Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pat Summitt and the happily ever after we didn't get

Happy endings are for fairy tales. We know that, and yet it's hard not to hope for the "ever after" in real life sometimes.

If we'd have scripted it, there would have been one more UConn/Tennessee matchup for Pat Summitt, one more Final Four, one more national title.

No more Alzheimer's and lots more years.

Instead we lost Pat on Tuesday at 64 years young. It's clear from the massive amount of tributes and personal stories shared by media, players and friends in the last few days just how much of a collective loss this is. As my friend Maria Cornelius wrote, "How does a mountain disappear?"

We remember when the news of her disease broke in 2011, Summitt sitting alongside her son, Tyler, talking about taking on the biggest fight of her life. Summitt was larger than life, an unprecedented icon in this sport who accomplished just about everything she set out to do. If just for a moment, she seemed capable of conquering a new opponent, even one that doesn't play fair.

If anyone could beat Alzheimer's, it was Pat Summitt.

Early on, we watched her at the ESPYs; President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and occasionally she'd sit behind the Tennessee bench. But soon after, we stopped hearing from her. The interviews stopped and the once visible Summitt disappeared from public view. We haven't laid eyes on Pat Summitt in years.

In March a story about Summitt moving to an "upscale retirement resort" seemed like a cruel euphemism.

Just as the outspoken Muhammad Ali was robbed of his voice for the last two decades by Parkinson's Disease, Summitt, the greatest in our book, was lost to a disease the shrinks the brain and robs its victims long before they take their last breath.

Yet when we lost Pat for good this week, the suddenness of it,  the finality,  became jarring and profoundly sad. If you've ever lost a parent, you know the emptiness that accompanies that. It's something you carry with you the rest of your days.

Our sport will go on and so will those whose lives revolve around it, but its greatest ambassador leaves a void we don't expect to fill.

 We'll miss you, Pat. Very, very much. How we wish we could have written the ending you deserved.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Game 7, LeBron and a kid I know named Ben

Honestly feel like crying tears of joy right now
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Editor's note: Two of us comprise LadySwish and we always write as a "we." Deviating today for this personal post written by the female half of this blog.

Sports has given me many gifts. I've loved writing about it since middle school; I started watching it as a tot growing up in Redskin territory. It's no surprise that my kids followed suit. Older son Harry is a sports and recreation management major at James Madison, a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan like his dad and tsk, tsk, he prefers the Colts to any NFL team. He's a heckuva athlete himself; younger brother Ben is, too.

But Ben has spent much of his 15 years beating to his own tune, the rare teen who wants no part in being cool to fit in with some group. He has a comfort level in his own skin that you don't find in most of his peers. In fact, I've always said his manner of carrying himself is the true definition of what cool really is. Like Harry, he adopted the Colts but is bored by baseball and doesn't have much patience for college football. While the pair grew up at Lady Monarch basketball games, much to my chagrin, they don't follow women's basketball anymore with the same passion as I do, though they have an education about the game that none of their friends comes close to matching.

And then there's the NBA. They both like it; Ben loves it. He is immersed in it in a way that a gambling man identifies with a racing form. He's a rules expert, knows the roster moves and their implications and frequently rolls his eyes at what he considers often inane commentary from the booth.

Ben idolizes LeBron. Not sure when it started. Not sure why. But the fathead in his room speaks to his oversized admiration for No. 23.

As a D.C. native, I didn't grow up watching the NBA -- the Bullets, which the Wizards were called way back when, produced no rooting interest in my household. From afar, I'd dismiss the league as a bunch of overpaid guys who traveled on multiple possessions. It was a season that came and went year after year little scrutiny from me.

But Ben watched religiously, and after a while, I joined him on the couch for Miami Heat games. I didn't know much about the other teams, but watching Wade and Bosh and Chalmers and LeBron became a familiar routine. I was alongside him when Ray Allen drained that improbable 3 in Game 6, and I would sit still for the video over and over when he'd insist on one more playback.

For Christmas a few years ago, I bought Heat/Wizards tix and took him to his first game. I spent weeks worried that some freak injury would sideline LeBron, but nothing of the sort happened and while we weren't as close as I would have liked, Ben spied LeBron in person.

Then, of course, came The Decision and LeBron headed home to Cleveland.

