By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — “It’s been a month?” Joanne Boyle looked surprised.
“It’s flown by if it’s a month,” she said Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena.
In an April 11 news conference at JPJ, UVa introduced Boyle as its women’s basketball coach. Since then, she’s been a study in perpetual motion.
She’s flown back to the West Coast, packed up her belongings in Berkeley, Calif., and moved them to Charlottesville, reached out to recruiting contacts in this part of the country, evaluated high school players, worked out the returning Cavaliers, and, perhaps most important, hired a staff.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s all good,” Boyle said in her spacious office, where there were still boxes to be unpacked and pictures hung. “It’s a challenge, and it’s a great opportunity.”
Boyle, a former Duke standout who spent nine years as an assistant coach at her alma mater, came to UVa from the University of California, where she compiled a 137-64 record in six seasons.
Her first head job was at the University of Richmond, where she went 67-29 in four seasons before leaving for Cal. At Virginia, Boyle succeeded Debbie Ryan, a Hall of Fame coach whose teams advanced to the NCAA tournament 24 times, with three Final Four appearances.
In Ryan’s 34th and final season at UVa, her team finished 19-16 after losing in the WNIT quarterfinals. That team included only two seniors, Paulisha Kellum and Jayna Hartig, so there’s cause for optimistic at JPJ.
“They’re definitely talented,” Boyle said of the players she inherited. “We got a little bit of everything. We got some people that can play the point, we got a couple of really athletic wings, we got some shooters, we got some posts.
“Do we need more? Yeah, we need more. But I think my job will be to put them in position to be successful [in 2011-12]. If we have to tweak things based off our personnel, then we’ve got to tweak things. If we can play more of an uptempo style, or be more of a pressing zone team or a pressing man team, and just put people in their strengths and not have to rely on having all the pieces of the puzzle just yet, that’ll help us.
“But I think we’ve got a lot of the pieces. We just have to take them further and coach them up and instill confidence in them and get them to work hard and be a disciplined team and understand what it is to operate at a level of excellence.”
Sarah Holsinger, Boyle’s director of operations at Cal, has the same role at UVa. Holsinger attended the April 11 press conference at JPJ and started at Virginia that week.
Not until Wednesday, however, was the rest of the staff announced, in a news release that also highlighted Holsinger’s background. Boyle’s assistant coaches are Kim Hairston, Cory McNeill and Katie O’Connor.
“There was just so much stuff to do,” Boyle said, “and for a while there Sarah and I were trying to juggle it all. I can’t even tell you how excited and relieved and just kind of on a different level of comfort I am, knowing that my staff’s in place. They’re rock stars. They’re all ready. I’ve been at the ACC meetings for two days, and I came back, and just what they’ve accomplished in two days has been amazing.”
With her staff in place, Boyle had time to sit down with VirginiaSports.com to discuss her staff and other topics Wednesday afternoon. The highlights follow.
JW: Sarah Holsinger was the only member of your Cal staff to join you at UVa. Did you consider bringing any of your assistant coaches?
Boyle: “[Former UVa assistant] Jenn Hoover got the head job at High Point. She was ready for a head job, so it was a great move for her. Kevin Morrison and Charmin Smith were both West Coast people. They grew up on the West Coast. Charmin went to Stanford, and Kevin’s from L.A. All of their connections were on the West Coast, and they really wanted to stay there.
“Charmin had an opportunity to stay on at Cal, and Kevin ended up with Kevin McGuff at Washington, so it ends up working out for everybody. It’s not that I didn’t want them to come. It was too hard for them, and [a question of whether] the fit would have been great.”
JW: The first assistant you hired at UVa was Kim Hairston.
Boyle: “That’s because she had worked with me at Richmond and Cal and helped build two programs, and I know her work ethic and I know the type of person she is and I know how much she cares about the kids and what a great recruiter she is. She’s been in the business 10 years, and she’s been on [Georgia coach] Andy Landers’ staff, on my staff, on [JMU coach] Kenny Brooks’ staff. So she’s been with really good people and has learned the business really well.
“As soon as I got the job, she was one of the first people that came to mind. And that worked out really well. And then I just really took my time in figuring out the other two pieces. What were Kim’s strengths, and what else did I need to bring along with that, and what are my weaknesses? And when I’ve had staffs that are really successful, what does that look like?
“I thought it was really important to have some East Coast ties, obviously. I thought it was important to have experience on the staff, people that have been in the business and have been successful and worked with successful coaches. I thought it was important to have people whose personalities could really work together and had similar thoughts about how to build this program, but also had different strengths. They weren’t all the same.”
JW: How did you proceed after making your initial hire?
Boyle: “There was no frontrunner after Kim. I was getting inundated with calls. Everybody and their brother thought that this was who I should hire. I put a lot of thought into it. I was on the phone nonstop for two weeks gathering names and talking to people that I trust in the business about their thoughts on certain people.
“There are some great people in this business, and I think I could have hired a lot of great people. You have to go with your gut, and you have to shut your phone off at some point and just say, ‘What’s your gut telling you, and what do you feel is best?’ And then at some point you just gotta pull the trigger.”
JW: Have you spoken to Debbie Ryan since you took the job?
