New Vanderbilt head coach Shea Ralph knows what winning looks like. It comes with the territory when you spend almost two decades as a player and an assistant at an elite women's basketball program like UConn.
She was a part of seven national championships with the Huskies, one as a point guard, six as an assistant. She was captain of the 2000 national championship team and Most Outstanding Player at that year's Final Four.
"I did spend half of my life basically at UConn so there's a lot that I could go into, but my experience was they taught me how to be successful," Ralph said during a Build Up 2 Basketball visit on the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show. "They taught me how to sacrifice, be a great teammate, what it means to build and be part of an incredible culture, both on and off the basketball court. They taught me how to be ready for life.
"Really, in terms of coaching, it taught me this is what I wanted to do, No. 1, after I played. I wanted to have an impact on young women's lives the way my life was impacted at UConn."
One way to achieve that goal at Vanderbilt, which has its own rich history in the sport despite some recent hard times, is by creating what she called "a family environment." It started by hiring a coaching staff full of personal connections.
Her husband, Tom Garrick, is her associate head coach. Garrick, a former college and NBA player, was the head coach at Massachusetts-Lowell when Ralph got the Vanderbilt job. He's also a former Vanderbilt assistant who helped the program reach five NCAA Tournaments from 2009-15.
Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Ashley Earley, who became a member of Vanderbilt's 1,000-point club as a player, was on the Vanderbilt staff with Garrick during part of that run of success.
Assistant Kevin DeMille was a UConn practice player while Ralph was an assistant there. She told him, if she ever became a head coach, she would hire him. When she got the Vandy job, she called DeMille, who was a George Washington assistant. He called it "a no-brainer" to join her staff.
Ralph said having the opportunity to coach at Vanderbilt and surround herself with people she knows and trusts - who understand what's possible for the Commodore program - "is incredibly exciting. I am so happy to be here at Vanderbilt. It truly is a family environment. I've been waiting a long time for an opportunity this wonderful to come along so every day I'm treasuring and it's been wonderful so far."
The hard rebuilding work has begun. Vanderbilt missed the NCAA Tournament just twice between 1986 and 2014, a run that included five Elite Eight trips and one to the Final Four, but the Commodores have not participated in March Madness since. Who better to bring back the Memorial Gym magic than Ralph, who helped UConn reach 12 Final Fours in her 13 seasons on the coaching staff?
"Hopefully, we'll be winning a lot of basketball games here soon, but building our culture and championship tradition here is going to take some time and consistency," Ralph said. "Luckily, I was part of a place that did that pretty well so I'm excited to do it here."