Growing up in the nation's capital, assistant women's basketball coach Katie Rokus has always been around great athletic talent. From her days in high school where she was a two-sport athlete playing soccer and basketball, Rokus knows what it takes for a program to reach success and that's what she hopes to help do during her first season as one of head coach Jamelle Elliott's new assistant coaches.
"She's a ball of energy," Elliott said. "Being from the Washington D.C. area, she's really familiar with the AAU coaches in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area as well as Philadelphia and New Jersey. More importantly to be a good recruiter you have to work hard and she works extremely hard at what she does and it has been a great addition already for her to be a part of our staff."
Similar to last week's assistant coach spotlight of Aaron Swinson, Rokus got involved in athletics in a different sport than the one she now coaches. A soccer player during her early years, a member of her community who decided that her abilities might translate to the basketball floor turned on Rokus to basketball. Sure enough, that showed to be a turning point in her athletic career and her professional career, which still has to a lot with the sport she dominated.
"I made a basket every game and I got hooked," Rokus said. "From that point on I played every single day and I just became obsessed with it. That was around sixth grade."
Rokus was able to use athletics as a motivator when she began high school. She looked to soccer, but primarily basketball as a sense of belonging and reason to focus on academics as well. Rokus was salutatorian of her senior class in 1999.
"It gives you something to work towards every day, it gives you a focus," Rokus said. "Ironically it actually forces you to manage your time better, so at an earlier age your forced to really balance things to be successful."
Her academic background and achievements also work well with her title as assistant coach. Rokus is able to stress the importance of an education to her players while being an admirable role model in that department. Rokus is in charge of academic development within the team.
"I always liked school and it was actually a good balance because sports are hard and for me when that wasn't going well or when I was hurt it was easy to focus into that," Rokus said. "One of my main areas is overseeing academics and I try to express to them quality of study not quantity and that really works for them."
Experiencing adversity and overcoming that can be pivotal to coaching a team that is coming off a second-to-last finish in the Big East a year ago. During her time as a player at the University of South Carolina Aiken her and her fellow freshman inherited a 5-22 program. After their freshman season they brought the program to .500 winning percentage and then after her sophomore season the team eclipsed 20 wins, was ranked nationally, and made an NCAA tournament appearance.
"It was a really fun experienced we we're ranked academically and athletically," Rokus said. "It was the right fit for me no doubt about it."
Her career at USC Aiken was instrumental in her coaching career. She was hired by her former college coach to become an assistant coach at the University of Maryland - Baltimore County. Rokus was there for the program's first America East Conference title and NCAA tournament berth in 2007. Her teams at UMBC also led the conference in grade-point average, something that she hopes to duplicate at UC.
"If you have a staff that is working well together and you're your own team no one individual stands out more than the other," Rokus said. "I can't specifically say what it was that I did that had an impact other than completely buying into what we were doing and constantly translating that message to our players."
Rokus comes to Cincinnati after leaving her position at George Washington University where she developed and showed her skills as a talented recruiter. In two of the last three seasons, Rokus helped GWU acquire top 50 recruiting classes. Already on trips recruiting for the Bearcats, Rokus can use her experience to not only bring in the right talent, but also choose the athletes that are right for this program.
"Every situation is different and recruiting is such an inexact science," Rokus said. "You really just have to do your homework and figure out what it is that the kid is looking for. Do they want to be part of a program that's changing or do they want to go to those established programs? It's just finding that right fit."
A little hesitant to actually come interview for the job she now holds because of the lengthy distance from the Washington D.C. area, Rokus immediately fell in love with UC, however, and loved everything it had to offer.
"Not only does the campus sell itself, but with coach Elliott and what she is trying to do, I wanted to be a part of that," Rokus said. "Everybody has the same message and I just couldn't turn it down."
Rokus is the next person affiliated with the women's basketball program to preach the importance of reaching success. She understands the program Elliott is trying to build and is already impressed at where everything stands. "Success and that be winning games," Rokus said.
"I think we are successful in every part of our program so far except for that and I definitely, definitely want that."