By Bob Brainerd Special to Published Nov 09, 2006 at 5:28 AM
Sandy Botham is a light switch. The head coach of the UW-Milwaukee women’s basketball team can change her expression at the speed of light.

"I’ll be in the middle of getting on somebody, and then I crack a joke," laughs Botham, now gearing up for her 11th season with the Panthers. "The veins are popping out of my neck, and then I’ll throw a joke in there and relieve the tension."

It is this Jekyll and Hyde approach that keeps practice and games both light and focused.  Botham doesn’t mind being silly, even during the course of a Horizon League contest, but she can flip that switch and command a "back to business" attitude in the blink of an eye.  It’s called perspective.

"Yeah, it’s serious, but it is just a game," said Botham. "So much of this game, we’re not only teaching them to be better players, but better people."

That’s why the Panthers coach can sit in the stands at the US Cellular Arena, like she did the other night for the men’s final exhibition tune-up, and fixate on Rob Jeter and his coaching strategies most of the evening. During a time out, there’s Sandy, leading the cheers in unison with the cheerleaders and helping conduct the band from across the court.  She’s not crazy, she’s just being herself -- both versions.

After leading UWM to a school-record 22 victories and a second-ever trip to the NCAA tournament, Botham decided to do something else crazy.  She took a break.

"I took probably my longest vacation I’ve ever taken, to British Columbia to visit my sister," said Botham. "I scheduled a two-week vacation.  I’ve never done that. It’s like; I’m going to do it, what the heck!  It’s good for me -- good for my psyche."

Rest and relaxation was deserved for the Horizon League Coach of the Year.  After a loss in the first round to Michigan State, her record after a decade at UWM stands an impressive 165-119. Yes, it was satisfying just to earn a coveted spot in the NCAA’s Big Dance.  And playing basketball in April made Botham’s summer shorter than normal, but there are no complaints.

"That’s the way I want it to be year in and year out -- short summers," said Botham.

Botham’s trek back to the postseason hinges on players who got that taste of tournament play last season stepping up again.  Gone are two key cogs to the Panthers’ run, graduated seniors and state products Molly O’Brien from Columbus and Nichole Drummond of Kenosha.  They were the leaders, but the coach expects shoes to be filled.

"We’ll see how players step up, but until they are in the pressure situations, we won’t know," said Botham. "I told my upperclassmen, leadership is the key.  When we made it (to the NCAA tournament) in 2001, it was our leaders who said 'You know what? This is what we’re doing.’"

Botham has her pick of the Panthers talent pool.  Three seniors dot the current roster, and are the natural selections to look for guidance.  But other players on this year’s squad also dipped into the postseason pool back in April, so Botham has the luxury of tapping the emerging leadership skills of junior guard Meredith Onson (Oshkosh) and sophomore center sensation Traci Edwards (Menasha).  

"When you have one of the leading scorers in the league, and one of the leading rebounders in the league back, it gives you a whole lot of confidence," Botham said about Edwards.  "And Meredith Onson didn’t show up a ton in the stat sheet, but did a lot for us as a point guard, getting the ball into the hands of people.  We’re going to move her into the off-guard spot and give her more opportunities to face the basket and put up points for us, because we’re going to need that."

UW-Green Bay has almost everyone back, and the Phoenix will be the team to beat in the conference this season.  But the defending league champs won’t concede anything, and in fact, have set their own bar even higher.  

"Every year we’ve had a certain preseason protocol and we changed it this year -- we made it much more challenging," said Botham.  "We added a day of lifting; we added more conditioning.  If you look at our non-conference schedule in the years past, we’ve been below .500.  And if we want to get to that next level, we’ve got to beat some teams.  So we’ve really turned it up, and I think we’re much better prepared coming into the non- conference schedule this year and hopefully we can surprise somebody and put ourselves in a better position."

This is the byproduct of winning.  You get a taste -- you want more.  Botham wants more, and expects more, and will coach more than she ever has, so that the program continues to take giant steps forward.  The routine may have changed, but not the person who instituted the switch.  That’s why zany Sandy will always be around to creep up and jump in front of serious Sandy any time, any where.

"It keeps my players on edge, which is good!" exclaimed Botham.  "And it’s who I’ve always been."

And almost on cue, the light switch flicks on.  In explaining her comedic side, she does so in a calculated tone.  Typical.

"I don’t take myself too seriously and I think it’s an important trait to have and important to be a role model for my players in that regard, to not take themselves too seriously, especially in this crazy game of basketball," said Botham. "You’re going to make mistakes.  Our players take a lot of risks out on the floor and to learn how to take that in stride and laugh at yourself and forgive yourself.  That’s where that fun loving, be goofy, comes out in me."
Bob Brainerd Special to
Born and raised in Milwaukee, what better outlet for Bob to unleash his rambling bits of trivial information than right here with

Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.

During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."

And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.

His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.

You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.

A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.