Whether she’s been on the court or on the sideline, Lisa Stone has experienced success in every step of her basketball journey.
Stone, nee Anderson, led Oregon High School to consecutive state appearances as a player, then went on to play in the Big Ten at Iowa. Her early coaching stops at two Division III schools led to opportunities at three D-I programs.
Stone, 57, is currently the head coach at Saint Louis University. Like her high school alma mater, the Bilikens had their 2019-20 season cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Savvy leader on the court
Stone was a 12-time varsity letterwinner and three-sport standout (tennis, basketball and track and field) at Oregon.
A two-time all-state selection on the hardwood, she led the Panthers to the WIAA Class A state tournament in 1979 and 1980. Oregon beat Green Bay Southwest 62-47 in the 1980 Class A state quarterfinals, but lost to eventual state champion Stevens Point in the semifinals.
Forty years after Stone led the Panthers to state in her senior year, a new crop of upperclassmen led Oregon back to state. However, the Division 2 state tournament was canceled the night before the Panthers were set to take on Hortonville.
“I hurt for those kids. It breaks my heart,” Stone said. “But on the other hand, they should be really proud of their accomplishments. Getting to state is a great feat and nobody can take that away from them.”
Stone was a three-time captain and point guard at Iowa under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer from 1980 to 1984. She finished with 1,129 points (31st in school history), 332 assists (14th), and 177 steals (tied for 10th) in her college career, and still holds a tie for the most steals in a game (9).
Stone won the 1984 Big Ten Medal of Honor for combined athletic and academic achievement.
Midwestern coaching tour
Her legacy as a player established, Stone traveled just 21 miles north from Iowa City to Mount Vernon, Iowa to begin her coaching career in 1985.
She took over at D-III Cornell College as the youngest four-year coach in the country. Her record hovered just over .500 (34-32), but the Rams won the Midwest Conference’s Southern Division in all three of Stone’s seasons at the helm.
Stone returned to Wisconsin in 1988 and turned UW-Eau Claire into one of the best D-III programs in the country.
The Blugolds won at least 20 games and made the D-III Tournament in all but one of Stone’s 12 seasons, finishing as the national runner-up in 1997 and third-place finalist in 1994. Her 277 wins (to just 59 losses) rank second all-time in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference history.
Stone was named WIAC Coach of the Year five times (1989, 1990, 1993, 1995, 2000) and was the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Division III Coach of the Year in 1997.
Success in west-central Wisconsin opened the door for Stone to return to the Division I ranks at the beginning of the new millennium.
She went 64-27 in three seasons at Drake University and coached the Bulldogs to two NCAA Tournament appearances – including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2002. Stone was named Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2001 after guiding the Bulldogs to the regular-season conference crown.
She was also a head coach in the 2001 WBCA All-Star Game and an assistant coach for gold-medal-winning Team USA at the 2002 World Championships for Young Women Qualifying Tournament.
Coming off a 7-21 campaign, the University of Wisconsin hired Stone in 2003 to turn the women’s basketball program around. She did just that, going 128-119 in eight seasons at the helm in Madison.
The Badgers went 23-13 and made the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship game in 2007. UW also made the WNIT in 2008 and 2009.
Stone was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2010 after leading the Badgers to a 21-11 mark, a third-place finish in the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament berth.
However, she was fired the next spring after a 16-15 season and WNIT appearance. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez backed his decision by saying the program “has not reached and maintained the level of success I believe is possible.”
The Badgers have not had a winning season since Stone’s firing in 2011.
Saint Louis endured nine straight losing seasons before Stone’s arrival on May 4, 2012. The 2016 Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year, she guided the Billikens to a 26-8 record, the program’s first A-10 regular-season title and a third-round WNIT appearance.
SLU went 25-9 and made the second round of the WNIT the following season. The Billikens advanced to the A-10 Tournament semifinals finished 19-13 in 2019-20 and would have qualified for the WNIT again had it not been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m really proud of my whole career, from player to coach,” said Stone, who is 141-115 in eight seasons at SLU. “I’ve loved every stop along the way and I have no regrets.”
Stone is 644-352 in 34 years as a head coach, and has no plans to step away from the sidelines anytime soon.
“I’m going to coach until it’s no fun for me,” she said. “I take care of myself and still have a lot of energy to teach the game. Anyone you talk to that has ever watched me coach will say I haven’t changed since I first started.”
Adjusting to uncertain times
A day after canceling all remaining 2020 winter championships and spring championships, the NCAA suspended all recruiting activities for all Division I sports on March 13.
The recruiting dead period has since been extended a third time to July 31, which means schools cannot host in-person campus visits or camps until Aug. 1.
Stone has conducted Zoom calls with Class of 2021 recruits, taking them on a virtual campus tour that includes a look at the women’s basketball facilities. Coaches have stayed in touch with current players via Zoom, texts, phone calls and email during the pandemic.
Stone has let a player lead the Billikens’ weekly meeting, which starts at 7:30 a.m. each Monday.
“Our staff probably had the best April we’ve ever had,” Stone said. “We talked with our players more than we normally would. When we come out of this, we’ll be ahead of schedule.”
On May 20, the Division I Council announced that athletes in football and men’s and women’s basketball could resume voluntary on-campus athletic activities starting June 1. However, schools have the final say in allowing student-athletes and coaches back on campus to practice.
Saint Louis has not announced whether its basketball teams will return to campus for summer workouts. Students and staff are expected to be back on campus for the 2020 fall semester, according to school president Fred Pestello.
“It would be great to see our players in June, but I think it’s doubtful,” Stone said. “I think our president has done the best job in the country in terms of ensuring the safety of our students and staff. His leadership is something I trust and believe in, so we’ll go with whatever decision he makes.”