On a shelf in Joanne P. McCallie’s office sits a photo of her standing and smiling next to Cindy Blodgett. Holding the photo now, McCallie can see past the forced grin she feigned that day just by looking at her squinted, bloodshot eyes, which unbeknownst to the people in the room had been “crying up a storm” only hours earlier.
McCallie, who coached Blodgett for four years at Maine, was attending her star player’s press conference after she was selected sixth overall in the 1998 WNBA Draft. The tears, though, were not drops of joy—her doctor had just informed her that she had miscarried her second child.
Blodgett did not learn of that day’s events until years later. The experience is just one of many that McCallie details in her book “Choice Not Chance,” which was published Feb. 28, writing that the miscarraige was “the best day of her life and the worst day of mine.”
“It was very healing to write about it,” McCallie said. “I had such naivety to think there would never be a problem. I just couldn’t believe I was in that circumstance.”
McCallie said the book, which spans her time at Maine, where she became head coach in 1992, through her days at Duke, is a “blend of stories” that allowed her to share personal experiences and struggles.
Writing the book was an emotional experience for McCallie, who finished it in a cottage overlooking the ocean in Maine, the state her family moved to while she was growing up. But after initial struggles to get it published, she received the help of ghostwriter Rob Rains and finally got John Wiley & Sons, which has published other Duke-related books, to put it into print.
“When you’re trying to write there are times it bleeds out of you,” McCallie said. “It’s always cathartic.”
McCallie first developed the “Choice Not Chance” philosophy while at Maine in what she described as an “aha! moment” when she heard the quote “Choice, not chance, determines destiny. Choose to become a champion in life.” She subsequently plastered it on the wall outside her office and has taken it with her ever since.
“I just thought, ‘That’s perfect, that’s who I am,’” McCallie said. “You can’t leave your philosophy behind.”
The mantra has been one McCallie uses while teaching kids at camps. It became most popular during her time at Michigan State after she took the Spartans to the 2005 national championship game.
Leaving her first big program for Duke was difficult for both McCallie and her family, so she began writing detailed notes on her laptop every night to chronicle her experiences—ones that would eventually become the basis for the book. The introduction is a letter to her daughter Maddie, who she describes as being “devastated” by the move from East Lansing, Mich. to Durham.
But McCallie has always felt a personal connection to Duke, which recruited her as a player, saying she was first inspired to write a book after reading men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first book, “A Season Is a Lifetime.”
McCallie continued to read Krzyzewski’s writing as her career continued. She was reading another one of his books while in her office at Michigan State, only to have Spartan men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo walk in and jokingly flip his rival head coach’s work over.
McCallie’s development of a personal relationship with Krzyzewski became critical in her first season with the Blue Devils. In a grueling week the women’s basketball team traveled from the Virgin Islands to Nashville, Tenn. to University Park, Pa., losing three consecutive games to Connecticut, Vanderbilt and an unranked Penn State squad, respectively.
“It was probably the most miserable week of my existence here, and I’m sure it was for Duke fans, too,” McCallie said.
In the book, McCallie details how she then holed herself in her office with the team preparing to face then-No. 4 Rutgers at home.
“I was questioning my decision to come to Duke, and I was a physical and emotional wreck,” she writes.
But the man whose books inspired her to come to Durham and write her own told her, “Screw them, screw all of them,” referencing those doubting her in her first season with Duke.
The Blue Devils began the game against Rutgers trailing 9-2, seemingly sending the team to a fourth straight loss. But McCallie called a timeout and Duke held the Scarlet Knights to just 35 points for the rest of the game, leading to a 49-44 upset.
“[Krzyzewski] throttled me. He was the only person who could speak to me,” McCallie said. “Sometimes he is the only one that can make any sense and I needed a coach.... It probably changed my whole outlook and future at Duke.”
And as McCallie has settled into her role and grown closer to Krzyzewski, she has had the opportunity to speak with the person she describes as “a legend in all the right senses.” As a women’s basketball head coach, McCallie faces different challenges than Krzyzewski, but says his advice has nonetheless been invaluable.
“I’m a bit worried about the state of the [college men’s basketball] game right now. When you say you have five freshmen leaving Kentucky to go be in the pros, I’m just not sure how I feel about it,” she said. “Is that what college athletics is? The guys have some much more serious issues, to me, than the women’s side because they just don’t vacate teams. But I’ve really appreciated Mike in a big way.”
Looking back on this last season, she said the story of the 2011-2012 Blue Devils—who made the Elite Eight with only eight players—will be the start to her next work, which she plans to write after leading Duke to an NCAA tournament championship one day.
“[Choice Not Chance is] the book before that, which explains the coming together,” McCallie said. “I have lots of ideas for another book. I hope I get the chance to write it.”