To Seinfield’s George Costanza, worlds colliding was something to avoid at all costs.
Just don’t try telling that to Kim Mui.
After all, Mui has never felt simultaneously more at home and more out of place than she did during Monday’s women’s basketball game between Muhlenberg and Wilkes.
Caught between her old team and the new, the former Mule guard and first-year Colonels graduate assistant found herself in unfamiliar territory in a place she called home for four years. This, however, hardly felt like a rock and a hard place.
Instead of their usual routine, Mui and third-year Wilkes head coach Chris Heery – an assistant for six years with the Mules – spent much of the time leading up to the game catching up with old friends and reminiscing on the trio of Centennial Conference championships they helped bring to the program.
Instead of their former digs, they took up residence in the visitor’s locker room, and then on the visitor’s bench.
Mui was honored as the Mules’ “Unsung Hero” in December 2011.
“When I got there, I gravitated towards the Muhlenberg bench just because I am so used to it,” Mui said. “I almost wanted to go into their locker room and do the cheer with them.”
Instead of the usual handshakes, Mui exchanged warm hugs with Muhlenberg’s players when the starting lineups were announced.
“I was sitting next to Abby [Stenger] waiting for them to call our names, and she said, ‘do we hug her? Are we supposed to give her a high five or a handshake?’ and I had no idea,” recalled Muhlenberg senior Leeann Lanza. “Colleen [Caldwell] ran out and hugged her, so we were like, ‘okay, we can give her a hug!’ It was so fun.”
“I was told the refs saw that and gave each other looks like ‘what are these girls doing?’” Mui said with a laugh. “I enjoyed that moment a lot.”
So did Mule head coach Ron Rohn, who remarked at the time: “You don’t see that very often. Nobody ever hugs me.”
To complete the weirdness, with her new squad down one with 16.2 seconds to go, Mui found herself cheering against a good friend, pleading for Mule senior Erin Laney to miss the front end of a critical one-and-one.
“It was funny because we were looking to foul and Erin gets the ball and I was like, ‘no, that’s the worst person to foul’ because she’s such a great leader,” Mui said of her former teammate. “Obviously I want my team to win, so I wanted her to miss, which was so weird. After the game I congratulated her, but during it, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I was a nervous wreck.”
The irony wasn’t lost on Lanza and company.
“It was so strange to see her on the other bench,” said Lanza. “We were thinking, ‘why is she sitting on the other side?’ She’s been to so many of our games this year, and this was the one time she’s rooting against us.”
Laney’s free throws, and a desperation miss at the buzzer by Wilkes, brought Monday’s reunion to a thrilling end, a 62-59 victory for the Mules that brought back many fond memories for Mui. After all, she was a member of the program’s winningest class – one that produced 93 victories, CC crowns in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and a pair of ‘Sweet Sixteen’ appearances. A visitor in name only, Memorial Hall couldn’t have felt more like home to Mui.
“I love that gym,” said Mui, who finished her three-year Mule career (an injury sidelined her for one season) with 113 points and 89 rebounds, “and I loved playing here. As soon as you walk in, you’re like ‘wow.’ I’m still very close with the upperclassmen, and it was great to see them and their families.”
Muhlenberg women’s basketball 2011. Chris Heery is in the back row, second from left, Ellen Rich is in the middle row, fifth from left, and Kim Mui is on the extreme right of the bottom row.
As it turns out, Mui isn’t the only part of “home” that Heery has brought to Wilkes. One of his top players, junior Ellen Rich, was a freshman reserve center on the 2011 CC championship team. And his first graduate assistant – Mui’s predecessor – was Sheila Cook, a former Mule standout from 2008-11. So when Cook left Wilkes to become an assistant at Scranton, Heery knew just who to call. At the time, Mui was about to embark on a week-long journey to Europe with – who else? – the 2013-14 Mules.
“Two days before I left I got a call from Chris, asking whether I wanted the job,” recalled Mui. “It was happening so fast, but it was a great opportunity. Chris is a great guy, and I knew from Sheila that it was a great chance for me to get into coaching. I’m very happy.”
Wilkes women’s basketball 2014. Chris Heery is on the left, Ellen Rich is in the middle, and Kim Mui is still on the extreme right.
Along with Muhlenberg’s extended family in Wilkes-Barre, Mui will be back home again soon: Wilkes, as well as Cook’s Scranton squad, will compete in next year’s Scotty Wood Tournament. Or, perhaps the Mule Family Reunion would be more apt.
“There will be a lot of Muhlenberg in the house,” Mui said. “I can’t wait.”
And no matter where she goes, there’s no place like home.
“It was a weird feeling,” Mui said, “but it was just awesome to be able to coach in Memorial Hall, against a program that I love so much and has given me so much.
“It was great to come home.”