Gunter has brought LSU to national women’s prominence

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 31, 2003

This is the second in a series profiling the 2003 inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in a banquet on April 4 in Vicksburg. Monday: Mildrette Netter Graves.

[3/30/03]Being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is a great honor for Sue Gunter. Forgive her, though, if she skips the ceremony on Friday to spend the weekend in Atlanta.

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Gunter, who has coached women’s basketball for the last 40 years, has LSU on the brink of its first Final Four appearance in her 21 years at the school. The Final Four would begin on April 6 in Atlanta, meaning Gunter would already be there with her team on the night of the MSHOF ceremony.

“I hope that’s the case,” Gunter said with a chuckle. “It would be disappointing in that regard, that people in Mississippi wouldn’t be able to enjoy it with me, but I think they’d understand if it came to that.”

Sure they’d understand. After all, they’ve already had plenty of chances to see Gunter inducted into various halls of fame.

Gunter, who ranks third on the list of all-time winningest women’s college basketball coaches with 670, is already a member of the East Central Community College Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Sue is one of the real great coaches of all-time, period, in women’s basketball. Sue Gunter ranks at the very top in our profession,” said former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore. “I don’t think you’ll ever find a person who is more loved and admired by the coaching fraternity.”

Although Gunter made her biggest marks in the basketball world west of the Mississippi River first as the head coach at Stephen F. Austin in Texas, then at LSU the 61-year-old was born and raised in the Magnolia State.

A native of Walnut Grove, Gunter began dribbling a basketball almost as soon as she could walk. In Leake County in the 1940s and 1950s, there just wasn’t much else to do.

“We played year-round, and that was just the thing to do. I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5 or 6 years old,” Gunter said. “I don’t ever remember not being involved in basketball.”

Gunter played better than most of the other kids, too. She averaged 28 points per game for Walnut Grove High during the 1956-57 season, helping her team to a 44-4 record and the North Mississippi State B-BB finals.

She went on to play at East Central Mississippi Junior College, then later for Nashville Business College. NBC was actually a talented AAU team that Gunter helped to two national championships. During her time with the Nashville team, Gunter also earned a spot on the U.S. National Team.

When her playing days were over, Gunter made a smooth transition into coaching. Her first two teams, at Middle Tennessee State, posted back-to-back undefeated seasons.

“There was never any doubt what I was going to do. It was my way to maintain my competitiveness,” she said, adding that it was a decision she has never regretted. “I’ve never in my life dreaded getting up and going to work, and I wonder how many people can say that.”

Gunter left Middle Tennessee State in 1965 for Texas, and Stephen F. Austin. There, she built the Ladyjacks into a national power and earned 266 of her 670 career victories.

“Sue has always been an excellent recruiter. She has always had excellent basketball teams,” said Barmore, who had plenty of battles with Gunter over the years. “You’d better have your stuff together when you play her.”

In 15 years as coach at the Nacogdoches, Texas, school, Gunter also led the Ladyjacks to six 20-win seasons, four top-20 rankings, five AIAW tournaments, and one regional championship. She also coached softball, tennis, and track, and spent two years as Director of Women’s Athletics.

“I love Stephen F. Austin, because professionally, that’s where I grew up,” Gunter said.