Guru's College Report: New George Washington Coach Jonathan Tsipis Set To Wake Colonials' Echoes
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON -- It'll be a combination of one more day followed by perhaps one long night before it is known via result of Tuesday's presidential election whether or not the White House near here will be changing occupants when the next inauguration in front of the United States Capitol comes along on Jan. 20.
But here in the Charles E. Smith Center of George Washington University, the new women's basketball adminstration under rookie head coach Jonathan Tsipis offered a public preview early Sunday night in the form of an exhibition game in which the Colonials defeated Wingate 69-39.
Located outside across 22nd St. in a brownstone building, the GWU women's basketball office was one of a record 74 across the nation that changed occupants at Division I universities after 2011-12
A few months later a plus one with an asterisk was added to that total at Mississippi when Adrian Wiggins, hired from Fresno State, departed in the wake of disclosures of NCAA recruiting violations and Brett Frank, an assistant whom Wiggins brought with him from out west, was made acting head coach of the Rebels through 2012-13.
Tsipis, who had been on Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw's staff for nine seasons at Notre Dame, including associate head coach and recruiting coordinator the previous four, is also one of a record 43 rookies who are eligible for the WBCA's Maggie Dixon Award presented to an oustanding newbie at the NCAA Women's Final Four.
After Tispis' long stint at Notre Dame which saw the nationally prominent Irish finish national runnersup the last two seasons in the NCAA, he looking at things from two different viewpoints.
The first is on game nights the action in front of him will no longer be obstructed by a pair of ruby red shoes worn by McGraw as she stalks the sidelines directing perennial all-Americans such as current senior Skylar Diggins.
The second is that rather than working to maintain a long tradition of excellence at Notre Dame, Tsipis was hired by GWU athletic director Patrick Nero to restore the luster of the Colonial women that had fallen on hard times the last four seasons partly caused by a rash of injuries.
That last fact is a key reason for the number of players on the squad who are playing as graduate students following their true senior designations.
Last season, for example, George Washington tied for 10th in an Atlantic 10 conference the Colonials used to rule, going 11-18 overall and 4-10 in league play. Indeed, until the last two weeks prior to the league pairings, they were in danger of being one of the two teams who are omitted once the final standings are determined.
Locally here, besides being overshadowed by the resurgence of Maryland in the middle of the last decade, GWU has found itself eclipsed by a Georgetown program that began appearing in the Associated Press rankings which used to be a home to the Colonials.
Tsipis addressed a few of the aforementioned facts following Sunday's game in which graduate student Tara Booker scored 12 points, graduate student Brooke Wilson had had 10 points and 10 rebounds while senior Danni Jackson scored 10 points and senior reserve Shi-Heria Shipp scored 10 points each.
Freshman Anjaleace White, who had been a Gatorade player of the year in Delaware out of Sanford and lives near the University of Delaware campus in Newark, scored eight points off the bench.
If the pro game was being discussed here, one might surmise that White could be the player to be named later in the deal several years ago that saw Kayla Miller depart the Colonials for the Blue Hens the same time former coach Joe McKeown left for Northwestern.
"I was really pleased," Tsipis said afterwards in the postgame press conference of the Colonials' performance. "I think the goal for tonight was to see that the progression we had in practice through a closed scrimmage -- that we keep trying to stay true to our motto: Are we getting better every single day?
"I've asked a lot of our players to try to change their mindsets and doing things they haven't had to do their whole college career and I don't feel that at any point they have strayed from that.
The big thing is through 1-13 (the entire roster) we had great effort. We worked hard to be able to do the things we are able to control every single game -- and that's to be able to dictate the tempo offensively, defensively be active and try to get some turnovers that we would be able to turn into easy baskets, and then just the toughness factor.
"I like that idea that we are going to be able to be a physical team. We're going to be able to rebound. We are able to get to the free throw line, we were able to do that a little bit more in the second half," Tispis said.
