Andrea Hudy: KU's secret weapon

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Nearly two decades ago, when he was informed that Andrea Hudy had been hired to oversee his team's strength and conditioning program, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun placed a call to his wife.

"Guess what," Calhoun told her. "We've got a female strength coach. This will last about two weeks."

Bill Self was even more pessimistic in 2004, when then-Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins suggested he tap Hudy for the same position with the Jayhawks. Self flew in four other candidates before finally granting Hudy an interview.

"I didn't want to hire her," Self said. "Lew would say, 'If you just meet her once, you're going to love her.' But I kept saying, 'I don't want to hire a woman to be a men's strength coach. Who does that?'"

Self eventually caved.

Eight Big 12 championships and two Final Fours later, he says adding Division I basketball's only female strength coach to his staff was one of the best decisions he's ever made.

"I don't know where we'd be without her," Self said.

Indeed, just as she did at Connecticut -- where she helped the Huskies win a collective seven NCAA men's and women's basketball titles -- Hudy has made a mammoth imprint on Kansas' program. The Jayhawks won the national championship in 2008 and reached the title game this past season. In the past six seasons, no team in America has averaged more victories (33) than KU.

Hudy, players say, is one of the main reasons.

Center Jeff Withey labeled Hudy as Kansas' "secret weapon" during this past season's Final Four run. Marcus Morris, an All-American in 2011, said she was the main reason he became an NBA lottery pick last spring. Former point guard Sherron Collins even referred to Hudy as a "second mom."

The comments couldn't be more uplifting to Hudy, who has helped produce more than two dozen NBA players at Kansas and Connecticut, where she worked from 1995-2004.

"I think I have something to teach people," Hudy, 39, said. "If there's an athlete who is willing to work, I'll work with them. With me it's all about, 'Who wants to get better? Who wants to compete?'"

As an elementary school quarterback growing up in Huntingdon, Pa., Tom Hudy knew exactly what to do when he felt pressure from an opposing defense.

Hand the ball off to his sister.

Up until the sixth grade, Hudy was one of the stars of her pee wee football team in Huntingdon, a town of about 7,000 nearly 100 miles west of Harrisburg. Her father, Richard, made her give up the sport before junior high school, but that did nothing to squelch Andrea's competitive nature.

Hudy was so irked that her dad wouldn't allow her to wrestle competitively that she threw Tom into the family Christmas tree when he taunted her with one of his medals.

Countless afternoons during Hudy's childhood were spent running timed races -- sometimes through self-designed obstacle courses -- against her four older siblings. The loser had to either take off their shoes and socks and jog across a gravel driveway or subject themselves to being thrown into a "jagger bush."

"Our parents would look at us like, 'What are you guys doing?'" said Tom, who played football at the University of Delaware. "I don't think Andrea has ever looked at anything as, 'Boys have to do this. Girls have to do that.' She never cared who she was competing against. She wanted to get the fastest time."

With no upscale workout facility in town, Richard built a makeshift weight room under the patio at their home. Squat rack, bench press, pullup bar, the works.

When her brothers' friends would come over to train, Hudy would work out right along with them. It was then that Hudy began to develop a passion for strength and conditioning. By the time she graduated from the University of Maryland -- where she was a member of the Terrapins' volleyball squad -- Hudy knew she wanted to turn it into a profession.

Things didn't go smoothly at first.

"I tried to go into corporate fitness," Hudy said. "I was basically training people who were getting insurance deductions because they were working out. They'd start sweating and stop. I'd say, 'No, now is the time you've got to push harder.'

"I thought everyone was like me. I thought everyone wanted to exercise. There are very few people, in the grand scheme of things, that actually enjoy exercise."

Convinced that working with college athletes would be a better fit, Hudy was hired at the University of Connecticut, where she quickly made an impression on strength and conditioning coach Gerard Martin.

"She had an intensity that rivaled all strength coaches," Martin said. "The athletes she worked with forgot about the fact that she's a female and said, 'This is our strength coach. She's strong, she's in shape, and she can probably kick our asses if we get out of line.'"

Connecticut's athletes can attest to that.

Former Huskies football star Dan Orlovsky, the program's all-time leading passer, said players feared Hudy's "punishment workouts." They also prayed they'd stay injury-free, because players who were unable to practice spent their afternoons with Hudy in the weight room.

"Her workouts were harder than anything we did on the football field," said Orlovsky, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I definitely think there was resistance at first. In my own head there was. As a young, 17-year-old, immature kid, I thought I should be taught how I should be working out and training and eating by a guy.

"But then you realize, 'This woman is stronger than I am and in better shape than I'm in.' You gain a competitive appreciation for her. I quickly came to accept that she didn't play around."

Connecticut's basketball players figured it out pretty quickly, too.

When they weren't with her in the weight room, stars such as Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor could often be found at the Huskies' football field, where they trained by jogging up the stadium steps -- while carrying Hudy. Both those players became NBA lottery picks after leading Connecticut to the 2004 NCAA title. When it came time to clip down the nets at San Antonio's Alamodome, everyone made sure Hudy got a strand.

"She played a huge part in that title because she got us ready to play at a championship level," said Gordon, who is now with the Detroit Pistons. "She always had such a good, positive energy. Even when she yelled, she'd do it in a happy way. Every time she screamed, guys would get more pumped up. She was a great fit for our program."