Boyle: “I’ve talked to her a couple times. She’s been great, very supportive. We have a good relationship. This business is this business, but she’s always been a great friend, and that for me would never change.”
JW: This is your third head job. How does this situation compare to the challenges you faced at Richmond and Cal?
Boyle: “I think every situation is different, and I think here at Virginia what you really have to look at is the bigger picture. It’s a great academic school in a fantastic conference, so you have a lot to sell. I think women in particular want that balance of academics and good basketball. Not every guy is looking for that. [Pro basketball] is just a more attractive thing for them. But I think women in general want that balance, knowing that there’s, what, 122 roster spots for WNBA players?
“I tell kids, ‘If you can play [professionally] and you want to play, do it. But eventually your degree is going to really carry you through your life.’ And to be able to have a UVa degree and play in a great conference just says a lot from the get-go.
“Obviously the facilities here are great, and the campus is gorgeous. The commitment to women’s basketball here from the administration is top-notch. They really understand what it is and what they need to build a high-powered program.”
JW: In terms of their academic rankings and reputations, Cal and UVa are very similar. How would you compare the two schools?
Boyle: “The cultures are completely different. Cal operates as a big public school. Virginia seems to operate a little bit more like a private/public. Both institutions have incredible professors and scholars and learning environments and support systems.
“Berkeley’s in California, the school’s on the water, it’s a little bit more, maybe, eclectic. And here it’s a little bit more conservative, maybe, a little bit more traditional. I think you’re talking a little bit apples and oranges in terms of the feel and the types of schools. But at the same time, they’re incredible, beautiful places for different reasons.”
JW: How much time on the court did you get with the team’s returning players this spring?
Boyle: “We got them for two or three workouts, and at that time I was trying out my staff, so I thought that was a good time for them to kind of work kids out. It was short — we maybe had less than 10 days with them.
“We really just tried to establish an energy about them and a work ethic. Obviously, we were trying to determine a little bit of their skill set. You’re just watching them. I think a big part for me was [observing] their demeanor. How do they walk out on the court? How do they approach these workouts? How do they pull each other through on the track or in whatever they’re doing? Where are they in their mindset with that? So it was really good to be out there with Ed [Nordenschild], our strength coach, and Paul [Murata], our trainer, and just have a little bit of time with them. It’s not a lot, but if you get a few days with them, it makes a difference.”
JW: UVa has struggled in recent years against the ACC’s elite teams. How big is your challenge?
Boyle: “Everybody knows part of the game is recruiting, and you want to get in on the best players in the country. But they also have to be the right fit for Virginia, and that’s key, and that’s the balance that you gotta have. But I think there’s an unbelievable opportunity here for a lot of talented female student-athletes to be in a program like this.
“It’s not a program that’s down low. We’re competitive. We’re not rebuilding. We’re a competitive group that needs more pieces. And I think if we can get those pieces, along with the kids that are here, and coach them up, we can springboard off of what Debbie’s done, her foundation. We want to bring some more people in and coach the kids up and put them in a position to be successful. I always talk about ownership. The group really needs to figure out their identity and then own it, and then own this team and own their success. It’s going to take every single one of us to help them do that. But we’re willing to do that, and I think they’re willing to do that. We have to set a standard of excellence.”
JW: How is recruiting going?
Boyle: “We’re really trying to get kids down to visit us and get them on campus. In the [Class of 2012], we’re behind. We don’t have a relationship with the ’12s the way I would like, but that’s just part of the process. So we’re trying to get in and talk to as many ’12s and people that are influential with that group as we can, and right away start working on the ’13s and ’14s, to already have that relationship established by the time this summer and August hit.”
JW: How difficult will it be to re-establish your East Coast relationships in recruiting?
Boyle: “It’s going to take a little bit of time, but the biggest training ground that I had was when I [joined Gail Goestenkors’] staff at Duke. It was her second year there. I learned how to build a program, sustain a program and take it to the top. Build it, grow it, keep it at the top. And my connections on the East Coast had a lot to do with that. All the people we were recruiting on the East Coast were with Mike Flynn’s group, the Philly Belles, and the Boo Williams [AAU program] and from the D.C. area. I was at Duke for nine years, so I established a lot of really good relationships in those nine years. And then when I went to Richmond, we were doing the same thing with the same group of people on the East Coast.
“[Coaching at Cal], I always saw that same group of people, even though I wasn’t recruiting their kids, so I maintained those relationships. At Cal, it was very important that we protect our state, the state of California. The state of California is like Texas in terms of talent and numbers of people.
“There’s so many good schools on the East Coast academically and in terms of basketball that unless [players] had a connection to want to come to California, they could find what they were looking for on the East Coast.”
JW: In 2009-10, Cal went 24-13 and won the WNIT with a lineup that included four freshmen. Your final team there did not do as well (18-16, second-round WNIT loss). What happened?
Boyle: “We had injuries to key people, and we ended up starting four sophomores and a freshman. In terms of leadership-slash-experience, we were missing that, just because we were such a young team. I think when you add another year and you add those healthy kids back and you add that leadership piece, because they’ve played so many minutes together for three years, they’re going to be good.”