GWU opens at home Friday night to begin the season by hosting Texas Arlington before wading deeper into a nonconference slate that has a visit to Big East power Rutgers Nov. 14, hosting Georgetown Dec. 1, hosting on Dec. 12 an Auburn squad that is now run by former Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, and a visit to California in late December.
When the conference season begins, in terms of the three Philadelphia rivals, the Colonials will host Saint Joseph's on January 17, visit La Salle on Feb. 3, but will not see Temple because the expansion of the Atlantic 10 forced officials to omit several intra-league rivals from each team's schedule.
Thus, unless the Owls and GWU meet in the A-10 tournament, the long-running series is ended barring future arrangements to meet because Temple is headed to the Big East Conference next summer.
Meanwhile, Booker and Jackson, who were the postgame players sent to the media room, spoke of life under their new coach.
"It feels amazing," Booker said. "Everyone is like freshmen again with the new coaching staff, new plays and everything. It's just a whole new mood. A whole new vibe. A whole new energy and atmosphere that the team is producing new."
Added Jackson, "We feel rejuvenated. I think we're excited to play for Coach Tsipis, knowing where he has been -- he's trying to instill in us, we're taking it in and we appreciate him. We're having fun playing again."
As for Tsipis, to get back to one of the early observations, what's it like to have an unobstructive view on the court?
"The first thing I realize is I have a much better view of the court now," Tispis said with a big grin. "Because I can stand up and go wherever I want. I don't have to dodge and fake around somebody squatting in front of me.
"In a lot of ways it's a dream come true. In a lot of ways I've got a team right now -- and Tara alluded to it -- that in some ways I've got 13 freshmen," Tispis noted.
"And I'm trying to fuse my beliefs, my philosophy, my culture and kind of my emotion. And anybody who knows me, and I've said this from Day One, I'm not going to just sit on the bench.
"And when those six seniors have bought in -- it's easy then for the freshmen to understand this is the way we do things every single day. When our kids some days are a little bit sore -- and my goal is to make practice harder than any game they're going to play -- and for them to be able to do it, and challenge themselves and play in different groups, that's been a lot of fun.
"They just didn't bought in when we started practice. They bought in on April 6 when I sat in a room with them and talked to them -- and, yes, we're going to build this, but we're going to do it the right way.
"This isn't a process where I'm not going to start talking about year three till we get to year three, and that's been a lot of fun," he continued.
"I'm sure I'm going to keep learning as we go along the way. Believe me, the South Bend (Ind.) area code between texting and calls has been burned up as I've approached a lot of things.
"(McGraw) is a hall of fame coach for a lot more than just her x's and o's -- the kind of person she is and she's been great as has anybody I've had a chance to learn under has been under the whole time."
Besides the change from maintaing a program in the Top 10 to joining one needing major reconstruction, there's the cultural adjustment in leaving the Midwest for a major metropolitan area on the East Coast and one in which baseball and football and the other pro sports as well as the collegiate men dominate the local sports scene.
And Tsipis also has found that where a car was mandatory in his last job, one can get around more efficiently at times here on the city's underground Metro that extends like spokes on a wheel to the nearby suburbs.
He has also brought a large dash of Irish DNA to Foggy Bottom, making 2006 ND grad Megan Duffy associate head coach from her previous position on the staff of Kim Barnes Arico at St. John's prior to Barnes Arico's move to Michigan -- one of 13 changes that occurred at BCS schools.
Erica Williamson, director of basketball operations, and her assistant Tom Bacsik, are both 2010 Notre Dame graduates.
"The same mindset I've tried to have in the recruiting here is the same mindset I've tried to have at Notre Dame in that we were trying to keep the best players in the Midwest home," Tsipis explained.
"Obviously, when you have players like Skylar, who's still there, and Deveraux Peters, even Natalie Novosel, a lot of local Indiana kids -- what we've had, we talked about the same things here.
