The Army women’s basketball team met with the media before its practice session at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md. Coach Dave Magarity was joined on the dais by Kelsey Minato, Olivia Schretzman and Jen Hazlett. Here are some of their comments:
ARMY COACH DAVE MAGARITY
I am thrilled to be here. It’s pretty exciting to be hosted by your former boss here at the Univ. of Maryland. Kevin Anderson and I have a long history and it was a thrill, no. 1 to get to this point. It was a great journey these last couple years with this group, overcoming a tremendous disappointment last year after surprising everybody and winning a regular season championship and being the no. 1 seed and then having a devastating loss in the first around. This team has shown an incredible amount of resolve. In all my years doing this, and I have been doing this for quite a while, this team probably improved and learned from their mistakes more than any team I’ve coached. I am proud of what they did. I think it’s been a special year for us, and for us to be able to win the championship to secure an NCAA bid on our home floor was really special, in light of what happened eight years ago in 2006. It’s been a great run for us and a great ride.
Q. Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas is a future pro. What will it be like to face her?
A. I think that is an understatement, she is a special player. Three-time ACC Player of the year … just watching film has been an adventure for us, for me and my staff. She really is going to be a tough, tough cover for us. There’s no way around it. She is as versatile a player as I have ever seen. In my first trip on the women’s side back in ’06, we faced a pretty good player in Candace Parker of Tennessee, who coincidentally got her first collegiate dunk against us, which I have a pretty hard time getting that out of my mind. It was an adventure. But this young lady is different. She is different in the way she plays and the way that she controls the tempo of a game, and creates tough matchups is really going to be a challenge for us.
Q. Can you talk about your decision to stay with the Army team following Maggie Dixon’s death?
A. It’s a very emotional thing for me. It was a tough time. It was probably one of the toughest things I have ever lived through. Having that gift of spending six months, if that, less than that … how I got there was sort of an interesting story … more than anything it was a decision that I made to stay because I felt she gave me something back that I thought I had lost. I coached 32 years, I had gotten in the administration end of it. …I wasn’t really cut out for that, to be honest. I had a great job, as an assistant commissioner of a conference. I knew a lot of people at West Point and they .. I had coached against the men’s team for years as head coach at Marist College. It was a good fit at the time and everyone that I had known during my years competing against them just made me feel like I was needed. More than anything was Maggie and her brother Jamie. I certainly have no regrets. I am glad I stayed. He didn’t have to twist my arm to stay but he allowed me to do something really special and that was hire my daughter Maureen … I look back on the sequence of events … I have nothing but incredible, great memoires of Maggie. She is such a fabric of our history and these young ladies have bought into that. IT was a big deal in our run. I didn’t want to overdo it because it’s their time but I explained to them how impactful that was and what it meant to our program, her taking us to the first NCAA tournament in Division I history. It’s all good. … I am just so proud of what they did. They were able to handle that pressure a little bit. They have their own identity and they sort of made their own history … in a one bid league … our league just went from 8 to 10 teams, we jumped to the No. 11 conference in the country … our RPI is the highest it’s ever been. Quite frankly I am disappointed we are not a higher seed but more than that I was like, Why are they a four seed? I’m stunned because we’re talking about one of the top five teams in the country, in my opinion.
Q. How are you different as a coach now from when you started at West Point?
A. I am probably a little bit more – they may not agree with it – probably a little more calm than I was. The main reason I thought it was critical that Mr. Anderson allow me to hire my daughter was someone had to keep me in check. The joke was the year I spent with Maggie Dixon, I was the big teddy bear and it was great being an assistant again. I could go home after practice and not worry about all the headaches. I told them before I took the job and decided to stay, Hey, I am not going to be the same person … It was tough. Those first couple years were rough and if you spoke to some of those players they would probably confirm that.
The young lady all the way down to my left (Hazlett) can speak to that more than anybody. I don’t think I have been ever tougher on a player than I have on Jen Hazlett and the reason is because she is one for the most talented young athletes I have ever coached, male or female, and I have had some pretty good players. She has just stepped up big time this year, had a wonderful senior year and helped lead us to this point.
Q. How challenging will it be to stop Alyssa Thomas?
A. She does it all for them. She brings the ball up, she shoots, she rebounds, she passes. It will be a tough matchup for us. You probably really can’t stop her, you just to contain her. We are going to throw stuff at her and hopefully get her out of her game a bit. But it is a tough matchup for us.