A stubborn kid, Ben wouldn't admit that it was pretty crushing at the time. He identified with that Miami team and wasn't invested initially with the idea of LeBron heading home to win one for the Cavaliers. I wasn't either. I liked LeBron in a Heat jersey and couldn't warm up to this Cavaliers bunch.

But over the last two years, just as I educated myself for the sake of my son about the Heat, I began to soak up all that is Cleveland. Ben never exactly called himself a Cleveland fan, noting instead he was a LeBron fan, but the constant adulation about Curry grew old on him as did ESPN's Curry crawl. When the playoffs came, he like the rest of the nation seemed to accept the road to a Golden State coronation.

Two games in, a Golden State sweep seemed possible, maybe likely. Down 3-1, even a magnificent game by King James seemed too late. Even after Game 6, Ben couldn't bring himself to get too pumped and nor could I for him. The odds of the Warriors losing again at home in this series seemed as unlikely as, well, a traveling call in the NBA.

We didn't watch Game 7 together. One of the things you accept as a parent is as your children grow, your company is replaced by that of their peers, and that's the way it's supposed to be. So while he was a few miles away with his bro and friends, I found myself following the game with the same fervor I once reserved for Joe Gibbs' Redskins.

I wanted the Cavs to score every trip down the floor. I want the Warriors to miss every trip down the floor. I kept telling myself Draymond Green would come down to earth. Every Curry 3 made me cringe. Kyrie's final 3 lifted me in the same way as an Art Monk touchdown used to. The LeBron block -- no words.

When Curry missed his final shot, I realized the Cavs were going to deliver the storybook ending for my kid. I pictured Ben, who unlike his brother, rarely asks for much, and I could feel the exuberance pumping through every vein in him. I sent him a text: "I am SO happy for you," and I didn't need a reply. A few minutes later when he walked in the door, he had a look of unbridled joy that nothing is going to erase any time soon.

Monday when I came home from work, he was curled up in a chair watching Game 7 minus the anxiety of the night before, and still beaming, too, I might add.

Sports has given me many gifts. This is one of its greatest. The championship is great for the city of Cleveland, but I wanted it for Ben. You have no idea when you become a parent where your kids will take you -- oh, the places you'll go. You figure out what love is -- wanting something for someone else actually more than you could have ever wanted it for yourself.

Enjoy this, B. LeBron might be carrying the trophy, but this one's for you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Chit chat with JMU star and WNBA rookie Jazmon Gwathmey

We must admit our interest in the WNBA increased significantly when James Madison's Jazmon Gwathmey made the San Antonio Stars roster. The CAA Player of the Year was picked in the second round and is learning her way around pro ball. We caught up with one of our all-time faves for a chat about what life is like as a Star.

Ladyswish: What's playing for San Antonio like?

Jazmon: The practices are definitely different than college. They're very fast paced -- not a lot of teaching; coming out of college you should know your basketball terminology. It's more on the go; see as they do and do it.

They're definitely bigger practices guys to go against than I'm used to.

LadySwish: What's been the hardest part to learn?

Jazmon: Trying to keep up with the pace but not trying to play 100 miles per hour. The pace might be fast up and down-wise, but I've still got to set up my moves.

LadySwish: How would they like to use you?

We like to run in transition, which is something I like to do. Defensively, I use my length guarding guards. My main focus right now is running the floor in transition and defense.

LadySwish: How does it feel not to play so much?

Jazmon: It's not my time. I'm learning getting better each and every day, so when my time does come I'll make the most of it. I've got veterans in front of me who are playing fantastic. I'm learning from them on and off the court. If my name gets called, great. If not, I'm cheering them on for 40 minutes.

LadySwish: Who on your roster have you bonded with?

Jazmon: You've got Monique Currie, she's a vet. Very strong moves and she's a guard. I watch  her and how she gets open. You've got Kayla McBride. She's a fantastic shooter. Watching her when I'm on the bench and how people guard her, she finds different ways of scoring and getting open.

LadySwish: What is the lifestyle like?

Jazmon: I wake up, eat breakfast, drive to practice, get out around 2 o'clock and then I go home and try not to sit on the couch and fall asleep. You have the rest of the day to yourself. We have a pool. You can go shopping. I try to stay productive and not sleep all day. I go walking around; I have my dog, Nyla (Yorkie/chihuahua mix),  here, so we'll go out to parks and stuff. I try not to buy too many shoes.

I like when it's not raining. It's been raining a lot. When the sun is out, it's beautiful. The Riverwalk is nice to go to. It's a beautiful area. The whole state is flat, so you can see miles and miles.

I've been to L.A. I've been to Connecticut. I've been to Dallas. Being a rookie, you don't know that many people. A lot of the veterans, they know people in L.A, so they go out, have dinner and hang out. I'm meeting new people; that's one of the positives about traveling. In college, we were on a set schedule and they wouldn't allow the players to leave the hotel. Now we're grown women so we check in and are responsible for ourselves. I try to stay focused on the road.

L.A. was an experience. I got to go to Hollywood Boulevard and see the stars on the sidewalk, got to see Jimmy Kimmel, is that his name? I got to see the Hollywood sign on the hill.

LadySwish: How did you feel when  you made the roster?

Jazmon: It was a huge relief. I honestly didn't even know until I saw text messages. Throughout the whole camp, in every player's mind is  you don't want to get cut so you're always doing extra, maybe even trying too hard.

LadySwish: Do you talk to Kenny Brooks?

Jazmon: Every day at first. I give him updates and he gives me pointers. I'm weaning off of him and trying to do things on my own.

LadySwish: Are you going to root for Virginia Tech WBB?

Jazmon: I'm rooting for Coach Brooks. I'm still purple and gold.

LadySwish: What do you think JMU WBB will be like under Sean O'Regan?

Jazmon: I think they'll be fine. They'll have a lot of energy, because Coach O has a lot of energy. He doesn't like to take it; he gives it.




Thursday, June 16, 2016

Catching up with newest Lady Monarch, Hofstra transfer Kelly Loftus



Caught up with brand new Lady Monarch Kelly Loftus before Game 6 (she likes Golden State, by the way).

In case you haven't heard the latest, Loftus is the new kid on the Old Dominion roster. Hofstra's leading scorer a year ago (12.5 ppg) and a member of the 2016 all-CAA Tournament team, Loftus will be eligible for the 2017-18 season.

"I wanted a new start," she said.

Hofstra ended the season in the WNIT quarterfinals and Loftus, a 5-10 guard from Mount Vernon High in Alexandria, Va., announced shortly after she wanted to transfer closer to home for her final year.

"I was a little far the first time," she said. "When I was 16, I really wanted to be farther from home. As you get older, you learn and realize what you really want. A lot of my family is from Virginia and will be able to see me play, finally."

Loftus has been the Pride's top threat the last two seasons; as a sophomore she connected on 79 3-pointers, third best in program history. She said she drew interest from ACC and Atlantic 10 schools and visited UMass and Albany prior to coming to Norfolk and meeting with coach Karen Barefoot.

"It wasn't about the level; it was about finding the perfect fit," she said. "They have such a winning culture and a history of women's basketball. I appreciate what Coach Barefoot has done for the game."

Loftus said also having ODU assistant Jermaine Woods on staff influenced her decision. She knows him from her high school days. "He's somebody I can always talk to, and he made me feel like they really wanted me."

For the rest of the summer, Loftus plans to focus on online classes at ODU and working on her game with her high school coach, Courtney Coffer. She also is looking for an internship in the communications field and has already spent some time shadowing broadcaster Christy Winters Scott during the WNBA season.

Loftus will fill a void left by leading scorer Jennie Simms, who enters her senior year this fall.

"I think the best thing I will bring is scoring," she said. "That's a pressure I can deal with. I also have leadership and passion."

We're guessing those qualities are the biggest reasons why Loftus and the Lady Monarchs are a match.




Thursday, April 28, 2016

NCAA cost-of-attendance and why it matters
















Editor's note: Since we wrote the post below, ODU, JMU and Longwood have agreed to pay cost-of-attendance for women's basketball.

It's called the cost-of-attendance (COA) -- which is tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses -- everything that goes into attending college full time for nine months.

Some schools give it -- including all in the Power 5 -- and some do not as part of the recruiting process. The amount varies by school, but COA is not a random figure. Financial aid officers at each school determine the amount and an athlete's personal situation can figure into the equation, whether that be because of medical, child care or transportation expenses.

We break it down below, but here's the crux:  The stipends that schools are now allowed to give have the real potential to be an issue further stretching the divide between the haves and the have nots.

There's always been a difference between Virginia/Virginia Tech and ODU/JMU. Now there's a difference between ODU and VCU, between JMU and Radford noting the COA figures below.

Think of it this way.

You're a college athlete, which is frankly, a year-round job even if it's a job you love. Given the commitment required to be successful -- practices, games, travel, conditioning, rehab in addition to a full academic load -- you cannot have an outside job. So that pizza that you want to order on Sunday night, that haircut, that trip home over the holidays -- all that factors into the cost of attending college, Unlike your peers who are not athletes, you don't the money to pay for it as you didn't work a summer job, a work-study job or anything of that nature as your commitment is to your team.

The new rule allowing COA stipends passed Aug. 1 after a vote by school and athletic reps from the five wealthiest conferences. It was seen as an answer of sorts to the ongoing national discussion about treatment of college athletes who receive no salary while coaches negotiate seven-figure contracts and television revenue balloons for the elite programs.

So in addition to scholarships that cover tuition and room and board, COA covers everything else. However, the NCAA did not mandate schools to offer it.  When recently hired Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks noted that cost of attendance will affect recruiting, he was essentially discussing the elephant in the room for schools not committed to the idea. Here's why that's a problem.

Programs including JMU and ODU already have to compete with the Power 5 and all the resources a big-time program can offer. That can be the difference between flying commercial to get back to campus the morning after a game vs. flying charter right after a road game so an athlete is in class the next morning. Power 5 schools can afford to pay coaches and assistants more money. They often have practice facilities with all the bells and whistles (though the new VCU facility isn't exactly a shack). Many can boast television contracts that provide that coveted exposure a smaller conference cannot fathom. Shae Kelley left ODU for her final year of eligibility because of the air time playing for Minnesota would give her on the Big Ten network; Kelley was drafted and now owns a WNBA championship ring.

How much does COA affect a recruit's decision making? Here's what we found out from visiting Boo Williams' Nike Girls tournament last weekend (a place where we caught up with Virginia's Joanne Boyle, said our hellos to new JMU coach Sean O'Regan and had an extensive chat with Hampton's David Six).

COA is such a new concept, teenage girls aren't necessarily asking about it, though several recruits we talked with are only talking to Power 5 schools to begin with. Right now it's a tool those coaches who offer it aren't shy about mentioning. It's not all the rage just yet, says Boo, noting, "It's too new." Now when it comes to recruiting guys, they're more savvy to it, he noted -- not surprising as girls basketball recruiting is still in its early stages compared to the boys.

In our state, JMU, Old Dominion, William and Mary, Hampton, Norfolk State and Longwood did not offer COA stipends in 2015-16.

The following schools gave these amounts per athlete:

George Mason: Average stipend of $3,600

Liberty: the first FCS school to offer cost of attendance in all 22 of its sports; figures not disclosed

Radford: Average stipend of $3,500

Richmond: Average stipend of $1,300

VCU: Average stipend of $4,100

Virginia: $3,180 for in-state undergrads; $3,600-$4,600 for out-of-state undergrads

Virginia Tech: Stipends of $3,280 in-state and $3,620 out-of-state

Hampton's Six said while COA makes the job tougher for coaches from schools that don't offer it, he continues to rely on what he can sell. "You can't buy family," he says. "You can't buy seeing your name in bronze if you win an NCAA tournament game, offering a kid a chance to do something at a program that's never been done before.

As for COA, "I don't worry about what I don't have," he says.

Presidents at JMU and William and Mary were among nine leaders from Division I schools in opposition to COA. According to a Sept. 26, 2015 story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that quotes from an letter on each college's website: "The widely held public opinion that athletic programs at every institution are 'profit centers' for the institution and that the athletes are being taken advantage of in the quest for revenues is simply not true."

Though ODU has not announced plans to offer COA, athletic director Wood Selig hasn't ruled it out for the future. While the MEAC is allowing each of its member institutions to decide on COA, commissioner Dennis Thomas said it is an unlikely course for conference schools at this time.

While we list these numbers, we're not passing judgment. It's not a stretch to say that non-Power 5 schools face a much larger financial burden than the big boys; they simply do not have the revenue stream that television contracts and major college football provide. The A-10 is helped, in part, by being a basketball-centric conference.

The bottom line for WBB is this. Recruits make college decisions based on a number of factors. They talk to coaches and potential teammates. Some have family connections to a school. Campus life is a factor and of course, academic reputation comes into play. Television exposure, or lack thereof matters as do practice facility, arena, fan base and of course, the intangibles. Elena Delle Donne could have gone to any school in the country and chose Delaware.

COA is not going to be the only factor in luring recruits to a program. But it is an enticing enhancement not easily dismissed. Much like per-diem money is coveted among athletes as it's real dollars and cents, imagine being an 18-year-old kid and having a few extra grand to reduce your financial stress if you want extra cheese on that pizza or a trip home for the few days off you have for Christmas break.

Schools who don't offer it say they have priorities, and that is understandable given a college's mission. But understanding athletes have priorities, too, that often boil down to money has the potential to be a game-changer that will make the great divide even greater.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on cost-of-attendance. Share with us on Twitter @LadySwish.



Friday, April 8, 2016

Why the news about Tyler Summitt is so profoundly disappointing




















A few days after the national championship during a time when the WBB world should still be celebrating the accomplishments of UConn and the grit of Syracuse, we are reading about a coach resigning for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his players.

Nothing's worse than that in this sport, but here's why many in the WBB community are having a hard time coming to grips with the news. The coach is Tyler Summitt, boy wonder, son of Pat Summitt, who needs no description before her name.

More than a decade ago, I talked with Pat Summitt in her home and she opened up a pair of French doors that revealed to me her son's bedroom -- mural on the wall, king-sized bed, window overlooking a lake. Lucky kid, I thought. Both of us LadySwishers chatted with him when Tennessee was sent to Norfolk for NCAA first and second rounds, and he was a delight, answering questions repeatedly that he had probably been asked before.

The last time we saw him was after the Lady Techsters came to the Constant Center on Jan 7 and downed Old Dominion in a regular-season game. He didn't give an ordinary press conference afterward. The aplomb he showed as a 25-year-old coach was striking, made even more so by his addressing Louisiana Tech's role in the sport, noting the pioneer effort of the program, one he made a point of ensuring his own players recognized. When asked about his mom, he was glad to answer. It would be hard to make a better impression.

In fact, for most of Tyler's 25 years, he's done nothing outwardly wrong, being by his mother's side during the early days, graduating from Tennessee and earning the praise from his mother's peers who, no doubt, saw his potential. As an assistant at Marquette,  he was lauded for a work ethic that earned him a head coaching job at 23. You figure he knew the scrutiny he'd be under, having to prove to others there was more to him than pedigree, but remember, this wasn't a kid who ran away from being Pat Summitt's son. He embraced the role and the spotlight that came with it, seemingly wise beyond his years. If you watched the interviews of Pat and Tyler about the dementia that changed her life, you walked away again impressed by his maturity.

As part of the WBB community, we've watched Tyler become a man and rooted for him just a little bit more because we are losing Pat. That's among the reasons this hurts so much. We had him slated as head coach at the University of Tennessee one day, but given the news of Thursday, that will never happen.

If you are a mother yourself, you want to shake him and shout, "What were you thinking?" While we might not like it, many men commit adultery. But he's a coach -- a mentor put in charge of young women, a role model, an ambassador of the sport who given his lineage, is unlike any other. Some have speculated that his youth was a red flag for his hiring, but we dispute that and any attempts at explaining this away. This isn't something young coaches do; this isn't something male coaches do; this is something he did. This is on him solely and while many might say he should have known better, we say he did know better. And it happened anyway.

Our feeling is profound disappointment, an emotion we imagine is magnified 100 times more in places like Knoxville and Ruston. The kid all of us watched grow turned into the man who screwed up. We live in a society where people mess up all the time and turn their lives around. We wish that for him, and especially his wife and the player involved.

We don't pretend to know how aware Pat Summitt is of the events of the last 24 hours. But for the first time since she was diagnosed, we hope this disease can be a shield, because as hard as we find this to stomach, we can't imagine what his mother would say.



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

#onlyinWBB do we give head jobs to men with no experience coaching women


We're at the point in the season where coaches come and coaches go. And we remain amazed at the lengths some folks will go to put a men's basketball assistant in charge of their women's basketball program.

The latest example of the ol' inside-the-athletic-department shuffle came, unfortunately, within our stomping grounds over at Norfolk State. A few weeks ago, the Spartans named men's basketball assistant Larry Vickers head coach of the women's team after a bizarre 11-game stretch in which he ran the women's team while still assisting the men's.

It didn't go unnoticed in the WBB community.


Norfolk: Now its official. Larry Vickers, Norfolk mens asst (w/no experience coaching women, except as interim HC) is new HC.

Give NSU credit for expedience. Vickers got the job officially just 24 hours after the Spartans lost by 24 points in the first round of the MEAC tournament. In fact athletic director Marty Miller acted so quickly, we wonder if the job wasn't Vickers' from the moment he took over the 0-16 Spartans from Debra Clark in mid-January.

Still, the speed at which the Spartans moved to lock in Vickers, who had never been a head coach before, begs several questions. Among them:
  •    How much due diligence was performed before NSU made this hire?
  •    Did Vickers really show so much during a stint in which the Spartans went 3-8 that no other    candidates earn serious consideration?
  •    Is this really the way to fill a head-coaching vacancy in a Division I program?
None of this is meant as a knock on Vickers, who has bled Green and Gold as player and men's coach at NSU. Maybe he'll get up to speed quickly in the women's game. We certainly hope he does.

Our issues are with the process that led to Vickers getting the gig, and the misguided idea that experience in the men's game makes one fully qualified to lead a D-I women's team.

According to the NCAA's own research on gender diversity, 66 percent of Division I teams were coached by women in 2009-10. That number has declined every season since and was at 58 percent in 2014-15, the last year of the study.

We asked Hall-of-Fame coach Marianne Stanley about the trend. "It's disturbing," she said. "There certainly are a number of qualified women who should be coaching at all division levels. I think it's incumbent upon athletic directors to do their due diligence and identify them."

We don't have a problem with a lot of the reasons men get women's head-coaching jobs. And when one considers that all four teams in this year's Final Four were led by men, clearly such a move often pays off big. But it's one thing when women don't get jobs they interview for. It's another when women don't even get the chance to apply. And frankly, it's even another when you call upon an assistant down the hall from another program to take over your women's team while staying in his current position, as happened with Vickers for most of the conference season.

And while this clearly impacts women, it's an issue for men working in the women's game as well. We know of one male assistant on a Division I women's team who was very intrigued by the NSU opening. His hiring would have addressed one of the Spartans' biggest issues over the past decade or so - the inability to attract in-state recruits.

We'll never know how he would have worked out. More importantly, Norfolk State will never know, either.

Former Olympic coach Anne Donovan said she's not in favor of any kind of gimmick that would require ADs to include a woman in a pool of hiring candidates, but like her former coach Stanley, she doesn't like the direction WBB coaching is headed.

"A lot of it comes down to who do we want coaching our young women? what kind of mentors are they?" she said. "If I'm hiring, whether it be for a head job or an assistant position, .I"m going to look at every quality candidate. If the best candidate is a guy he should get the job I would hope."

As for the "basketball is basketball" arguments we commonly hear when a women's basketball outsider moves down the hall to take over, consider the case of former Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff. Wolff came with ample men's basketball coaching experience. Still, he struggled initially in his debut  coaching women, particularly in recruiting. Without a network in the women's game, Wolff relied heavily on international players to fill out his roster for two or three recruiting cycles before Tech could make inroads in the state and region.

Furthermore, over the years we've had several men who have coached both men and women tell us that while plays are similar, the best ways to motivate and get the best out of one group may not necessarily be ideal for the other. 

Vickers has 11 games of experience coaching women. Is that enough? Norfolk State is betting that it is. 

It's a gamble we wish Norfolk State, and others schools considering a men's assistant to lead their women's team, would think long and hard about. Our sport -- and the women coaching and playing in it -- deserve that.













Thursday, March 31, 2016

A chat with Va. Tech's Kenny Brooks on his new start, his old roots, cost-of-attendance allowances and a whole new world


We talked with new Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks (it's going to take some time to get used to writing that) about his Hokie future and Dukes past.

Here's what the Dukes alum had to say about his new gig in Blacksburg that has us wishing the 2016-17 season would hurry up and get here!

A disdain for the word "mid-major," Brooks never used that term to describe his Dukes. But he admitted challenges are mounting for non-Power 5 programs: "I was blessed, keeping assistant coaches who were making probably half of what their counterparts are making in the BCS. My coaches are every bit as good as the Power 5."

On the cost-of-attendance allowances that allow athletes to receive the full cost of attendance when attending college. Cost of attendance is determined by financial aid officers at each school. For the 2015-16 school year at Virginia Tech, athletes received $3,280 in-state and $3,680 out-of-state paid twice a semester for on-campus students and three times a semester for off-campus students. JMU does not offer cost-of-attendance allowances.

"Madison not offering cost of attendance. That was a tremendous red flag for me. Without cost of attendance in the next few years, there's no way  you're going to get the Jazmon Gwathmeys or the Precious Halls or the Angela Mickens' of the world to be able to come to a place like that because it's such an enticing factor. One of the first things recruits are asking is, 'Do you offer that cost-of-attendance thing?' Here in the next few years, there's going to be a divide between the haves and have nots."

On the pressures of being in a one-bid conference: "Last summer I sat in the coaches meetings in the CAA and I got a shock. Anucha Browne came to speak about scheduling and how to schedule up and things of that nature and she pulled up our resume and said, 'I was hoping and praying you guys were going to win because you probably would not have gotten to the NCAA tournament with a record of 29-3.' She said, 'You guys didn't beat any Top 25 teams.' We did. We beat UCLA, but when we beat them, we knocked them out of the Top 25. When she said that, I lost a lot of hope in what the NCAA considers mid majors. To go 29-4, some people think that's an easy year, that you don't have any stress. But it's more stress because every game matters. If you go to William and Mary and you lose there, if you play Hofstra and Hofstra is playing extremely well, that one game can erase so much good you've done. Then you have to win the tournament and we all know what can happen in the tournament."

While at JMU, Brooks often lamented the difficulty of attracting Power 5 schools to Harrisonburg. As Hokies coach now, he will be the one receiving calls from the non-Power 5 seeking a home-and-home with Virginia Tech: "My sense of responsibility is to my program. We won't dodge. We're going to try to put together a schedule that's conducive to us getting where we want to get to. We already have a daunting schedule. We want to challenge ourselves and get some good RPI games. There will be a little sentiment toward the mid major, but not at the expense of our program."

But don't rule out . . . "Maybe I'll go to JMU and open up that new building when it comes!"

Rooting interest in Final Four: "I want Syracuse to win because of my friendship with (coach) Q (Quentin Hillsman) and they're fellow ACC."

On his new beginning: "The welcome mat was unbelievable. The infusion of energy with my coming here was tremendous. I was with (my daughter) Gabby last night and she said, 'So Daddy,  you've got Duke?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'And North Carolina?' And I said 'Yes.' And she says, 'Who else? Notre Dame?'

"That's what I've been looking for. When you've gone 60-3 the last three years in the CAA, you're always looking at it as a competitor and you want to challenge yourself. What better way to challenge yourself than to go to the best league in the country. I'm sure I'm going to learn a lot and be a different coach five years from now going against the Muffet McGraws. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope we can make some noise on the national scene."

Meant to be a Hokie: "The very first game I ever coached was here at Cassell. The very first practice I ever conducted was on the floor at Cassell. I remember those fans. I told them today I remember they were yelling at me. I watched what Bonnie Henrickson had here and I talked with Bonnie a few days ago. She was very excited about my coming here and the possibilities. This place, it's wonderful. Everyone says, 'You're going to love it here,' and I can see why. When I'm in town in Harrisonburg, there's JMU gear, UVA gear and Virginia Tech gear. In Blacksburg the only thing you see is Virginia Tech gear. It's a very loyal following and very supportive and the only team they support is Virginia Tech."

On his first meeting with the Hokies: "I'm going to go in with a clean slate. The ones who work hard, I'll welcome. The ones who don't want to work hard, it's probably not the place for them. I met with them today. I told them when a new coach comes in, there's this misnomer that there's a difference between his kids and the previous staff's kids. I told them they're all my kids."

On telling his JMU team he was leaving: "It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. From the outside looking in, yes, we lost Jazmon Gwathmey, Muff Mickens, Ashley Perez, so they might think this was a really good time. But what people don't realize was this was the most cohesive group I've ever had. This group overachieved because they believed in each other.

