Cori Close is so happy to be back at UCLA that her introduction Thursday as the Bruins' new women's basketball coach brought tears to her eyes.
Close, a UCLA assistant in the mid-1990s, was finishing her opening remarks when she looked out at the audience and spotted John Wooden's daughter, Nan.
Reminded of the late coach, Close said, "Coming back here and knowing that I have a chance to build a basketball tradition in a way that humbly reflects my deepest mentor is nothing short of an amazing honor."
"This program has tremendous talent," said Close, who played and coached at UC Santa Barbara. "It's developed new momentum and I have the wonderful privilege of taking the baton and building on that."
UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said the pool of candidates for the job was "robust" and that time was spent discerning who was truly interested and who was utilizing the search as an opportunity to gain leverage with a current employer.
Close is a person "that's fit to a T for UCLA," Guerrero said.
"We took a chance on Nikki several years ago because you could tell she had the right stuff — and it certainly worked out that way," Guerrero said. "And we feel the same way with Cori.
"Our job was to bring in the coach who we felt would be able to take what was built here and be able to run with that and provide the leadership to continue to move this program forward."
Close inherits a team that finished second in the Pacific 10 Conference behind Stanford and ended the season with a second-round NCAA tournament loss to Gonzaga.
Close was part of a Florida State staff that guided the Seminoles to the NCAA tournament in each of her seasons in Tallahassee. She is regarded as an offensive specialist, whereas Caldwell was more defense oriented.
Unlike Caldwell, Close will not stalk the sideline in five-inch heels.
"I will never be able to match her fashion sense," Close said, adding, "One thing Coach Wooden always taught me is to be yourself and to coach in a way that fits your personality."