By Jim Sumner, GoDuke.com
DURHAM, N.C.-- I’m back, feeling great and excited for the season ahead.
That’s Joanne P. McCallie’s message to the Duke women’s basketball community.
Where did she go?
Someplace strange and wonderful and a little bit scary, a place called Extended Time Off.
Let’s go back to last November. McCallie is a melanoma survivor and as such closely monitors her health.
Tests showed what McCallie calls “kidney complications, based on my numbers. I had tests run and it was an ‘uh oh’ moment. These don’t look right. I got scared.”
The kidney dysfunction is not cancer and is not believed to be related to her melanoma. Neither dialysis nor surgery is on the horizon and McCallie aims to keep it that way.
But it is chronic, but not life-threatening.
Coach P told her family but no one else, soldiering on through the season.
By February, McCallie says ““I just had to tell somebody.” She explained the situation to Duke AD Kevin White, who understood and supported her plan to take off some time after the season.
“He made me feel a lot better,” McCallie says of her conversations with White. “I felt emboldened after I talked to him.”
Summer vacation wasn’t a casual operation. Coach P gradually filled in her staff and they game-planned a solution. May and June are relatively down months for the program. McCallie worked from home in May, but stayed in constant contact with her team and staff. She then took off all of June.
She had to trust her staff and relinquish control, trusting them to do not only their jobs but also her job for a period of time.
“Medically, I got a grip on myself,” she says of the down time.
“That month of June was a separator. I feel like I did the right thing. I never took more than a week of vacation during my coaching career. This was the longest time I had off since high school. I stayed in touch with the team more than with the staff. The staff was superlative. Hernando [Planells] assumed the position of head coach. We didn’t miss a beat. I feel like we strategized really successfully. Phone calls and recruiting were absorbed by the staff with the understanding that I would be back July 1. I was on the phone July 1. I worried about falling behind but I don’t think we did. My spirit is renewed.”
Coach P emphasizes that letters and calls from friends and fans helped in that renewal.
“The community of Durham, including Duke, was wonderful. To see all these wonderful people who wrote me letters. I could never have guessed the outpouring of support I received. Sometimes, you think you’re on an island, all alone. But you’re not. The community was incredible.”
She returns to a team with talent and experience (10 returnees) but more than its share of questions. All-America guard Lexie Brown and Al-ACC wing Rebecca Greenwell graduated and took 33 points per game with them, along with assists, steals, rebounds and clutch performances galore. Graduated posts Erin Mathias and Bego Faz Davalos left huge holes in the post. Key returnees Kyra Lambert (knee), Haley Gorecki (hip), and Mikayla Boykin (knee) are recovering from season-ending injuries. Four freshmen have to be integrated into the lineup.
The rejuvenated McCallie says she can’t wait for the challenge.
“This team has had a tremendous summer. They have done the work. They continue to do the work. They have outworked people and we are going to find a way. It might be that nobody averages over 20 points per game. Maybe we’re more balanced. Maybe there are five people averaging in double figures. It’s a different team, a different opportunity. But I feel completely renewed about it.”
The injured players?
“The rehabs are going superlative. Everything is trending in the right direction. Everything’s been super. Our training staff has been great. The kids have been great. So, everything is moving in the right direction.”
McCallie cites Gorecki, Lambert and junior Leaonna Odom as the cornerstones around which this team will be built.
“I just know we’re going to do wonderful things.”
Meanwhile, the kidney issues loom in the background.
McCallie is 53 and says “when I’m 65, I may have to answer more for this. The numbers have gotten better. I’m not concerned now.”
Reducing stress has to be a priority, developing and trusting coping mechanisms.
“There’s always a way to do things better,” McCallie acknowledges. “This has been coming on a couple of years. I think I’ve got a grip on that. It’s a definite priority to be more faithful in trusting the process and worry less about things you can’t control. I know it’s a hard concept, one that people try to do every day. But it has to be done.”