As a player, Sharon Versyp helped put Purdue on the women’s basketball map. As a coach, she won a school-record 301 games.
Now, at age 55 and after the third losing season of her 15-year tenure, Versyp has helped find a successor: The Boilermakers announced Friday they have hired former star player Katie Gearlds as associate head coach and that she will replace Versyp in 2022-23.
“I am thrilled to welcome Katie back home to Purdue,” Versyp said in a statement released by the athletic department. “When presented with the privilege of participating in selecting my successor, we knew without a doubt that Katie was the best person to continue the long and rich tradition of Purdue women’s basketball.”
Athletic director Mike Bobinski’s succession plan replicates what the late Morgan Burke did with the men’s program in 2004. Back then, Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter stepped down to become Gene Keady’s associate head coach. The next year, Keady fulfilled his promise to retire and Painter has won 355 games since then.
Bobinski is hoping this transition goes just as smoothly.
Versyp has been an iconic figure at Purdue since arriving on campus in 1984 after winning Indiana’s Miss Basketball Award. She rewrote the record book as a player, taking the budding Boilermakers program to new heights.
Then after a five-year coaching tenure at Maine and leading Indiana to a 19-14 mark and the WNIT quarterfinals in her only season in Bloomington, Versyp returned to her alma mater in 2006 where she has won a school-record 140 Big Ten games.
But the Boilermakers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2017 and are coming off a 7-16 season in which they lost 10 of their last 11. And with Gearlds turning Marian University in Indianapolis into a NAIA powerhouse, it was the logical choice.
“She knows what is needed to return Purdue women’s basketball to a championship level and we are excited to welcome her back home to begin that work,” Bobinski said. “We also want to thank coach Versyp for her commitment to making this year of transition a successful one.”
Gearlds led the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight as a senior in Versyp’s first season. And after graduating, Versyp continued to mentor Gearlds through a three-year WNBA career and as she embarked on the coaching journey.
In eight seasons at Marian, Gearlds went 228-50, won back-to-back national titles in 2016-17 and was named the national coach of the year three times. The Knights also won six straight conference titles and played in seven NAIA Tournaments.
“Honestly, it just feels like I am coming home,” Gearlds said. “I am thoroughly excited for the opportunity to help put Purdue back on the national scene. I believe we will accomplish great things in the years ahead.”
Gearlds was a star long before arriving in West Lafayette. She won Indiana’s 2003 Miss Basketball Award after leading Beech Grove High School near Indianapolis to the 2003 Class 3A state title and finished her prep career with 2,521 points.
At Purdue, Gearlds scored 1,974 career points, won two Big Ten Tournament titles, played in four NCAA Tournaments, reached the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight once while earning third-team All-American honors in 2006-07.
And now, after posting nine 20-win seasons and making nine NCAA appearances, Versyp is ready to step aside.
“I have been blessed to realize my dream of coaching at my alma mater,” said Versyp, who was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer in 2017. “It has been the honor of my life to lead the Boilermakers and be an ambassador for this great university.”
More AP women’s college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball