Rising through the ranks: Wheeling's Kuzmanic sisters now making a name for themselves in coaching

When they played basketball at Wheeling High School, the Kuzmanic sisters were synonymous with success.

During their years as Wildcats, the three sisters were part of a Wheeling program that reached heights it hadn't seen to that point and hasn't seen since.

Now, they find themselves as girls basketball coaches in the suburbs, and they intend to have the same success they did as players, a quest that officially begins Monday when girls basketball teams across Illinois can hold their first official practices for the 2023-24 season.

Let's take a look at how the careers of the daughters of Bob and Teresa Kuzmanic have evolved - from oldest to youngest. We also ask each of them a couple of questions about their careers.

Stephanie Kuzmanic

Stephanie played at Wheeling from 2006-2010, helping the Wildcats to three Mid-Suburban League championships, and to third place in the state tournament, the first and only time Wheeling girls basketball made it to state.

She then played at Carthage College from 2010-2014 where she was a two-time CCIW Player of the Year, two-time All-America, and in 2020, was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame. After graduation, she took a job teaching PE/Health and as varsity girls basketball coach at Leyden High School, where the team more than doubled its winning percentage and had the best record the program has had in 14 years.

After seven years at Leyden, she joined the staff at Illinois State University, where the Redbirds won the program's first MVC championship since 2008, earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament (they drew Iowa in the first round and got to play Caitlin Clark and company in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,000 at Carver Arena).

In her second year at ISU, the Redbirds were regular-season MVC champions and developed ISU's first WNBA draftee, Paige Robinson. This year, Stephanie has begun a teaching and coaching career at New Trier High School, where she is serving as an assistant athletic director, and will be assisting legendary coach Teri Rodgers.

Q: Who influenced you the most to become a coach?

A: "I have had some outstanding coaches over my playing career who have instilled their passion for coaching in me, but I would have to say my mom has influenced me the most to become a coach. She coached me since I began playing basketball in elementary school all the way until high school. Her and my dad ran the Wheeling feeder program for over a decade together.

"My mom was a tough coach, but she was awesome to play for. She was tough and hard on me, but also beyond supportive and my biggest cheerleader at the same time. I feel as though I have really modeled my coaching style after her."

Q: How awesome is it to be coaching with an icon in girls basketball coaching in Teri Rodgers?

A: "As much as I loved coaching at Leyden, leaving and becoming an assistant at Illinois State was probably the best thing I did in terms of my development. I became a varsity head coach at the age of 22, and I never really had the opportunity to learn from someone else. I am so grateful to have been mentored by ISU head coach Kristen Gillespie, who is one of the best basketball minds in the business.

"She played for Kay Yow at NC State in the Final Four in 1998, has been a successful head coach at all three divisions, and was Coach of the Year in the MVC last year. I am ecstatic to now get to learn from one of the greatest and most decorated high school girls basketball coaches in the area."

Q: How much of your playing style do you try to instill in your players?

A: "I would say that I don't necessarily instill a playing style similar than my own, but I do try to instill concepts I believe in. As a point guard, I loved to pass. I had the capability to score, but if it was between knocking down a jumper or having a nice assist to a teammate, I always chose the assist.

"I do try to instill that 'team first' mentality with my players and make sure that my teams move and share the ball. A selfless team is a successful team."

Kellie Kuzmanic

Kellie played at Wheeling from 2008-2012. During her freshman year, the Wildcats placed third at state, and during her senior year they made it to the supersectional. She then went on to play in college at Division III Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where she was part of two Midwest Conference regular-season champions, qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament, and was the first first-year Female Athlete of the Year.

After graduating from Cornell, she accepted a physical education teaching position at MC School in the Dominican Republic for two years before returning home to teach physical education at Holmes Middle School, where she coached girls basketball for five years and girls volleyball for two years.

She is now at Wheeling teaching physical education and is in her first year as the girls basketball coach.

Q: How excited are you to be taking over the program you played for?

A: "I am extremely excited to be back at Wheeling High School and leading a program that taught me so much when I was in high school. It is also special to have Shelly Wiegel as my athletic director, being my previous high school coach. She has been a great support so far in the process of taking over the program and I look forward to continuing to work with her.

"The team is a great group of girls and I am excited to have a hand in growing them as players and people."

Q: What challenges do you expect to face being a high school varsity head coach for the first time?

A: "Being a head coach brings on a lot of responsibilities that are not always seen from the outside looking in. Learning all of the managerial tasks that need to be done early to make sure the season starts off smooth has been a process. Although Beth (Christell) stepped down, she has been a great help in everything that goes into that.

"Another challenge I foresee is just the grind of the season. Anyone that has played competitive basketball before knows that the winter season is a long one. Finding ways to keep the team fully invested both mentally and physically from start to finish will be something that I stay focused on throughout."

Q: Wheeling hasn't had a winning season in, well, in a minute or two. What's it going to take to get the program back on track?

A: "Getting our youth involved in basketball is key to turning our program around. Before coming to Wheeling I was at Holmes Middle School, a feeder school of Wheeling, where I coached girls basketball. Many times it was our athletes' first time playing the game or even being on a team competing. If we can get more involvement with our girls at a young age we will see that impact our program at the high school level."

Deanna Kuzmanic

Deanna played at Wheeling from 2011-2015, and in college at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where she was a four-year captain. After college she played one season professionally in Puerto Rico with the Manatí Atenienses, where her team won the Baloncesto Superior Nacional Femenino championship.

She also played for the Puerto Rico National Team, which won the Bronze Medal in the 2019 Pan-American Games and qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time in history for Puerto Rico women's basketball. She stopped playing basketball in 2020 once the pandemic started and began her coaching and teaching career.

She taught mathematics and coached girls basketball under Dani Hoveydai at Deerfield High School in the 2020-2021 season. In the 2021-2022 school year she began teaching and coaching at Maine West High School, and this will be her third season as the girls basketball coach.

Q: Who influenced you the most to become a coach?

A: "My mom and dad were my biggest influencers in wanting to become a basketball coach. My parents directed and coached the Wheeling Girls Basketball Feeder Program for over a decade. Before I was old enough to play on a team, I would go to all of my older sister's practices and games.

"I would do drills on the sidelines and jump in whenever my parents allowed me to during practice. During games, I would ask my parents to call out a play, then I would draw it up while sitting on the end of the bench. They, along with my older sisters, helped develop my love for the game of basketball, and that love for the game is what made me want to become a coach."

Q: How awesome is it to be in charge of an iconic program that was led by Derril Kipp and Kim de Marigny before you?

A: "It is an honor to be part of the Maine West girls basketball program. The history in our program is rich, and we are fortunate enough to be closing in on our 1,000th program win (now at 996 wins). After playing for Derril Kipp and the Illinois Hustle for six years, he and Maine West have always held a special place in my heart. He helped me develop as a player, and like so many other players in the state of Illinois, he helped with my recruiting process so that I could play at the next level.

"I am also so appreciative of Kim de Marigny and her willingness to help me as I first started my career as a head coach They have left a legacy, and we strive to continue to build on the legacy that they have created."

Q: How much of your playing style do you try to instill in your players?

A: "As a player, I was not usually the fastest, strongest, or most athletic on the court. As a result, I relied a lot on my basketball IQ. My players have their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses so I do not try to instill my style of play on them, but rather I try to develop their basketball IQ so that they can best utilize their strengths."

John Radtke can be reached at

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