June 2, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Is it possible that the La Cueva High Bears have the complete package in their new head coach for girls' basketball in ex-Lobo Abbie Letz? Lobo coach Don Flanagan, who coached Letz for four seasons, thinks that is a distinct possibility.
"She has a high-level grasp of the game and is a natural competitor," said Flanagan. "She has the gift of having a style that is somewhere between patience and high expectations."
The roots of Letz's style are obvious. She was coached by her mother at El Paso Hanks High and by Flanagan at the University of New Mexico. Her mom had high expectations and a high-energy style of motivating her daughter.
"I tell mom I have a permanent indention on my chest from her finger," laughs Letz. "When I first came to UNM, I kept looking at Flanagan thinking, `When are you going to yell at us?'
"I would say I played with the two most different coaches possible between coach Flanagan and my mother. She was loud, more in-your-face. She said she had to be harder on me because I was her daughter and I understand that. But I learned from Flanagan that you can improve as an individual and as a team without all the yelling."
So, what is Letz's style going to be when she takes over the Bears' program this fall? "They both played a big part in my philosophy," said Letz. "I have a feeling I'll be more calm than my mother, but I might yell more than coach Flanagan did."
Actually, Letz almost didn't make it into The Pit. At first, Flanagan didn't have an open spot on his roster. Second, Flanagan kept hearing things about Letz. "People were telling me she couldn't play for us," said Flanagan. "I watched her for five minutes and I had no doubt that she could play for us."
Letz reputation at UNM was that of a fierce competitor playing with an intense confidence. She also was one of those athletes whose confidence spread to her teammates. She averaged 10.3 points and 7.5 rebounds her senior year of 2005-06.
She remembers that when Flanagan came down to El Paso to scout her abilities, she hadn't picked up a ball in a couple of months.
"I was kind of taking a break from basketball and he wanted to come down and see me play," said the 6-foot-1 Letz. "We had a five-on-five league from different schools, but I hadn't been playing any of the games up to that point. I called the girls and said, `Hey, can I show up and play? I got this coach coming down from New Mexico to watch me.'
"I just showed up and kind of ran around. It's not that hard to look good in El Paso when you are 6-foot-1 and everyone else is shorter than you. I guess I did good enough to get a scholarship."
Like most kids who come from a coaching family, Letz had a jump on most players. Her father also had played college ball at New Mexico State.
"When Abbie was a freshman for us, we would let her deal with recruits because of her ability to talk to kids and parents," said Flanagan. "She was very mature with a lot of knowledge about the game. La Cueva is very fortunate to get a young coach with that kind of talent."
Letz came to La Cueva out of UNM and became an assistant to Greg Berger, who resigned from that position this summer. The Bears almost lost Letz before they got her. She was a finalist for the Rio Rancho High girls' job, but pulled out of the race when Berger told her of his plans. Letz has some shoes to fill. Berger left the school following back-to-back Class 5A titles.
"Abbie was involved in two state championships and I'm sure that helped her as a coach and I'm sure she had something to do with the championships," said Flanagan. "She is a gifted young lady."
Letz said she thought about being a coach from an early age because of her love of the game, her love for teaching, and because of the influence of her mom and Flanagan.
"I became a student of the game a lot younger than most people," she said. "When I was real young, I was the team manager so I could go on road trips (with mom). I was always around the game and that made things click on the court which made the games a lot of fun.
"And then when you play for Flanagan, you have no choice but to know basketball because he makes you understand all the ends and outs, all the little things that matter so much. He definitely pays attention to details."
Letz, who is engaged to ex-Lobo baseball player Chris Carlson, said the move into the hot seat is something she is excited about.
"As an assistant, in the back of your mind you are wondering if you would do the same thing in a certain situation," said Letz. "But it's not your time and not really your team and you aren't calling the shots. Now, I get to call the shots."
So, does that mean the new-look Bears are going to be a combination of mom and Flanagan and Letz - with a heavy emphasis on Letz?
"There will be some new stuff," said a smiling Letz. "But I can't tell you. It's top secret."