Minus the spotty cell phone reception, nice to chat with new Virginia Commonwealth Coach Beth O'Boyle. We learned a lot about the Rams, though what has us most excited is the prospect of O'Boyle cooking breakfast for us one day (we hear she does a terrific job with that French toast. Can we get scrambled eggs with that?).
They'll be no more Fury this year (at least as far as a nickname, players' decision) and there's a few new faces -- Auburn transfer Chadarryl Clay and junior college transfer Ashley Pegram, and of course, O'Boyle, who, in April, took over for Marlene Stollings, now the head coach at Minnesota.
This much we know. They'll be plenty fit, that's for sure (check out Runnin' with the Rams. . . .)
Tell us what's cool about living in Richmond
One thing that stands out to me is how nice everybody is. I'm living in the city and so is most of my staff and everywhere we go, everybody is so nice. I'm really excited about VCU. Anytime they find out I'm the basketball coach, people here talk about the school and the athletic department in a great way. It's really exciting to be a part of it. If I could only sell my condo in New York, I'd be really happy!
Given all the youth on VCU, how did you get all the kids to buy in?
That's one of the things our staff takes a lot of pride in -- building relationships with the players and getting them excited about what we're trying to do One of the things we talked about early was ownership. They really have been so excited about things. I think they're excited to play some man-to-man and really uptempo offense. They've really enjoyed how we've done the practices so far. We do a lot of individual skills. Our workouts over the summer are all one-on-one with a specific coach. They really have seen their skills get better. That's really helped with buy-in.
We try to do a lot of stuff off the court, so we're spending a ton of time with them. That really helps. We call them team challenges, and once a week we, with our strength coaches, come up with something that challenges them as a team but off of the court. They've gone on a fun monument run through the city, so they got a bit of history and a good workout. We've put them in situations where they have to communicate to accomplish something.
We had our French toast breakfast at my apartment and a corn hole tournament. That's the only thing I'm able to cook, but they've been having fun with it.
This week we have our first session with the Navy SEALS. I'm really interested to see how that's going to go. Coach (Shaka) Smart has talked really highly about it. He did it last year. It's teambuilding, and we're doing it really early in the morning. It helps to create team identity, and they get to hear it from different voices than the coaches'.
Coaches often take over struggling programs. What's it like taking over a winning program (VCU finished 22-10 last year and advanced to the WNIT)?
At Stony Brook I took over a team that was probably one of the bottom ones of Division I, and I went through that. It's different at VCU. They had a great season last year and got that first taste of going to postseason and playing in the WNIT. We're really focusing on building a culture and a program. We want our players to get after it in the classroom.
Talk about the offseason your players have put in.
Keira had decided to transfer to Charlotte but a change of heart made her return to VCU. What's it like having her back?
The thing about Kei is she's so responsible and a really great person. She might have been homesick, and it was the end of the year and things might have been difficult, so to be honest, she didn't miss anything. She didn't miss practices or summer school. Like a lot of teenagers, you realize once you go home that you really miss what you had. That was the case with her. The one thing that's great with this team is they're really close, and she missed her teammates. We're really excited to have her back.
Tell us about Ashley Pegram (the 5-8 guard from Richmond's Meadowbrook High School comes in as a sophomore, after a year at Chesapeake Junior College in Wye Mills, Md. She was a first-team NJCAA All-American, averaging 23.1 ppg, 6.8 rig and 4.1 apg.)
She's a great addition to our program. She's our first local recruit from Richmond. She's a really fast, athletic guard who does a great job getting to the rim. Athletically, she's going to do well for us. She's always wanted to play for VCU and was really excited that she had the opportunity to.
And your new big is Curteeona Brelove (6-2 freshman from tiny Malone, Fla., population 2,000-plus a little)
She is from the hills of Florida. She's country strong from chasing the goats and life on the farm. But if you're looking at us, we're pretty small. We don't have a lot of size and I think Curteeona is going to help us in that area. She's getting used to the pace of college basketball, especially the pace we want to play at. But she's got good hands and the ability to score and definitely will help us in the post.
Did you feel you had to convince this team that you were going to hang around as a coach (Stolling departed VCU after two seasons for the Minnesota job.)
Lots of VCU fans and people have asked me that. It's the perfect job for me. My family is two hours away. I think my mom thought it was her press conference; she was so excited! When you're looking at great women's jobs, you want to be where there is good high school basketball. And Richmond has terrific high school basketball as does the Richmond area and D.C. The A-10 is really a premier basketball league. You have three teams that went to the NCAAs on the women's side and six on the men's side. You're not competing with football. And people at VCU care about athletics. I can't imagine being at a better place. I'm not thinking about the next move. This is a great move.