Just 10 months after Oklahoma State marked the decade anniversary of the deaths of 10 members of its men's basketball team's traveling party in a plane crash, school president Burns Hargis welled up last Friday as he addressed the media about OSU's "worst nightmare." Late on Thursday afternoon women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, 50, and 36-year-old assistant Miranda Serna were on a recruiting trip when their plane plummeted into the Arkansas wilderness, 45 miles west of Little Rock, killing everyone aboard, including the pilot, former Oklahoma State Senator Olin Branstetter, and his wife, Paula.
Budke, an NJCAA Hall of Famer who won four juco national championships in the 1990s at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas—including the '96 title, with Serna at point guard—had transformed OSU in five years into a Big 12 contender. Employing a fast, pressing style, he took a team that went winless in the conference in 2005--06, his first season, to a 27--8 record and a Sweet 16 appearance two years later. Finally, in 2010, behind senior point guard Andrea Riley, the Cowgirls broke into the nation's Top 10 for the first time. And Budke had a sense of occasion to match his eye for talent. He once broke out a tuxedo for an NJCAA tournament game, and he sported a bright orange blazer for meetings with rival Oklahoma in recent years.
"He made the rivalry fun again," says Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale. "We'd meet at half-court before games, and I always had something snide ready to say about his blazer. But he'd beat me to the punch. He'd make fun of himself before I could."
That exchange won't take place on Jan. 14, when the two teams next meet. Instead, fans will be left to ponder the question that haunts Coale: "How can this happen to the same school twice?"