Alabama athletics has its fair share of unsung heroes. For the Crimson Tide women’s basketball team, that’s assistant coach Janese Constantine. Constantine has been an integral part of the success of the team under head coach Kristy Curry. Features and Experiences Editor Ashlee Woods sat down with Constantine to talk about her coaching journey, motherhood and Christianity.
Q: What started your passion for basketball?
Janese Constantine: So I had an older brother, he was already involved in basketball, baseball and soccer. Those were the four things he was involved with. My dad also plays football. My dad is still coaching right now. So I grew up in a basketball family. I just was naturally drawn to playing ball, being rough and being outside. I started playing around five, so I just had a natural passion for the game. That’s what got me going.
Q: Did you have any players that you looked up to when you started playing basketball?
JC: I was a huge, huge Lisa Leslie fan. I was actually really tall for my age. I was always the tallest kid in class, boy or girl. I’ll never forget when I was in fifth grade, my nickname was baby Shaq. I was taller than all the guys out there. Then, around seventh or eighth grade is when the guys started shooting on me. I really just stopped growing, then. But I was the tallest in class for a long time. So, I thought I was going to be a post player. I thought I was going to be 6’5. But I am not, but growing up I was a huge Lisa Leslie fan. I still am.
Q: How did you know or when did you know when you wanted to start to coach?
JC: Probably when I was in high school and college — more so college. I went to this thing called Point Guard College. It was a really cool opportunity for me. It gave me a chance to see the game in another way, another light. It was more about talking about the game versus playing the game. It was in a classroom-like setting, so I really enjoyed that. It was seeing the doors basketball could open and thinking about how I can be involved once I got done playing. That’s when it kind of opened my eyes that I could really do this. Now back then, I didn’t really know if I thought I wanted to be a college coach. But I knew, at some point, I wanted to be coaching in my future.
Q: You’ve talked pretty frequently about being a tough coach when you started out in your coaching career. Was there a particular player, experience or even a season where you realized that maybe this style of coaching wasn’t the way to mentor these players?
JC: After my third year in coaching. I was at IUPUI at the time, and we got to the end of the year. I always feel like coaches get to do evaluations on players, tell them their strengths and weaknesses. I feel like as coaches, we don’t always take the time to then do that, ourselves. So what I did was I asked my players, ‘Tell me one thing that you think I’m good at and one thing I can do better.’ All of them told me you bring good energy, but they consistently all said, ‘You’re too negative.’ I was like ‘Wow,’ and it kind of hurt. I was really kind of hurt. I had to take a step back and say, ‘What do you mean? I’m coaching.’ They [the players] said ‘Yeah, but it’s always with a negative connotation. You don’t pump us up enough.’ That was the turning point. I have to say, I’m not perfect at it. I’m sure I’ve still been deemed as negative at times. But, I am conscious of it. I try to make sure that I am filling their cups. I try to make sure I’m not nitpicking. I do try to make sure that I look at their effort, their intent. If they’re trying and they’re not getting it, then maybe I need to coach it better. Again, I’m not perfect. I’m sure I fail at times. I just try to have an awareness of just being positive.
Q: You’ve been very open about your faith. Have you always practiced Christianity? If not, when did you decide to delve into the faith a little bit more?
JC: I was fortunate enough that my parents introduced me to Christ at a young age and He’s always been a part of my life. I grew up going to church and Sunday School. I was a Sunday School teacher for a while. It’s always been a part of my life and I’m not perfect. There have been times where I’m like, ‘Whoa, I’m kind of triggered right now. I’ve got to get back to where my foundation is.’ I don’t try to force [my faith] on anyone. I don’t try to make you talk about it. I’m not trying to make my players talk about it. But if they want you, I’m hoping they aren’t afraid. I’m here for them if they want to have a conversation. I’ve had players that want to be saved, but don’t know how to do that. So, I think I’ve tried in that manner to just be there for them.
