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Fifth season is McCallie’s time to shine

When Joanne P. McCallie replaced then-AP coach of the year Gail Goestenkors in 2007, it did not take long for the new head coach to revamp the culture around Duke women’s basketball.

In her first season on the job, the program sold more than 1,100 season tickets compared to the previous year. Her immediate efforts to interact with the Duke community—both fans and colleagues—have characterized the transition Blue Devil fans have experienced from Coach G to Coach P.

But, in her 15 years at Duke, Goestenkors regularly did something that McCallie has yet to do in her time with the program—go to the Final Four. Goestenkors took the Blue Devils to four Final Fours, making it to the national championship game twice.

This will be the year McCallie changes all of that. Get ready Blue Devil fans—this year’s team is heading to Denver.

She may play down the notion, but a coach’s fifth year is a big deal. It is the first year when a former coach’s footprint is completely gone. The players on this year’s team are all McCallie’s recruits, and they are good. Final Four good.

And they will be for this year, next year and the year after.

Why? McCallie has recruited Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams, a pair of underclassmen who are already one of the best guard-post combos around, and they are only getting better.

After Gray spent her freshman season dealing with an ankle injury that regularly held her out of practice and limited her minutes, she has shown in her sophomore year how efficiently she can run the point. Even before Gray played a college game, she earned high praise from her head coach, who said the then-No. 4 recruit in the nation is a “Magic Johnson-type passer.”

In ACC play, Gray is averaging 12.1 points, and her 6.3 assists per game lead the conference by 1.4. Like Johnson, she is a deft rebounder for a ballhandler, averaging 4.9 boards per regular season contest, the third most on the team.

McCallie previously coached at Johnson’s alma mater, Michigan State, where she took the Spartans to a national championship game. In Johnson’s freshman year, he took Michigan State to the Elite Eight and as a sophomore to the national championship game.

Gray’s Blue Devils made it to the Elite Eight in her freshman season, and she appears similarly poised to take the next step in her second campaign.

Williams’ impact on the flow of this year’s team has been even more apparent than Gray’s. Few post players can run the floor the way Williams can, combining excellently with Gray’s court vision and Duke’s arsenal of outside shooters.

The 6-foot-3 center averages 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, becoming the first-ever freshman to receive ACC defensive player of the year honors.

And, if there was any doubt left as to her ability to take over a game, just look to Jan. 6 when she led Duke over Wake Forest with a triple-double, swatting an ACC-record 12 blocks.

There may be no more dynamic pair in the country than Gray and Williams, the type of duo who can carry a team to a national championship.

And, with McCallie in her fifth season, the program is all hers. These are her players, and it is her time to fully step out of Goestenkors’ shadow by taking the team to its first Final Four during her tenure.

When she first replaced Goestenkors, McCallie stated one of her primary goals was to fill Cameron Indoor Stadium on a regular basis. Despite setting an average home attendance record her first year, attendance has dropped significantly since then.

But, once she takes this team to Denver, that goal of packing Cameron might become a reality.


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