Monday, July 29, 1996 is a landmark day in the history of the Oral Roberts University women’s basketball program. On that day, Jerry Finkbeiner was announced as the ninth head coach of the Oral Roberts University women’s basketball program. In the 16 years since, he has taken the Golden Eagles to heights they had never before reached.
In the 10 years prior to Finkbeiner’s hire, ORU had managed just 85 total wins and finished only two seasons with a winning percentage better than .500. But in the 16 years since, the Golden Eagles have averaged better than 17 wins per season while also making the first five appearances at the NCAA Tournament in school history.
Finkbeiner has led ORU to five Summit League (formerly Mid-Continent Conference) tournament titles and five 20-win seasons, including three consecutive 20-win campaigns, a first for the program in over three decades.
Finkbeiner has coached four All-Americans, six conference players of the year, five conference newcomers of the year; and 26 all-conference selections.
Finkbeiner has recruited and coached arguably the three greatest players in ORU women’s basketball history. Rising senior Kevi Luper has rewritten both school and conference record books throughout her ORU career. The Adair native is the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer and ORU’s career scoring and steals leader. She’s a two-time Associated Press All-American, a three-time Summit League Player of the Year and a 2011-12 Naismith Trophy watch list selection.
Guard Krista Ragan, who finished her career as the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer, was a 2002 Kodak Honorable Mention All-America pick and the first three-time Player of the Year in league history.
Finkbeiner’s first squad at ORU included All-American Kisa Bradley. ORU’s all-time blocked shots leader, Bradley went on to play professionally in the ABL. She also led the NCAA in blocked shots in each of her two seasons in Tulsa.
His success has translated onto a national scale, as Finkbeiner entered the 2010-11 season ranked 36th among active Division I coaches with 429 total victories.
ORU hit the 20-win plateau for the third straight season in 2011-12 and achieved several landmark victories along the way. The Golden Eagles toppled Wisconsin in early November for their first win over a Big Ten program since 1977, and their win over Louisiana Tech was their first against the three-time national champions.
ORU also advanced to the WNIT in 2011-12, their third consecutive postseason appearance.
Finkbeiner also coached several players to individual success in 2011-12. Luper set the ORU and Summit League career scoring records on Feb 4, 2012 in a win over North Dakota State, and the Adair native went on to win her third straight Summit League Player of the Year award. Freshman Bernadett Balla also benefitted from Finkbeiner’s tutelage, earning Summit League All-Newcomer laurels.
The Golden Eagles won 23 games in 2010-11 and captured their second straight Summit League regular season title. Luper, just a sophomore, became the first player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in both points and steals per game. And ORU achieved an unprecedented level of postseason success, advancing to the third round of the WNIT. The Golden Eagles defeated TCU and Tulane in the first two rounds, their first postseason victories since 1983.
Finkbeiner was once again named Summit League Coach of the Year at the end of the season, while Luper captured her second straight Summit League Player of the Year award.
The Golden Eagles finished the 2009-10 season with a 23-10 overall record, marking the fourth 20-win season under Finkbeiner and the most wins since the 1982-83 season. 2009-10 was one of the most prolific seasons in ORU women’s basketball history, as the Golden Eagles tied or set 39 individual and team single-game and single-season records in school and league history.
ORU won its first ever regular-season Summit League title in 2009-10 with a 15-3 record and advanced to the Summit League Tournament title game for the seventh time under Finkbeiner. The Golden Eagles also earned an automatic berth to the WNIT, marking their first trip to the event since 1983.
Finkbeiner, who earned his first Summit League Coach of the Year honor, achieved this success with one of the nation’s youngest squads, as four freshmen accounted for 60% of the team’s total offense, which topped the NCAA. Finkbeiner used the youth to his advantage, implementing an up-tempo style game plan that allowed the Golden Eagles to lead the nation in points (85.1) and steals (15.7) per game.
Freshman Luper put together arguably the best season in Golden Eagle history, earning AP Honorable Mention All-America honors, as well as Second Team Freshman All-America accolades from Full Court Press. Luper was also named the Summit League Player, Newcomer and Defensive Player of the Year after shattering 14 single-season school and league records and six single-game marks. Luper set the all-time single-season Summit League scoring record at UMKC on Feb. 27, and finished with 757 total points.
Fellow newcomer Jaci Bigham also played a huge role in ORU’s success, earning First Team All-Summit League honors after averaging 17.1 points and 5.3 assists per game. Bigham also set the Summit League single-season record with 99 made 3-pointers.
The freshmen tandem of Bigham and Luper made up the highest scoring duo in the country, averaging a combined 41.5 points per game.
The Golden Eagles won their second-straight conference tournament title and made their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament under Finkbeiner during the 2007-08 season.
ORU posted a 19-14 overall record and placed sixth in the league with a 10-8 conference mark. The team fell in its final two regular season games but stormed back to sweep the next three contests to win the Summit League Tournament. ORU faced eventual national champion Tennessee, led by top WNBA draft pick Candace Parker, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Although ORU opened up the 2006-07 Summit League season with two losses, they came back to win nine of their next twelve to enter the conference tournament with an overall mark of 19-10.
For the fourth time under Finkbeiner’s tutelage, the Golden Eagles advanced to the NCAA Tournament after sweeping through the Summit League Tournament. When the 2006-07 season had come to a close, Finkbeiner had placed three players on the all-conference team, two to the all-tournament team, two with conference-leading statistics and one with the Summit League Player of the Year award.
Elisha Turek’s Player of the Year honor was just icing on the cake for a player who finished her time at ORU with 2,046 points (ranked No. 3 at ORU) and 1,167 rebounds (record-holder).
In her final season at ORU, Turek led the conference in scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.4 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game. With those statistics, it is easy to believe that the Council Bluffs, Iowa, native finished her career with 54 double-doubles.