Q. I imagine it will be your team’s desire to keep the game low scoring?
A. Definitely. Defense is what kind of propels us to win games and to be productive on offense. It really all starts on the defensive end. I think defense and our defensive toughness has been a big part of our success this year. … Maryland is obviously a really good team and one of the best rebounding teams, if not the best. That’s definitely a big part of our game plan, just controlling the boards, box them out on every possession and trying to keep them off the boards. When they get defensive rebounds, they go right into their transition break and that’s tough to cover also. So really defense is really the over-arching game plan for us.
I have never been around … to just go there and see the people in rehab and the people that are really fighting to get back and do what they love doing was just really humbling and it really put things back into perspective and showed us why we are playing basketball at West Point and who we are playing for. It was really special for me and everyone on the team to see that. I know it’s definitely a visit that I will remember for a long time
Q. It seems as though your team is hardly intimidated about facing Alyssa Thomas and Maryland.
A. We are not intimidated just based on who we are as a team and who we are as cadets and people. We have gotten here at this point but not individually. We are not going in looking at an individual. We work together; that’s how we have been successful, working together. Together, we’re not intimidated. Together, we fight. That’s our main game plan.
Q. What pieces came together to make this team a champion this year?
A. I think what brought us together at the end, we talked about defense and scoring, I think it’s our toughness. We had a rough patch later on in the season .. our only loss was to Holy Cross and we lost a tough one to Colgate. As captains and as leadership, we looked (and said), what are we fighting for? And our team really revolves around our veterans. We went to Walter Reed (military hospital) yesterday. That really encompasses who we are. We focus on what we are going to be and who we are going to be in the Army. That’s what makes us stronger and that’s what made us the best team in the Patriot League, was our toughness. I think tomorrow you will see a lot of that toughness come through. We’re not going to underestimate the enemy, but at the same time we’re going to come out and compete like we have for the last 27 games.
Q. Can you tell us about the hospital visit?
A. I am an army brat. I have seen a lot of my friends … my friend’s dad has lost both of his legs. I have been around it. To go and see these men and women fighting to recover and go back into the real world and what they want to do is be back on active duty, was very, very humbling. At the same time it was very motivating because that’s who we are going to lead. I know a former West Point women’s basketball player was a commander of one of the men, a double amputee. So we’re going to have that experience I in the future and to see that was a really good experience.
Q. How do you feel on the eve of your first NCAA game?
A. Everyone on the team is just excited to be at this point. Especially for me, it’s taken four years and everyone else a little bit less time than that. We’re here now and we’re going to enjoy this moment and cherish it because you don’t know the next time this will happen. Hopefully will this team the streak will continue to go on. I am just glad to have been a part of it my last two years.
Q. What will you be doing next in your military career?
A. Right after this I will stay and be a grad assistant for the team, kind of like an athletic intern for the team until next January. Then I go to my basic officer leadership course at Fort Lee, Va., for the Quartermaster branch, which is what I branched. Right after that I get stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. I will be spending my time as a platoon leader.
Q. Do you think coach Magarity has mellowed?
A. He’s actually changed quite a bit. My freshman year it was a little rough, a big transition for me coming from high school. I had all male coaches anyways in high school so it wasn’t that bad. With coach, it’s a different ballgame in college. A lot more pressure is on. I understand why coaches get the way they do. He only does it because he cares and he wants us to play to the potential that he sees. … I have learned to trust him and what he has to say about my play, my game. I really learned a lot from him. I have changed completely since my freshman year to where I am now and it’s all because of him. He knows the trust that I have in him. He’s definitely mellowed out but he has his moments but it’s only because he cares.
Q. How have you changed as a person?
A. I was way too hard on myself and I still am. I was so critical of everything that I did wrong and that obviously didn’t help anybody and didn’t help my teammates. I learned a lot from those mistakes. Mostly this year I have been putting the focus on my teammates instead of myself and that’s really helped my game as well.
Q. Are you a better leader as a result?
A. Yeah, definitely. I think basketball has shaped my leadership style more than anything, more than West Point has ever developed me into. I think basketball will always be the one thing that has shaped me more than anything. Credit goes to the coaches as well because they put that pressure on me. Being the lone senior on this championship team, that’s also a lot of pressure. But I have great teammates and they made it a lot easier than it should have been.
Q. How do you feel about representing the Patriot League?
A. A lot of satisfaction. We deserve this. I almost went to Navy so that would have been a whole different ballgame. I am so grateful for my senior year to go out on top and to go out the way I am going out is something that everyone dreams about and I am so grateful. … We are going to represent the Patriot League well because we are one of the toughest teams that I have been a part of. Everyone is just ready to play and we are going to compete. We have some tough girls on this team. We are going into the Army so we’re pretty tough girls and we play like that on the court, too.