

Junior guard Lori Bjork summarized Law’s message succinctly: “Let’s get it done.”

Wasting no time, Law has put the Illini through a rigorous conditioning program.

“There is no way that I can make it. There is no way that I can run anymore,” senior center Audrey Tabon said she thought during some of the conditioning.


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Laying down the ‘Law’

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The Illini worked through the intense conditioning sessions and practices. Tabon said each time the Illini pushed hard when feeling they had nothing left to give. Belief in Law’s intense philosophy grew stronger.

“I knew that it was going to be hard but I don’t think I quite knew what hard meant,” Tabon said.

Walking among giants

Law’s intensity can be attributed to her childhood dream to “be like Mike.” Her mantra isn’t referring to Michael Jordan, who has been immortalized in history as one of the best to ever pick up a basketball. For Law however, “being like Mike” meant being like her older brother, Michael.

Since the age of 5 Law was on the sidelines of the basketball courts in Florence, S.C., observing Michael. When given a chance to get on the court, Law tried hard to imitate her brother’s athletic ability.

“He loved the game, so I wanted to love the game,” Law said. “As time wore on, he would always instill in me that you got to continue to work hard and put the time in.”

Law’s love for basketball at a young age made her a well-known and respected figure in the South Carolina basketball community. She has the only retired jersey at Wilson High School, is a member of the Florence, S.C., Hall of Fame and a member of the Wilson High School Hall of Fame.

With a resume that includes three straight years of being named a Kodak All-American, Law had several colleges to choose from as a senior in high school. She chose the University of Iowa.

Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer was the coach of the University of Iowa’s women’s basketball team during Law’s time at Iowa from 1987-1990. Playing for Stinger had been a dream of Law’s for a very long time. Stringer’s long history of establishing winning programs was a feat that Law followed long before committing to play at Iowa.

Law’s first season was not particularly noteworthy, though, as she had limited playing time through the season.

“I kept working, putting the time in, and doing what I needed to do to get better,” Law said.

As a sophomore at Iowa, Law became a starter. By her junior and senior year, Law’s improvement continued. She was selected to the All-Big Ten Team and selected as a Kodak District 5 All-American.

“It’s not where you start,” Law said. “It’s where you finish.”

With her college basketball career behind her, Law went to tryouts to represent the USA at the Pan American Games. For the first time in her career, Law was cut from a team. A few days after the tryouts, however, she received a phone call from the Harlem Globetrotters to try out for the team.

“It just seemed like the door was closed, and a few days later God opened a window for me,” Law said.

She was the only woman on the Harlem Globetrotters and traveled to more than 28 different countries around the world. Law said she took pride in the fact that she was the only woman on the team and felt that it was her duty to serve as a role model to women all across the world.

“It was a challenge for me because I was 5-foot-4 inches playing with all these 7-foot men,” Law said.

Law found ways to turn her disadvantages into her strengths, as she had done throughout her childhood. She relied on her dribbling skills, speed and jump shot to overcome her height disadvantage. For four years, Law displayed her talent to different parts of the world.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” Law said.

A new calling

After her stint with the Globetrotters, Law decided to stay with the sport that was her childhood love. In 1995 she accepted a job as an assistant coach at Ball State.

Before the 1996 season at Ball State, Stringer, the head coach at Rutgers, recruited Law to her staff. For 12 years Law soaked up basketball wisdom under the legendary Stringer. Eight of those years were spent as the assistant head coach, and the last four were spent as the associate head coach.

“I always knew I wanted to be a head coach,” Law said. “But I wanted it to be a good fit, and I wanted it to be the best fit for me.”

In May Stringer asked Law to accompany her to a luncheon dedicated to influential women across the United States. At the luncheon, Law was in the company of celebrities.

She was in awe of the power and influence of the women at the luncheon.

“It was the most powerful luncheon I have ever been through,” Law said.

Little did Law know, during the luncheon the University of Illinois was attempting to contact her with an offer to become its next women’s basketball head coach.

As night fell, Law returned home, still in awe of the luncheon.

“Where have you been? Don’t you know that everybody has been calling you?” Law remembers her roommate asking upon returning to the house.

Before she could even respond, the phone rang. It was Illinois Athletics Director Ron Guenther offering her the job she’d only dreamt of.

“We want to offer you the job to the University of Illinois. Would you accept?” Law remembers Guenther asking her.

In the seconds following his offer, Law’s emotions overcame her and she nearly dropped the phone.

“Yes, I will accept.”