For Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau, it was a sobering realization.
And then a startling revelation.
"One of the things I've done the poorest job with over the last couple of years is building relationships off the court with the players," she said. "That used to be my strength."
But after the death of one of her players, Ronalda Pierce, in the summer of 2004 from an aortic rupture brought on by a rare and undiagnosed genetic disorder, Semrau gradually began keeping her players more and more at arm's length off the court.
This year, she stood up in front of her players, and then later the media, and confessed the desire, the need, to know them as individuals and for them in turn to know her.
"It was then an open door to developing the types of relationships that have been so positive and an open door to encouraging them to develop those relationships with one another," she said.
That has happened, and those outside the FSU family can see that on the basketball court, where the Seminoles are closer-knit than ever and have enjoyed unprecedented success together.
The No. 12-ranked Seminoles (25-7), who claimed a share of the ACC regular-season title for the first time, earned a program-best No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and open against No. 14 seed North Carolina A&T (26-6) today in Duluth, Ga.
"In previous years, it was pretty much just business," junior forward Jacinta Monroe said. "This year, we're not just business partners or have a coach-player relationship. We're friends or aunt-nieces or mom-daughters. We have a much closer relationship with her."
You better believe that translates to the court.
"You trust her more," senior guard Tanae Davis-Cain said. "You don't fight her in practice when she's doing things she feels will make you better but you don't necessarily want to do. You know she has a good heart and that she knows what's best for you."
Trust leads to confidence, which makes it more likely for a tough coaching call, such as removing promising freshman center Cierra Bravard from the starting lineup, to pan out.
"Even though I didn't get my starting spot back, as a team and as an individual, we started playing better and got into a groove," Bravard said. "I didn't let the fact that I wasn't starting bother me or let that come between me and my teammates."
That might not have happened if she hadn't built a bond with her coach and her new teammates and established a trust and, just as important, a confidence in them.
"That starts at the top, and it starts with Coach Sue," Monroe said.
Semrau routinely sends text messages to her players about matters that have nothing to do with basketball, and her assistants also have gotten even more involved with the players.
"The kids need to understand that I know what matters to them and not just on the court," Semrau said. "I've always said, 'You won't know how much I know until you know how much I care.' "
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.