Under Finkbeiner’s tenure, the Golden Eagles have become known for their fantastic late-season finishes, and the 2005-06 season was no different. After starting just 2-4 in Summit League action, ORU surged to win 10 of their last 13 games and sweep the Summit League tournament for its third NCAA Tournament trip in seven seasons. ORU finished the year at 22-9, marking the program’s highest win total since 1983.
The trademark of the 2004-05 team was defense, as they limited their opposition to a paltry 57.2 points per contest. That defense proved absolutely stifling during the Summit League tournament with Chicago State, Western Illinois, and UMKC averaging a mere 41 points in the three-day span. The Golden Eagles 43-37 defeat of Western Illinois in the tourney semi-finals marked the second consecutive year ORU knocked off the league’s regular-season champion during tournament play.
While their season came to an end with a 64-47 loss to Texas in the NCAA Tournament, Finkbeiner’s squad showed some real resolve in the second half of the contest as the Longhorn’s only outscored them 30-29 after the break.
Finkbeiner nearly produced an NCAA Tournament berth at the end of the 2003-04 season, as a classic late-season run came to an abrupt stop with a one-point loss to Valparaiso in the Summit League title game. And he did it with a starting lineup of three freshmen and no seniors.
As any good veteran coach will do, Finkbeiner made changes late in the season, and those changes proved to be significant. After back-to-back road losses to Western Illinois and Valparaiso the Golden Eagles were 11-12 overall and 5-7 in conference play. Finkbeiner scrapped ORU’s half court offense and installed a more up-tempo game plan and an aggressive defensive style, which was better suited to the Golden Eagles’ youthfulness and athleticism, and the results were remarkable.
ORU finished the regular-season with a four-game winning streak, averaging over 73 points per game and out-scoring the opposition by more than 15 points per contest. The strong play continued into the Summit League Tournament as the Golden Eagles knocked off Oakland in the opening round and followed it up with a stunning overtime victory against regular-season champion Western Illinois in the semifinals.
ORU lost the title game to Valparaiso, falling 64-63, but the Golden Eagles were in it until the very end, including a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds.
The 2002-03 campaign may be one of Finkbeiner’s most memorable seasons. Not only did he become ORU’s all-time wins leader that season, but it was also one of his top coaching efforts.
Guiding a team with nine freshmen and three sophomores, Finkbeiner amassed an 18-10 record that included several impressive wins. ORU twice defeated in-state rival Oklahoma State, toppled cross-town foe Tulsa in the annual Mayor’s Cup game, and pulled off one of the most impressive victories in Finkbeiner’s ORU tenure by nipping 2002 WNIT champion Houston at home in January.
The struggles of 1999-2000 paid dividends one season later, as the 2000-01 ORU team did not disappoint. The Golden Eagles posted their first 20-win season in 18 years and set a school Division I record for victories.
2000-01 also marked the second Summit League championship in three years for Finkbeiner’s crew, and they took fourth-ranked Oklahoma to the wire before falling to the Sooners 70-64 on OU’s home floor in the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Eagles also cruised through the Summit League tournament, winning their three games by an average of 18 points per contest.
Junior guard Krista Ragan became the first player in league history to win Player of the Year and Tournament MVP honors in the same season. It was the second tournament MVP award of her career.
Finkbeiner entered the 1999-2000 season with high expectations for his basketball team. After winning his first-ever Summit League Championship during the 1998-99 season, the fourth-year coach eyed another postseason appearance.
Unfortunately, the expectations may have been too high for the young team, as they were plagued with injuries and inconsistency much of the year. The Golden Eagles finished the campaign with a 12-16 record.
Despite having a losing record, Finkbeiner was pleased with the progress of his young team, believing the ground work had been laid for another NCAA bid.
Finkbeiner couldn’t have asked for a better year than 1998-99. The Golden Eagles finished the season 17-13, the first time in three years ORU enjoyed a winning campaign.
It didn’t stop there. ORU went on to win the Summit League tournament and appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Despite a loss to eventual national champion Purdue, reaching the NCAA Tournament was one of the high watermarks for ORU’s leader.
Finkbeiner’s first season with the Golden Eagles, 1996-97, was his adjustment period to the Division I level, but he managed to lead ORU to a 13-14 record. The next season was ORU’s first in the Summit League and the young Golden Eagles struggled to a 7-20 mark.
In his six years prior to coming to ORU, Finkbeiner led Southern Nazarene to three straight NAIA national titles and a combined 99-4 record from 1994 to 1996. Finkbeiner posted a 186-20 record in six seasons with the Lady Redskins.
Finkbeiner has coached and developed many talented players during his tenure as well. He coached a total of nine NAIA All-American players and a two-time NAIA Player-of-the-Year. Five of his former SNU players went on to play professional basketball overseas.
His coaching achievements did not go unnoticed. Finkbeiner was named the NAIA National Coach-of-the-Year in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1995, he was also named as the College Sports Magazine and Converse National Coach of the Year. Finkbeiner was named the NAIA District 9 Coach of the Year in 1993 and the Sooner Athletic Conference Coach of the Year from 1992 to 1996.
Finkbeiner, a native of Southern California, attended Southern Nazarene in Oklahoma City from 1975-80, where he played basketball for four years. In that time, he was selected as a Christian Collegiate All-American in 1978. Finkbeiner graduated with a bachelor of science in physical education and completed his master’s degree in physical education at Northwest Missouri State University. In addition to coaching at SNU, Finkbeiner also worked as a professor in the Kinesiology and Sports Management Department.
Finkbeiner is married to Reva and the couple have five children and two daughter-in-laws, Isaac (Angela), Ben (Alycia), Corban (23), Micha (22) and Bethany (17).