With Baylor back in the Final Four the second time in three seasons and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets in Denver, there are plenty of reasons for Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey to be smiling.
But if the 11th-year coach doesn’t appear to be wearing her excitement on her face, it’s because she can’t.
At a Thursday press conference, Mulkey revealed she has been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis that is usually temporary.
“Don’t let anybody tell you I’m not happy because I’m not smiling,” Mulkey said. “I’m not smiling because I don’t want people to see my crooked smile.”
The condition makes Mulkey’s left eye droop — something she attempted to counteract by using her finger to keep her eyelid open while taking questions alongside junior star center Brittney Griner. She also has difficulty hearing, especially when she raises her voice. Mulkey said she first noticed a strange feeling in her tongue last weekend during the NCAA regional in Des Moines, but thought it was due to expired toothpaste. With the symptoms quickly worsening, she visited two doctors and got an MRI that ruled out a stroke or tumor.
It’s been an emotional week for Mulkey and the Bears who routed Tennessee in the Elite Eight on Monday night in what could have been Pat Summitt’s final game as head coach of the Volunteers. The 59-year-old Summitt announced she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in August. It is unclear whether she will return to the bench next season.
Mulkey missed Baylor’s first-round tournament game in 2009 while recovering from surgery to remove a kidney stone.
“I learned then your health keeps you in the game or it doesn’t, and we have really no control over health issues a lot of times,” Mulkey said. ”I learned this game can be taken away from you in a heartbeat.”
But Mulkey won’t let the ailment keep her from her coaching duties on Sunday when her undefeated Lady Bears take on Stanford. Baylor is trying to return to the final for the first time since they won their only NCAA championship in 2005.