Q: We’ve seen different players, coaches and athletes become more open about their faith. Has that been inspiring to you at all, seeing that become more mainstream in sports culture?
JC: I think it’s all good. I think it’s about whatever you want to do personally. I love the boldness and the courage. But I think there are so many other people who may not be as outwardly and openly about it. It still doesn’t mean you’re not as strong and as passionate about it. For me, I’m one of those nights. I don’t wake up every morning and shout out or make sure I tweet something spiritual. But if there is something on my heart, if I’m led to say something, I’ll do it. I’ll post it and I’ll talk about it. But I don’t feel like I have to always be over the top. But when I’m led to [share something spiritual], then I’ll definitely try and put it out there for people because I never know who I may be encouraging.
Q: Transitioning over to your journey to Alabama, when did you know that you possibly wanted to branch out and leave Indiana?
JC: Well, I actually got here by way of my husband. He got a football job here before I got the basketball job here. So when he got the football job here, we decided to leave Indiana to help to pursue his career. It’s hard to say no to anything Alabama football-related. So, I got down here and after three weeks, that’s when they [women’s basketball] had the opening. That’s how I got involved with Alabama women’s basketball so my journey down here was a little different. I was actually content in Indiana, where I was, and I was 45 minutes from home, from my parents. All that was a big plus when I had my first child.
Q: Has being a mother impacted your coaching style in any way?
JC: It’s made me a better coach. I think I’m looking at things differently. I see things differently. I think it’s helped me relate to kids differently. I think it helps me relate to their space differently. It helps me be more gracious. It helps me to be way more forgiving and try to be kinder. There was a situation where a young lady on a team got into some trouble on our team. My heart was broken. Someone said, ‘Well, why does that hurt you?’ I said, ‘Because that’s somebody’s baby.’ They made a mistake and now their business is kind of out there. I don’t think they did that on purpose. She didn’t wake up to try to make a mistake, but she made it. So I’m saddened that I know that’s somebody’s baby, and I know they still raised them right. I would want someone to have the same grace and compassion towards my girls. I just think everything has made me more in touch with the reality of what these young ladies go through day-to-day and the decisions that they have to make — whether right or wrong — but the decisions they have to make and how they learn from them.
Q: We’ve seen over the past couple of years rapid growth and coverage of women’s athletics at the collegiate level. What does it feel like to be a part of this new wave of women’s sports mentoring these players that are being broadcast on ESPN and ABC?
JC: It definitely feels good because I think you’re part of an evolution of a way that is allowing just more and more access to them. More access to their personal lives, more access to how they handle things and do things and the publicity that they get. I think it’s amazing. But, I think it challenges them of why making good decisions is such a huge thing now because of the access and now you have put on and plastered on the front of TVs and posters. Everything is in the light, everything that they do and so being a good role model, things of that nature [is important]. It’s fun to be a part of this and it’s fun to have all your games on TV. It’s fun to tell your family. ‘Hey, we’ll be on this channel!” All that’s fun. I think it’s a fun, fun time to be involved with athletics.
Q: What has been the most inspiring part of your coaching journey?
JC: When I see the ladies that I’ve coached post-college. When I see them now with babies, husbands, jobs and careers and different moves. That is what to me becomes the most inspiring. For them to tell me, ‘Hey, I appreciate you. You just mean so much to me,’ I think that’s probably what brings me the greatest joy knowing that. I tell them all the time, I pray that one day we can be friends. I pray that when you get done, we had a strong enough bond that you didn’t mind me pushing you. One of my former players — her name is Brenna — she’s done playing now. One of the things she tells me all the time, ‘I appreciate you every day for never letting me settle. Never letting me settle for anything less than my best. That, for me, lets me know to keep going. Keep pushing these young ladies because they’ll be thankful, they’ll be grateful. You won’t win them all, you won’t. I’ve had players I’ve coached that when they’re done, we may never speak again. It’s nothing bad. It’s just that maybe we just didn’t click. But I still have way more that still stay in touch, still reach out.