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"When I first went there and got into the gym office, I saw eight players in the outer office hanging around, enjoying themselves and relaxing," said Leon Barmore, who made nine Final Four trips with the Lady Techsters and also hired Budke.
"This was a player's coach. The players loved to play for him. He presented an environment which was relaxing. He made you feel warm and at ease, that always stood out to me."
After playing for Budke, Serna went on to finish her playing career at Houston before returning to Trinity Valley to start her coaching career under Budke. They won another JUCO national title together in 1999 before Serna gained more experience as an assistant at three other schools.
Budke hired her again for his final year at Louisiana Tech, then brought her along to Stillwater.
"Miranda was a really great person," said Carlene Mitchell, another of Budke's former players from Trinity Valley who's now the coach at UC Santa Barbara.
"She worked hard. She believed in him. That's why she stayed. ... She had some opportunities to look at some other jobs, but she wanted to bring in players and help him win at Oklahoma State."
Budke moved to Louisiana Tech when Kim Mulkey left to become the coach at Baylor, where she has won a national championship and currently has the No. 1 team in the country.
"It just hits home with all of us in this profession that truly we just coach a game," Mulkey said, adding that she turned to her son and started crying when she heard the news.
"There's a bigger picture out there and it's not a basketball game, it puts life in perspective. I feel for the Oklahoma State community, how many more tragedies can they endure?"
The crash is the second major tragedy for the sports program in about a decade. In January 2001, 10 men affiliated with the university's men's basketball team died in a Colorado plane crash.
Mitchell has a link to both. In addition to playing for one of Budke's national championship teams, she was an assistant at Oklahoma State in 2001. She was floored when she heard the news.
"He was just an amazing man," Mitchell said. "I'm so sick and sad. He helped me get the job out here and was so excited when I got hired. He was screaming into the phone.
"You want to say that Oklahoma State is cursed with those two tragedies."
Sherri Coale, the coach at rival Oklahoma, remembered Budke as a fantastic coach, a tremendous competitor, a devoted father and husband and a humble but courageous leader of young people.
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair called Serna a rising star in recruiting and Budke his closest friend in the Big 12, with both sharing experience at Louisiana Tech.
"He was a devout family man and the conversation never stopped without us talking about our own kids, not just the players we coached," Blair said. "Life is precious. We must enjoy it and we must respect it because it can be taken away at any time."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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