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Budke had brought a turnaround to Oklahoma St, had coached with Serna for nearly a decade
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) ' Kurt Budke was a successful junior college coach when he took over Louisiana Tech. He engineered an impressive turnaround when he moved to Oklahoma State.
Wherever Budke went, he won.
The charismatic coach who turned the Cowgirls into an NCAA tournament regular was killed along with assistant coach Miranda Serna and two other people in a plane crash in Arkansas late Thursday. The two coaches, who had worked together for more than a decade, had been on a recruiting trip.
The 50-year-old Budke won four junior-college national titles at Trinity Valley (Texas) and took Louisiana Tech to the NCAA tournament all three years as head coach before he came back to the Midwest, closer to his native Kansas.
He took over a struggling Oklahoma State program in March 2005. The Cowgirls went 0-16 in Big 12 play in his first season, then secured their first bid to the NCAA tournament in a decade. The next year brought a trip to the Round of 16.
The program has been to the postseason the past five years
"You learn how to lose, and that's a bad habit," he once said of those early struggles. "Sometimes, it's easier to lose than to fight back, so we had to change habits and expectations."
He added: "You've just got to live through it."
A Salina, Kan., native, Budke was a married father of three, including a daughter currently at Oklahoma State.
He played basketball for Barton County (Kan.) Junior College and graduated from Washburn in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in physical education. After some early small-college jobs, he became head coach at Trinity Valley (Texas) and built a powerhouse, winning four JUCO national titles in seven seasons.
The 1996 title team included Serna, a Guadalupita, N.M., native who later played at Houston. She played under Budke at Trinity Valley and later was an assistant for him at Louisiana Tech before joining him at Oklahoma State as the recruiting coordinator.
The two used their junior-college connections to quickly retool the roster. In 2005, Budke signed a point guard he more than once referred to as a program-changing player: Andrea Riley, who became the Big 12's freshman of the year and once scored 45 points in an 82-63 upset of Oklahoma.
It was validation for Budke, who had little to sell but a dream.
"I came to this league because I wanted to coach against the best, night in and night out," he once said. "These players that want to come play for us want to play against the best. That's how we go out and recruit."
Sherri Coale, the coach at rival Oklahoma, was devastated.
"Kurt was a fantastic basketball coach and he was a tremendous competitor. More importantly, though, he was a devoted father and husband, and a humble but courageous leader of young people," she said.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair called Serna a rising star and said he talked regularly with Budke. He said the two were going to miss each other, with the Aggies moving to the Southeastern Conference after this season.
"He was a devout family man and the conversation never stopped without us talking about our own kids, not just the players we coached," he said. "Life is precious. We must enjoy it and we must respect it because it can be taken away at any time. I hope the basketball world and the sports world will honor coach Budke and Miranda in the right way and help the rest of us realize how special our families and the extended families of our teams are."
Last year, Budke got a raise to $450,000 annually and a five-year contract extension through June 2017. Athletic director Mike Holder called him a great fit in Stillwater and Budke agreed.
"This is where I want to be the rest of my life. This is where I want to finish my career," Budke said.
Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this report.