As Laura Klimchock left the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon with her father, Rick, she told him she was feeling sick.
The No. 13 seed from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, coached by Laura’s longtime boyfriend Lamont Paris, was set to take on the heavily favored No. 4 seed from Illinois. during an NCAA Tournament first round game at PPG Paints Arena.
“Well, what can you do about it?” asked Rick Klimchock.
“I said, ‘Well nothing, but I’m really nervous,'” Laura replied. “It’s the biggest game of his career. I’m really excited to be able to support him and his team.
Laura and Rick walked to their second-row seats behind the Chattanooga bench.
She was no stranger to big games.
Laura Klimchock was an all-conference shooting guard for Greenburg Salem High School who later played at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
She comes from a family of basketball players — Rick coaches the Greensburg Salem women’s team and her brother, Chris, who was also at Friday’s game, coaches the University of Pittsburgh men’s team in Greensburg.
If Laura felt sick before Friday’s Chattanooga-Illinois game, her stomach must have been in knots during that game. The Mocs almost pulled off one of those early-round clashes the tournament is known for.
They led for most of the game before a pair of free throws made by Alfonso Plummer of Illinois with 12 seconds left prevented a Cinderella victory for Chattanooga. Illinois ended up winning, 54-53.
“I coached for 44 years and felt like I lost the game myself. That’s how bad I felt,” Rick Klimchock said on Saturday.
“It was a very exciting game. It was about two physical teams focused on defence,” he said. “I think Lamont did a great job coaching.
“Oh my God, what they did to stop Illinois was awesome. Their defense was fierce, and that comes from great coaching. They just needed to shoot a few more hoops.
Despite the disappointing ending, things went well for the Klimchock and Paris families. Having Chattanooga play in a parenthesis in Pittsburgh – when they could just as easily have met in Portland or San Diego – allowed many members of both families to attend.
Paris’ family is from Findlay, Ohio, just over three and a half hours away.
“I don’t want to speak for him, but this is one of the proudest moments of his career – his first time in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach,” Laura said. “It’s just amazing to see what he’s achieved.”
They met at the University of Akron. Laura worked with the men’s basketball team as a school counselor and Lamont was an assistant coach. After that, Paris worked as an assistant coach at Wisconsin for seven years under Bo Ryan. He is in his fifth season as head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Laura and Lamont share a special bond due to their basketball backgrounds, she said.
“It’s amazing,” Laura said. “It’s a really special relationship because I played college basketball. We can sit down and have dinner together and talk about basketball on a different level.
“We can talk about ‘Oh, have you seen that screen?’ or, ‘He should have hit it in the corner instead of driving to the hoop.’ I think that’s what makes our relationship really special,” she said. “Basketball runs through our veins. It means so much to both of us.
Laura works as a district manager for Scooter’s Coffee in Chattanooga. But, even if her basketball career is over, she continues to watch movies with Paris and gives her lots of advice.
He’ll probably need it too, because it’s probably not his last big dance.
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]