Laura Beeman was outside Selland Arena in Fresno, talking on her cell phone moments after her Mt. San Antonio College women’s basketball team won a state tournament semifinal game, seeking information on thenext opponent.
She was approached by 6-foot-2 Carmen Deal, a freshman at Pasadena City College, who wanted to transfer.
Beeman knew Deal well, having played against her twice in the 2006-07 season. Beeman told the player she needed to talk to her coach about leaving and enroll at Mt. SAC before she could speak with her.
Deal did that and showed up in the fall, bringing with her an attitude other coaches had warned Beeman about. But Beeman didn’t turn the player away. She welcomed the chance to make a difference.
It has paid off again as Deal has transformed into a solid team player on and off the court.
“That’s my specialty,” said Beeman. “I like taking these kids that are considered problems and working with them. You give them your soul, they’ll give you theirs back.”
Beeman’s caring, tough-love approach has worked. The San Bernardino native is in her 13th year heading the Mt. SAC program. She has 307 career wins, four 30-win seasons and eight 20-win seasons, highlighted by three state titles in the last four years.
The Mounties (15-1) face San Bernardino Valley College (7-2) at 5:30 tonight.
While she is pleased with the wins, it is the graduation rate and her success advancing players that she is most proud of. Lauren Ervin, the cornerstone of the state title team in 2006, is the leading scorer at Arkansas and hasn’t forgotten her first conversation with Beeman.
“She told me not to expect any special treatment just because I had athletic ability. If I didn’t plan on going to class or working hard, I better go play somewhere else,” Ervin said. “A lot of coaches say that, but they don’t mean it. I knew better than to test her because if you get in her doghouse it’s hard to get out.”
Beeman, 39, lives in Huntington Beach but hasn’t forgotten her roots. Parents Jerry and Judy still live in San Bernardino and are regulars at most games along with her 92-year-old grandmother Lois.
Brother Bobby took over the the pharmacy business which still bears the family name. Laura also has two sisters, Lisa and Cheryl.
She admits she doesn’t get back as often as she would like, especially during the season but did return last week to help decorate the family Christmas tree.
Beeman attended San Gorgonio High School as a freshman, then transferred to San Bernardino High School where she played for three years.
She signed early with Division I Weber State but a serious knee injury derailed that plan. Instead she played close to home at UC Riverside, then coached by Nancy Simpson, who later spent 12 years at Cal State San Bernardino.
Beeman decided to end her playing career for good after a second knee injury that season but Darryl Smith, an assistant coach at Cal State, tracked her down at the mall where she was working and convinced her to give it one last shot.
“I really had no intention of playing again,” Beeman said. “Two knee injuries had me convinced basketball was not going to be part of my future.”
Beeman relented and played two years for the Coyotes, helping them to a 24-4 mark and West Regional final in 1990. She is second in career assists (379 in her two years and also has the second and third-best numbers for assists in a season, 203 (1989-90) and 176 (1990-91.
She finished her degree in business marketing but opted not to play as a senior.
“I just lost my love of the game,” she said. “I didn’t want to play if my heart wasn’t totally in it. I don’t like taking on something unless I am going to give it my absolute best.”
After graduating she took a job in marketing and promotions with the High Desert Mavericks baseball team in its inaugural season.
But she was back in the game a year later when an assistant at the University of Redlands asked her to work for the women’s team as a graduate assistant. She did that for two years while pursuing a masters.
She first applied for the Mt. SAC job when it opened in 1994. It was given to Sherry Stevenson but Beeman was asked to stay on as an assistant. A year later the school opened the job again and Beeman was given the nod.
She had a five-year plan in place, with her biggest adjustment the classroom environment. The team went a respectable 17-12 her first year.
“I wasn’t new to basketball but I was new to the academic scene,” she said. “I had never taught in high school, forget college.”
Beeman said a turning point came in 1999 when she brought in Brian Crichlow as her lead assistant. He had been serving as the head girls coach at Pomona and became familar with Beeman when she started recruiting some of his players.
Crichlow said Beeman’s work ethic is contagious.
“You come in here and she has a practice plan laid out, a scouting report on the next opponent. She is watching film,” he said. “It makes you want to dive right in too because you can see how much work she has already put in before you even get there.”
Beeman has accomplished everything she can at the community college level and admits she would never count out moving on to a four-year institution, but isn’t actively seeking the opportunity.
She won’t consider a move unless it’s the perfect job for her.
“If it were the right time, the right place and the right situation and I knew I was going to have complete control of the program, yes, I would absolutely think about it,” Beeman said. “But I can also see myself being a Mountie the rest of my life.”