"When I went in to tell them, I'm looking into eyes of kids who did everything I asked them to do. They were stunned. They shed a tear. And they all got up, one by one, and walked out. None of them said anything to me. I was taken aback because I didn't know what they were thinking. It really hurt because these are my girls. One by one, they all texted me and said, 'Coach, we love you. We understand. You deserve this opportunity.' Each and every one of them told me I deserved this opportunity. When they told me that, it broke me down. They assured me they were hurt, but they understood."

Always a Duke: "It wasn't just my job; it's my school. I'm going to root for JMU and all things JMU just like anyone else in the Duke club, anyone else who is singing the "Start Wearing Purple Song." That stuff is ingrained in me. You can't just wipe it away because you change your address. I never would want to. I'll always root for JMU. Ten years from now, I won't know the kids personally and I'll still root for JMU. Hopefully they won't get upset if they see me on campus at a football game. I hope they understand I am an alum, and I will continue to bleed purple because of all my experiences there."



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five memorable wins from Kenny Brooks at JMU

photo courtesy of The Breeze
By now you've probably read a bunch of places that Kenny Brooks, hired as Virginia Tech coach on Monday, won 337 games at James Madison, including five Colonial Athletic Association titles.

What's your most memorable Brooks victory? Here five that jump to mind:

James Madison 79, Old Dominon 50 (Feb. 7, 2007)
Brooks notched his first win over the CAA superpower in 2003 (98-95 in OT), but this one was a stunning statement in Harrisonburg behind 21 points from Meredith Alexis. It wasn't only the JMU band that had Wendy Larry on edge; the Dukes used a monster 20-3 second-half run to leave no doubt. It was ODU's worst conference loss since joining the CAA in 1992. Tamera Young and Shirley McCall each added 15.

We highlight this win because it speaks to what how the  rivalry between the two schools tilted. While ODU leads 52-25, JMU has won the last five over the Lady Monarchs, seven of the last eight and 10 of the last 12. Brooks finished 13-15 against ODU -- an extremely respectable stat given how the Lady Monarchs used to dominate their former conference.

James Madison 79, Georgetown 76 (Nov. 18, 2009)
The Dukes trailed by 16 before a rally sparked by Dawn Evans, who scored seven of her 29 points in the final minute. Sugar Rodgers, still an active WNBA player, hit a 3 with 1:03 remaining for a 74-72 Hoya lead. Evans nailed a 3 at the other end, and Kanita Shepherd blocked Rodgers' next attempt in the paint. A second possession gave Rodgers another shot, but after her miss, Evans tipped the ball to Kiara Francisco and closed out the game 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.

James Madison 75, Virginia 73 (Dec. 6, 2009)
You had to say "that'll do" to Dawn Evans, whose 38 points was a school record and kept JMU perfect with a 6-0 start to the season. After the Cavaliers led 56-50, Virginia went cold, scoring just one point in a span of 6:17. JMU converted 15 of 16 from the stripe. Sarah Williams was a starter back then, scoring seven in a win made even sweeter as it came in Charlottesville versus a team led by Monica Wright, who scored 31. While we picked this win over Virginia, the following season Evans amassed 42 with eight assists to defeat the Cavs in Harrisonburg 82-80 in another classic.

James Madison 74, Syracuse 71 (WNIT semifinals, March 29, 2012)
"Nobody backed down and that's the reason we won," Brooks said at the time. The Dukes won a school-record 29 games in front of 4,008 at the Convo, sending them into the WNIT championship game with Oklahoma State. Newman produced 10 points with 11 boards, Burkholder 18 points, 7 rebounds and Lauren Whitehurst, 12 points 7 boards. Harrisonburg fell in love with this resilient bunch, which got to the NCAA tournament two years later.

James Madison 72, Gonzaga 63 (NCAA tournament, March, March 23, 2014)
The Dukes earned their first NCAA tournament victory since 1991 behind 29 points and 18 rebounds from Kirby Burkholder. Nikki Newman was all over the floor and Toia Giggetts recorded her 25th straight double-double as JMU, an 11 seed, knocked out the sixth-seeded Zags. This was a good enough team to go deeper but the Dukes matched up against Texas A&M on its home floor in the second round.