Here is what new UM women’s basketball coach Tricia Cullop said in first news conference

Determined to capitalize on the surging popularity of women’s basketball, newly hired University of Miami coach Tricia Cullop vowed in her opening news conference to not only “make some noise” in the NCAA Tournament but to build a larger fan base for the Hurricanes women’s team.

Cullop, a 52-year-old Indiana native, spent the past 16 seasons as the head coach at the University of Toledo, where she was the most successful women’s coach in school history. Last season, the Rockets posted a 28-6 record, including a 15-1 mark at home, where they averaged 4,351 fans per game, which ranked first in the MAC, 33rd nationally, and was just a few hundred less than the Toledo men’s team.

She acknowledged that Miami is not Toledo, and South Florida does not have the long tradition of supporting women’s sports that exists in the Midwest, but she is confident she can help draw more fans to the Watsco Center and build on the tradition that retired coach Katie Meier built the past 19 years.

When Cullop got her first head coaching job at the University of Evansville in 2000, there were 300 fans in the stands. When she left, there were more than 1,500. When she got to Toledo, the Rockets drew 1,500 fans. When she left, they were averaging nearly 4,400.

“It doesn’t happen overnight; I don’t expect it in a blink of an eye,” she said. “We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get out in the community and establish relationships. People don’t come because of a billboard or an advertisement. They come because something in their heart draws them to come to a game. So, my job is to get our kids out.”

She said during summer and in the off-season, when players have more free time, she will have them visit community groups, youth basketball clubs, and schools.

Asked what she thinks will be the biggest adjustment from Toledo to Miami, she smiled and drew laughter from the room when she replied: “The housing market. That was eye-catching.”

Then she continued, “I said the same thing when [UM athletic director] Dan [Radakovich] asked the same question. Basketball is basketball. If it wasn’t, [Syracuse coach] Felicia Legette-Jack, who came from our league, wouldn’t have been ACC Coach of the Year this year. More than half the coaches in this league came from my level. The difference is what you have to sell and the caliber of athletes you can sign. So, now I have more to sell.”

Cullop said, “I’m not scared,” pointing out that her Toledo team scrimmaged Notre Dame and played Duke and Virginia.

The weather in South Florida is also different.

“When Dan asked me all the reasons I was interested, I listed those, and then I said, `284 days of sun here’,’’ drawing a laugh. She later joked, “Who can’t sell this? Any time I call recruits, all I have to do is walk outside and FaceTime them or send them pictures.”

Having beaches and every professional sport nearby is another selling point, she said.

Cullop was approached about jobs at big conferences before, but the UM job was the most intriguing.

“I had the best mid-major job in the country, so I could be picky, and I didn’t want to go just anywhere,” she said, adding that she feels the UM administration is set up for her to succeed.

“This was an unbelievable situation because Katie did such a great job, and her staff, so the cupboard’s not bare,” Cullop said. “It’s rare that you can come into a program that has all these things and didn’t go through a losing season to have to make the change. When the job came up, I was like, `That is such an incredible opportunity’ and when I came to visit, I was blown away when I got to see campus and learn about the amazing education opportunities here.”

Cullop made a point to praise former UM women’s basketball coaches Lin Dunn, for whom she played at Purdue from 1989 to 1993, Ferne Labati and Meier.

“I want to make sure everyone realizes we’re not here to pull this thing up; Katie did an amazing job in her tenure building this program into something really special and our job is to pick up the reins and try to not only maintain that but take it to another level. It won’t be easy to follow in her footsteps because of the respect we have for, but we’re certainly going to pull up our bootstraps and try.”

Cullop will retain Meier’s associate head coach Fitzroy Anthony, who briefly held the title of interim coach after Meier announced her retirement on March 22. Assistant coach/assistant director of basketball operations Lonette Hall and Margie Gill, the director of basketball operations, will also stay.

Cullop said one of her first orders of business upon taking the UM job was to drive to Cleveland for the Women’s Final Four to meet with Anthony and urge him to stay.

“I thought it was important for our continuity and for his skill set that we needed him, so we met,” Cullop said. “I think maybe I scared him just a little bit because I was so intent on keeping him, but after we had a chance to talk, I’m so glad he was willing to stay and help us continue what he started.”

She is bringing along two members of her former staff from Toledo: associate head coach Jessie Ivey and assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Danielle Page.

Cullop has begun recruiting, reaching out to current UM players and to some who had entered the transfer portal after Meier’s retirement. The four Hurricanes who entered the portal this spring were Ja’Leah Williams, Lashae Dwyer, Kyla Oldacre and Ally Stedman.

“I do feel we’ve got a good chance to keep a lot of kids that are here, but that’s an ongoing process,” she said. “There’s a chance to maybe get back one who’s in the portal now. I told her I absolutely love her game, love how she plays and I would love to have her here because I think she’s a difference maker. But I also want people to be two feet in.

“Whenever a coach of Katie’s caliber and stature retires, after all the relationships she built, you can only imagine how those young people feel,” she said. “I’m trying to give them space knowing they just went through a gut-wrenching moment, losing someone they cared about, even though she will be on campus and help them in any way she can.”

Cullop said she doesn’t expect any of her Toledo players to follow her, and she advised them to stay because that was the place they were recruited to play.