By Lily Hiser, Duke Sports Information Student Assistant
DURHAM, N.C.-- As the Duke women’s basketball team looks forward to its next stretch of games following the holiday break, an exciting milestone is on the horizon for head coach Joanne P. McCallie. With a Blue Devil victory Friday against Liberty, McCallie would become the 15th fastest women’s basketball coach to reach 600 wins, accomplishing this in 821 games. In terms of years it took to reach this milestone, she would be tied for 10th fastest, with 600 wins occurring in her 26th year of coaching. With such an incredible achievement approaching, McCallie took some time to reflect on her career as a head coach, people who influenced her journey, and what basketball means to her.
“For me, it was a little of coach by accident,” recalls McCallie.
After graduating from Northwestern University, McCallie continued her education at Auburn University by earning a MBA. She hadn’t planned on becoming a head coach, but her time at Auburn gave her the opportunity to witness all the possibilities that such a career could hold for her. McCallie experienced an Elite Eight and two NCAA title game appearances during her time as an assistant at Auburn, preparing her to progress into a head coach role. Her first opportunity came at the young age of 26, when she took over the head coach position at the University of Maine. McCallie’s first season wasn’t easy: her team started 0-9 overall after playing a schedule of difficult opponents, but closed the year winning five of the final seven contests.
“I remember thinking I was doing the all right things, but wondering ‘Wow, this is difficult,’” comments McCallie.
However, after a big win against an undefeated Alabama squad at home during her third season, McCallie and the Maine Black Bears began to see their hard work paying off. McCallie would go on to win four conference championships and make six appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including one year with a memorable win against seventh-seeded Stanford. She then moved on to coach at Michigan State for seven seasons, which included making an impressive run to the National Championship game in 2005. McCallie earned National Coach of the Year for the title game accomplishment. After winning 149 games in seven years, including five NCAA Tournament selections and one Big Ten Championship.
In 2007, McCallie left the state of Michigan for Durham, N.C. Over the last 11 years, Coach P has won 283 games, made nine NCAA Tournament appearances and won three ACC Championships.
Such an incredible career has not been accomplished alone. McCallie attributes much of her success to the experience she gained while coaching under Joe Ciampi at Auburn, as well as the encouragement she received from the athletic directors she worked for, including Mike Ploszek at Maine, the late Ron Mason at Michigan State, and now Kevin White at Duke. Her coaching influences do not come solely from the women’s basketball time.
“Your mentors often come from the men’s side because you end up watching their practices and being around them so much,” says McCallie.
Her experiences coaching in the same programs of head coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State and now head coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke have given McCallie the opportunity to observe and develop.
When McCallie reflects on her own successes, she can’t help but celebrate the successes of her former players and staff.
“People try to say this is a business and I don’t really believe that,” reflects McCallie, “If we’re in the business, we’re in the business of developing people.”
Watching the players’ she has coached go on to play professionally, pursue coaching positions, or achieve any success in their professions continues to add on to one big basketball family for McCallie.
As the milestone draws closer, McCallie is concerned less with the actual number than what it stands for.
“Six hundred wins to me is over six million experiences with people," comments McCallie. “It may be a number of victories but completely is something much more in terms of moments.”
These moments aren’t just shared with her basketball family, but also with her family and friends. McCallie is incredibly thankful for their numerous sacrifices and immense support throughout the years.
Six hundred wins is just another tangible achievement for McCallie, who prefers to measure her career in moments and shared experiences.