Sixteen years ago, Arizona State assistant coach Laura Hughes was a college graduate making good money in her degree field. But life as a chemist wasn't exactly thrilling her.
"I was in a rut," Hughes said. "I didn't enjoy getting in my car every morning, battling the freeway traffic, working nine to five. It's like my life was going on with no real purpose. It was passing me by."
So when she heard Charli Turner Thorne had a graduate assistant opening at Northern Arizona, Hughes - who played two years under Turner Thorne at Santa Clara - shed her white lab coat and headed for Flagstaff.
"First I figured it was a great way to pay for college," Hughes says. "And then I remembered how much I missed basketball. When I graduated from Santa Clara, I really thought being away from the game was no big deal. But basketball is in my blood. That's why I took the job." Hughes spent two years under Turner Thorne at NAU as a graduate assistant.
The 2009-10 season will be Hughes' 14th as an assistant coach with the Arizona State women's basketball.
"Laura is incredibly bright, efficient and organized," says Turner Thorne. "On the court, she was such a great player, and because she was a quick learner she has become a terrific teacher of the game. She's our surfer from San Diego whom we lured to the desert."
During Hughes' two years in Flagstaff, NAU posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in school history, while the Sun Devils have turned in some of the best basketball in school history,winning back-to-back Pac-10 Conference titles (regular season in 2001 and tournament in 2002), reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2004-05 and the Elite Eight in 2006-07. ASU's current run of four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and four consecutive 20-plus-win seasons are the longest such streaks in program history.
"The first thing Charli did was step up recruiting," Hughes says. "But she also brings with her this attitude that you are going to win and the players believe that. In our mind, if you work extremely hard, it will pay off."
Hughes earned her master's degree in secondary education, with a concentration in biology, in May 1996.
The aforementioned chemist gig was at Choestech, a small biotech company in Hayward, Calif., outside San Jose. Hughes stayed there for a year and a half.
At Santa Clara, Hughes was a key member of the Broncos' remarkable two-year turnaround. The year before she arrived, the SCU went 9-17. Santa Clara went 28-3 in her first season with the team and won the National Women's Invitation Tournament, beating Indiana in the championship game. The Broncos advanced to the NCAAs the next year, bowing out in the second round to Texas Tech.
"We had a well-respected coaching staff at Santa Clara," Hughes says. "The turnaround had a lot to do with Charli bringing in the pressure defense and instilling a different attitude in the players. She taught us to believe in ourselves as players."
Hughes, a two-year starter at power forward, averaged 15 points and seven rebounds a game. She shot 53.9 percent from the field in her two seasons as a Bronco, still a school record. She also holds the school record for single-season field goal percentage.
She started her collegiate career by attending Mira Costa College in Oceanside, Calif., for two years before heading to Santa Clara. She lettered in both basketball and track. She was selected conference MVP on two occasions and was the state's second-leading scorer as a senior. Hughes also cracked the California top 10 list in rebounding. She was a junior college state finalist in the shot put and discus as well.
A graduate of Orange Glen High School in San Diego, Calif., Hughes was a three-time all-conference basketball selection as a prepster. She was named league MVP and all-CIF as a senior. She was also a state finalist in the shot put and discus. The San Diego native has teamed with Turner Thorne to produce winners at two schools. Hughes firmly believes this coaching staff can mold the Sun Devils into a national contender.
"The potential here is unlimited," she says. "At ASU you have great resources -- in both academics and athletics -- and the opportunities they present are endless." According to Turner Thorne, although Hughes is the quietest member of the Arizona State coaching staff, she commands a lot of respect.
"Laura is extremely consistent and yet continues to grow as a coach. She has great rapport with our players, and, having played for me and coached with me for more than 10 years, she knows and has helped shape our coaching philosophy and basketball systems. Laura has really been able to take the lead with our team defense among the many things that she does. Laura is extremely effective as a teacher and is a positive role model within our program and the community."