Although she has garnered numerous accolades for her accomplishments as a coach, Thursday evening it was Joanne P. McCallie’s playing career that earned her a unique honor.
Duke’s head women’s basketball coach was one of 16 players inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. McCallie was part of the inaugural class, which also featured four coaches, one official and one contributor.
McCallie moved around a lot as a child during her father's career in the U.S. Navy, but eventually settled in Maine, where she was a two-time All-State selection at Brunswick High School before earning a scholarship to play at Northwestern.
Returning to the state where she learned the game and joining so many other inductees who influenced her playing career—and the subsequent 26 years in coaching—has caused McCallie to focus on one specific aspect of her coaching philosophy as she enters her eighth season with the Blue Devils—relationships.
“It was a great honor and privilege to be there,” McCallie said. “Obviously it was wonderful to be part of the inaugural class, but I think the thing that separated the experience was that I’m so related to all of those people. [The connections] just went on and on. If you look at the totality of it, it’s the relationships that we all had in loving basketball and loving the state of Maine. It was a special night.”
Of the relationships special to the first person to win a conference title in four different Division I leagues, four in particular stood out from Thursday’s event.
One of the coaches inducted along with McCallie—Bob Brown—taught the 2005 National Coach of the Year how to shoot a basketball. Brown’s son Brett is currently the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers and was inducted as a player. Another coach, Dick Whitmore, led multiple basketball camps that McCallie attended.
Amy Vachon—the daughter of inducted coach Paul Vachon—helped lead McCallie’s Maine squad to an upset of seventh-seeded Stanford in the 1999 NCAA tournament and is currently an assistant coach at Maine.
Finally, one of the players that was a pioneer for women’s basketball in the state like McCallie—Rachel Bouchard—was an assistant coach on McCallie’s staff with the Black Bears.
The web of connections McCallie has formed made the two-time ACC Coach of the Year reflect on the longevity of her program and the nine Blue Devils currently in the WNBA, as well as several more overseas.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have relationships and to be able to see people evolve,” McCallie said. “Whether it’s Tricia Liston learning the ropes in Minnesota, Chelsea [Gray] on her comeback with Connecticut, or Haley [Peters] getting her contract in Spain, going through the full experience where you recruit student athletes, they come to Duke, they have an incredible four years, they graduate and then they go on to future success [is special]. There’s a lot said about wins and losses, but it really is about relationships.”
McCallie’s visit to her roots and the resulting personal reflection have her looking forward to the upcoming season despite losing five key contributors from last year’s squad.
“At this point it really gives you a chance to reflect on where you came from, and how you’re trying to use those values to teach and grow young people,” McCallie said. “I’m really excited about my current team. I’m sure this event impacts me directly, which allows me hopefully to be better for my team.”
Although Duke returns just one starter from last year's team, the Blue Devils also added five talented players this season with potential to contribute right away.
Four of the new faces are touted freshmen—dynamic guard Sierra Calhoun, versatile post players Azura Stevens and Erin Mathias and a more traditional, powerful post player, Lynee’ Belton.
Stevens, Mathias and Belton join All-American center Elizabeth Williams and returning posts Oderah Chidom, Kendall Cooper and Amber Henson, giving McCallie seven players 6-foot-3 or taller at her disposal.
The fifth player new to Duke is junior point guard Mercedes Riggs, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College who averaged 8.9 points, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game last year.
The well-rounded group of newcomers should give the Blue Devils a chance to remain one of the best teams in the ACC despite the heavy turnover in the program.
“What I’ve loved about them is that they’ve been very focused and very driven to do the training and preparation,” McCallie said. “They all had great summers. They’re an interesting group because they’re so dynamic, yet diverse in their skill sets and how they play the game. They’ve been so low-maintenance, it has almost been scary. They’re ready to make a difference.”
Always contemplating how she and her team can improve, McCallie has already started thinking about what the tallest team in Duke history needs to do to excel on the hardwood when the season starts.
“We’ve got length and a lot of experience in the post, so I think there will be certain shifts because we will emphasize our post play and our ability to feed [the post] from all parts of the court,” McCallie said. “There’s a common theme of simply everything taking care of business, ball-handling and being able to set plays, [so] there’s [also] a confidence factor we’re going for. It’s a good group—they all just want to be successful together.”