By Bobby Curran
If things had gone just a bit differently, Rainbow Wahine basketball coach Laura Beeman might be coaching, oh, say, soccer! Growing up in Southern California as the youngest of four children, Beeman was good at every sport, but a phenom in soccer. In fact, her first trip to Hawaii was for a youth soccer tournament. Her older brother was a soccer player as well, good enough to earn a scholarship to a small school.
You might think that her parents were early helicopter types, pushing their children hard into athletics, but that wasn’t the case. “My parents really gave me the work ethic and the perseverance, but it wasn’t geared necessarily toward sports,” said Beeman. “They always pushed commitment and seeing something through, but it could have been music, playing an instrument, whatever. The work ethic came from watching. My father owned a small pharmacy. He left the house before we woke up and didn’t get home until we were in bed. He ran the store by himself. And when we were grown, my mom started her own business and was very successful.”
At about the age of nine, Beeman got introduced to basketball, but it wasn’t instant success. ”Of all the sports I played, I was probably least accomplished at basketball,” she admitted. “I was never a great shooter or scorer, but I could defend and got pretty good as a facilitator.”
She was enough to make her high school varsity as a freshman, and about this time started concentrating exclusively on basketball. By her junior year, she was drawing interest from schools such as Wyoming, Montana State and especially from Weber State. A knee injury in the summer before her senior year scared away some suitors, but not Weber State, and Beeman eventually signed with them.
“Those coaches were really supportive, but I needed surgery and couldn’t face having the operation that far from home,” said Beeman. “Probably the hardest call I’ve ever had to make, telling them I wasn’t coming after all. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to get back to the level I’d been at, and decided to retire.”
That didn’t last long. When she was able to resume playing, she was pretty close to where she needed to be, and when UC Riverside reached out, she decided to sign with them. She played as a reserve for a year, then transferred to Cal State San Bernardino.
After leading CS San Bernardino to a 24-4 record and an NCAA Tournament berth, Beeman followed that with another fine year as the starting point guard and then moved on from basketball. But when the softball program needed help during her senior year, she joined in and became the starting shortstop and lead off hitter. Beeman had gone to work full time when she got a call from Melanie Horn, an assistant basketball coach at Redlands. She wanted Beeman to join the program as a grad assistant. Beeman quit her job, enrolled in graduate school and joined the staff. After getting her M.A. in Education, she got an assistant job at MT San Antonio J.C. She saw that it was unlikely that the head coach would last, so she accepted the job as the school’s softball coach. A year later she became the head basketball coach and began a legendary junior college run at MT San Antonio. In 15 years, Beeman won four CCCAA titles, 10 South Coast championships and had a 390-110 record.
This led to joining Michael Cooper with the WNBA’s LA Sparks for a year. Beeman then went back to Mt. SAC for a year, and then joined Cooper at USC for two more years. Great learning experiences in basketball, but in some ways, counter intuitive.
“In almost every assistant position I’ve been in, I’ve learned more what not to do, than what to do,” said Beeman. “I watched and thought, ‘I’m not going to do that’ or ‘I’m not going to treat people that way.’”
Maybe that was an indicator she was ready to take the next step. But without her partner of 14 years, and now wife of three years, Carla Houser, it might never have happened. “I got home one day, and Carla said, ‘Did you see the Hawai’i job is open?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that might be interesting.’ Then she told me she already filled out the application and all I need to do was sign it and press send. I beat the deadline by about an hour, and two days later I’m on a plane to Honolulu to interview with Jim Donovan.”
A bit more about Carla Houser: She has been in youth outreach for homeless and disadvantaged youth for a number of years, and is currently the executive director of the Residential Youth Services and Empowerment (RYSE), which has done some amazing work with creating homes and opportunities for youth with few other options. “I always knew Carla was smart, but I didn’t know she was brilliant,” said Beeman. “What she has been able to accomplish in the community, with developing contacts and resources has been remarkable.” Beeman and Houser have both seen their affinity for, and commitment to, the Honolulu community grow steadily in their years here. And cementing that,they have recently become foster parents to a teenage girl. “That is life changing in so many ways,” said Beeman. “You just don’t know where life’s journey will lead.”
In basketball terms, Beeman is remaking some of what she has been coaching in what will be her ninth year at the helm. “We are changing our offensive approach to be more wide open and uptempo,” said Beeman. “Part of that reflects changes in the game generally, and part of it is what fans get excited about. We want to get more people out to watch our young women play.”
Some things though will never change. Every team Laura Beeman has coached here was better at the end of the season than they were in the beginning. And win or lose, Beeman never gives you anything but the unvarnished truth. Never excuses or rationalizations or avoiding the media. And that is quite simply not the way many coaches work. And it is why there is so much to look forward to with the future of Rainbow Wahine basketball.