Hudy played a part in eight NCAA titles with the Huskies: five in women's basketball, two in men's basketball and one in men's soccer. Still, as much as Connecticut benefited from Hudy, she also took plenty away from her time in Storrs, thanks to mentors such as Martin and kinesiology professor William Kraemer, who is regarded as one of the top sports scientists in the world.

"I'd always worked hard as an athlete," Hudy said. "But at Connecticut, I learned how to work harder. I learned how to embrace the pain of working out and how to take it to the next level. When you start to embrace the pain, you can kick anyone's butt, because most people will quit. You've got to enjoy the discomfort. You've got to flip that switch."

In December of his freshman year at Kansas in 2006, point guard Sherron Collins was told he wouldn't see another minute of action until he dropped some weight. Collins had weighed in at nearly 220 pounds. Self wanted him at 205.

"Luckily," Collins said, "I had Hudy."

For the next two weeks, Collins said Hudy ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with him every single day. She'd make grocery lists for him, and when Collins returned with the food, they'd prepare his meals in her office. When he chose to eat in the student union, she sat next to him to make sure he didn't waver from his diet. When Collins ran on the treadmill, Hudy ran right beside him.

"I got down to 205 and the whole month of February I was the best player in the league," Collins recalled last summer. "I love Coach Hudy. I always called her my second mom. She'd always say, 'I know you don't want to do it now, but you'll be smiling in a couple of years.' Every time I listened, I got a good result."

Just as they did at Connecticut, Kansas' players swear by Hudy. Some have even been brought to tears while thanking her during their senior day speeches.

Hudy customizes workouts for each member of KU's squad based on their individual bodies. She's helped transform 7-footer Jeff Withey from a frail, 210-pounder who could hardly get on the court into a sturdy, aggressive banger who set a record for blocks in a single NCAA tournament.

Forward Thomas Robinson looks as much like a Greek god as he does a basketball player, thanks in part to Hudy's workouts. Former players Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson both said they may have never been drafted if not for Hudy.

"One of her biggest pet peeves was music in the weight room," said Kaun, who now plays professionally in Russia. "When the football team was working out with us, they'd have music playing really loud. She hated it because people would sing and dance and they wouldn't stay focused. As soon as they left, she'd turn it off.

"She was very strict in the weight room. No one talked back to her. If she got mad, she'd make you work even harder. It was all business with her."

As tough as she is on her athletes, Hudy relies more on her message than her tone to push them.

"I don't yell," she said. "I motivate."

Hudy's hiring at Kansas didn't come without skepticism. She knew Self and his assistants had reservations about adding her to the staff. If it weren't for some cajoling from Perkins -- who had come to KU from Connecticut a year earlier -- the move likely wouldn't have occurred.

"They were resistant," Hudy said. "I told [Self], 'It's not the first time I've heard it. I'll fight. I'm a fighter. If you don't want me around after one year, tell me and I'll go find something else.' He kept me on.

"I don't know if he trusted what I was doing at first."

The reservations were short-lived. These days Self doesn't have anything but praise for Hudy and the job she's done with his players.

"She's been far more than what I ever thought a strength coach could be," Self said. "Our guys' bodies have changed. They look good. They enjoy stretching themselves as far as they can because of her.

"Maybe there's a correlation between how she trains our guys and how few games our guys miss. Our flexibility, our core strength and our ability to stay on the court and not the training room has been escalated tremendously since she came on board."

One of the most famous Hudy stories occurred when she challenged former player Jeremy Case to complete four repetitions on the bench press. Case thought he'd be unable to press the weight because it was too heavy.

"If you do it," Hudy said, "I'll do 30 reps [with a lighter weight]."

Case responded to the challenge and actually did six reps. He rose from the bench and immediately called for Hudy to live up to her end of the bargain.

"I'm old," she said, "let me warm up first."

Case and his teammates weren't having it.

"No," they said. "Do it right now."

Hudy took the bar off the rack, brought it down to her chest and heard a pop in her shoulder. The Jayhawks all heard it, too, but they prodded her to keep going. Twenty-nine repetitions later, Hudy had completed the challenge with a torn labrum and rotator cuff. She underwent surgery and was in a sling for six weeks. She had no regrets.

"I talk to them all the time about being tough," she said. "I couldn't back down."

Even though she's believed to be the only female strength coach working with a Division I men's basketball team, what Hudy is doing is not unprecedented. Former Olympian Meg Stone was the head of strength and conditioning at Arizona from 1984-1994 and worked closely with the Wildcats' football team and its vaunted "Desert Swarm" defense. She then spent two seasons at Texas Tech and is now an assistant track coach at East Tennessee State.

Still, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, women account for just 5 percent of NSCA-registered trainers across all sports.

"When people ask what I do, I'll say, 'I'll tell you, but you won't believe me,'" Hudy said. "I am [reminded] about it every day, but it doesn't bother me. I just want to help people.

"My mom was an educator at my high school. People would come up to me and say, 'I couldn't do math, but somehow, she got me to do it. She got me to learn it.' That was the biggest thing I learned from her is that she cared. She cared about math and she wanted people to learn it. I care about exercise and I want other people to, too."

With a drawer full of NCAA title rings, a rolodex of pro athletes who sing her praises and a reputation as one of the best in the country in her profession, Hudy has obviously accomplished that goal.

"All you have to do is show people you care," she said. "If you can show people you care -- if you can pick them up instead of putting them down -- they'll do anything for you.

"My job is 24/7. Whenever these guys need me, I'm here for them."