UCLA Head Women’s Basketball Coach Cori Close is honored with the FCA 2020 Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award.
The award presentation was set to occur this past weekend at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Convention in New Orleans, but the event, along with the NCAA tournament, was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, local FCA will honor Close at a later time.
“All of us at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes are thrilled to honor UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close, who has displayed the FCA values of integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence throughout her career,” said Shane Williamson, FCA President and CEO. “Especially during these challenging times, we are thankful for every coach like Coach Close who has supported their players through the heartache and disappointment of cancelled seasons. The greatest influence in an athlete’s life is a coach, and there is no greater calling for Christ-following coaches than to influence their players for Jesus. Having a coach like Cori leading her young ladies is life-changing for them.”
Close has worked at numerous FCA Camps, as well as spoken many times in support of FCA staff. Those who work closely with her say she is dedicated to walking with Christ every day, and sees her job, life, every aspect of who she is and how she spends her time as ministry.
“She demonstrates the qualities of a Kingdom Coach every day,” wrote Close’s nominator. “I think Coach Yow would be so proud of her. Cori stepped into her first head coaching job in a very high-pressure, high-visibility place, and she has navigated it with amazing humility, grace, energy, Christ focus and integrity. … She represents Jesus well. Our athletes come here to be challenged to grow in every aspect of their lives, and for many of them, that includes in their faith.”
Cori Close was named the Michael Price Family UCLA Women’s Head Basketball Coach on April 21, 2011, and the 2019-20 season was Close’s ninth at the helm of the Bruins. The squad went 26-5 overall and beat USC in the Pac-12 Tournament on March 6 before falling to Stanford March 7.
Last season, Close led UCLA to its fourth-straight Sweet 16 appearance, making the Bruins one of just eight NCAA Division I programs to do so. Close has also produced four WNBA draft picks as a head coach.
The 2018-19 season saw UCLA win 13 of its last 17 games and finish fourth in a highly competitive Pac-12 Conference. Close was ultimately named the Media Pac-12 Coach of the Year. That year, Close’s Bruins finished 22-13, reaching the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament and collecting NCAA Tournament wins over Tennessee and Maryland, before falling to perennial power UCONN. In the final ESPN/USA Today rankings, UCLA rose 10 spots to No. 14, the highest leap by any program in the polls.
In 2017-18, Close was named the 2018 United States Marine Corps/WBCA NCAA Division I Region 5 Coach of the Year for the second time. The Bruins reached the Sweet 16 for a record-extending third consecutive year and ended the season with an Elite 8 appearance for the first time since 1999. During the 2016-17 season, Close posted her 100th-career victory and also guided the Bruins to their first back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in program history. A year earlier, Close guided the Bruins to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999.
UCLA is the first head coaching assignment for Close, who has worked as an associate head coach or assistant on teams that have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 16 seasons, won at least 20 games in 16 of the previous 18 seasons, and won or shared a total of 11 conference championships.
Close, who began her collegiate coaching career on the Bruin staff in 1994 and 1995, returned after spending seven seasons as associate head coach at Florida State University. Considered one of the top offensive minds in the game, Close helped guide the Seminoles into a nationally recognized program. FSU ranked among the nation’s top 30 teams in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage her last two seasons, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of coach Close’s seasons in Tallahassee. Close joined the FSU staff after serving nine seasons (1995-2004), the last three as associate head coach, at her alma mater, UC Santa Barbara.
As a player, Close was a four-year starting point guard at UC Santa Barbara and captained the 1992 and 1993 teams, which each advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A native of Milpitas, California, she was a 1993 first-team All-Big West selection and the MVP of the 1993 conference tournament. Close was the first player in school history to record more than 1,000 points and 500 assists for a career. In April 2005, Close was inducted into the UC Santa Barbara Athletics Hall of Fame.
Named for the late North Carolina State coaching icon Kay Yow, this award is presented annually by FCA to honor a basketball coach who has exemplified biblical principles over the course of his or her career. Kay Yow, who passed away from breast cancer in 2009, was presented with the inaugural award at the 2008 Women’s Final Four in Tampa.
Past winners of the FCA Kay Yow Heart of a Coach Award include:
2008: Kay Yow, North Carolina State
2009: Jane Albright, Nevada
2010: Nancy Wilson, College of Charleston
2011: Sue Ramsey, Ashland
2012: Deb Patterson, Kansas State
2013: Sue Semrau, Florida State
2014: Kristy Curry, Alabama
2015: Matt Bollant, Illinois
2016: Kirk Martin, Cedarville
2017: Julie Goodenough, Abilene Christian
2018: Lynn Plett, University of Colorado Springs
2019: Carey Green, Liberty University