Oct. 25, 2007
Auburn head women's basketball coach Nell Fortner will be honored as the recipient of the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award by Stephen F. Austin State University Alumni Association during the annual 79th Homecoming celebration this weekend.
Fortner will be recognized at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 during the Distinguished Alumnus Award Presentation at Lumberjack Bash held at the Grand Ballroom of the Baker Pattillo Student Center. The award was initiated in 1996 to honor SFA's former students whose participation and dedication have helped strengthen the total program at SFA.
A native of Jackson, Miss., Fortner earned a master's degree in Education from SFA in 1987. With more than 20 years of experience in coaching at the high school, collegiate, professional and international levels, Fortner has earned respect for her contributions in both sports and community areas. In addition to coaching, Fortner has served two years as a spokesperson for the United Way and has spearheaded programs in conjunction with the World Food Programme.
Fortner played basketball and volleyball at Texas from 1978-81 and helped guide the Longhorns to a 127-26 record during her four seasons. She led Texas to its first national ranking in women's basketball and a seventh-place finish at the AIAW National Tournament. Fortner scored 1,466 points during her career at Texas, a number that still remains at the top of the scoring leaders.
"Nell has brought great pride and honor to the university - and many other institutions - with her achievements in coaching and the field of communication," Jody Conradt, Hall of Fame coach who led the Texas program for 31 years, sad. "It was a privilege to coach a student-athlete as versatile, talented and motivated as Nell."
After coaching at Killeen High School, Fortner served as a graduate assistant for the SFA basketball program while working on her master's degree. She was an assistant coach for the Ladyjacks from 1988-90 and helped head coach Gary Blair guide the team to an 87-12 record and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
"She credits SFA with providing an opportunity to pursue her passion, and consequently, she has become a master teacher," Conradt said. "She is very deserving of this honor."
After leaving SFA, Fortner spent 1991 to 1995 at Louisiana Tech University as an assistant coach on Hall of Fame coach Leon Barmore's staff. The Lady Techsters made five consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including a trip to the 1994 National Championship game.
Fortner served as an assistant coach for the 1996 Team USA women's basketball team that posted a 52-0 run that resulted in a perfect 8-0 record and a gold-medal win at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
In 1997 Fortner became head coach at Purdue and led the Boilermakers to a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a team that returned only four players. She guided Purdue to a 12-4 conference mark and 17-11 overall record and a second-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. She was named "National Coach of the Year" by Basketball Times and "Big 10 Coach of the Year."
Including the 1997 season, collegiate teams associated with Fortner have made nine consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and tallied a 10-year record of 252-66.
In 1999, Fortner moved from the collegiate rank to the professional league after being named head coach of the WNBA Indiana Fever. At the time, Fortner also served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team. Fortner stayed with the U.S. team through its gold-medal winning play at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. From a gold in the 1998 World Championships to the gold in Sydney, Fortner guided the U.S. women's national program to a 101-14 three-year record, the most wins of any coach in women's USA basketball history. She was named "2000 USA Basketball Coach of the Year" for her efforts.
Following the Olympics, Fortner returned to the Indiana Fever for the 2001 season. She spent three seasons as the Fever's head coach and general manager and led the team to the 2002 WNBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
From 2001 to 2004, Fortner worked as an ESPN analyst during the winter season, covering four NCAA women's basketball tournaments. Her coaching instincts continued to pull at her, and she returned to the collegiate court in 2004 as the head coach of women's basketball at Auburn University.