"One of the things that helps us here is having somebody like a Danni Jackson and Brooke Wilson who did stay home and have them finish up their careers and then be able to say, `Here's my past when I recruited at Notre Dame and here's the class we have coming in," Tsipis said.
"Looking at all the AAU and high school coaches here, I think you would see, the way I've tried to put my staff together, knowing I'm not originally from DC or the East Coast, is to make sure I have that tie-in to assistants who can kind of walk me through the D.C. area.
"And that's a big thing. We've opened every single practice, every workout, every game to the local coaches and then I've tried to be on the campaign trail as much as possible -- whether that's grabbing an appetizer, a lunch, stopping by open gym, just getting out to make sure GW is visible in the area."
Tispis' staff also includes Shay Hayes and Diane Richardson as assistants.
He has one person in the area who has familiarity to his coaching in Novosel, a past ND star who last April was a first-round pick of the WNBA Washington Mystics, though she is now overseas until next spring.
"It helped with her playing -- being tangible to our team right now," Tispis said. "Our team went over (the Verizon Center is nearby) to watch games. It helped in a little ways in that she had an up and down season.
"It wasn't just going to watch seeing someone at another level. She had a chance to meet our players on different occasions. If we can get Skype up and working, I know we can talk to her in Romania. But when she comes back in the spring then we'll have her over here," he said.
"That's something we'll try to do until I have past players here at GW -- that's what I have -- those Notre Dame players. On a day to day to basis, Megan Duffy, who played for me, and Erica Williamson, our kids can go and say, 'Hey, is this really what coach wants? Is this what he's talking about. Is this what it's like all the time?'
"And they can say, `Yeah. This is who he is. His family's going to be there. He really is going to follow it. And when he's off the court, he wants the best thing for you.' And as much as I can say it, to have them say it and having lived through it is even more important."
One thing Tsipis wants is to look ahead and not keep hearing questions about the past. Everything gets a clean slate.
"I wasn't here. I'm only interested in moving forward."
Some rookie coaches are taking over at programs that were successful and some moved up where they have been for years.
But if Tsipis can make the Colonials return to at least respectability playing .500 or better his first time around, then by the time March rolls around and it is time to give awards, it would not be surprised to see a checkmark next to his name adjoined by one word "Elected!"
More From The Carousel
In terms of the rookie-eligibles, 25 of the 43 were assistants or associate head coaches at D-I schools, including 15 such as Tsipis at BCS schools.
Three were three Division II head coaches, one came from Division III, while one came from a junior college top position and another was at a NAIA program.
Considering the lack of expectations of Tennessee, which is starting at an all-tme low at No. 20, not counting the first-ever 1976 ranking in which the Lady Vols were omitted, anything approaching contention in the Southeastern Conference or move toward the Top 10 is likely to make Holly Warlick a frontrunner, though she has spent years as the right arm of coach emiritus Pat Summitt.
One can see sentiment build on the committee. Otherwise, the path will be open to people such as Tsipis if they succeed. Some will probably be written off because they are taking over programs with much in place and in the case of 12 in-house promotions such as Joe Tartamella at St. John's, he would practically have to either lead the Red Storm in the Final Four in New Orleans or advance to the Elite Eight considering the job last season by Barnes Arico that included an upset of Big East rival Connecticut at UConn to end a long run of homecourt dominance by the Huskies.
That feat probably did as much as anything to catch the attention from Michigan, which had been unable to steal Coquese Washington from Penn State.
Washington, a former star for the Irish, held the associate position prior to Tsipis at her alma mater.
Rookie Kevin Cook, who moved up at Winthrop after Marlene Stollings moved to Virginia Commonweath, has a background at the sides of former Kansas coach Marian Washington, a Hall of Famer, and in the WNBA with Van Chancellor, when the former Houston Comets won the first four league titles (1997-2000).
When the Guru recently noticed Cook's "green button," showing active status at 5 a.m. on Facebook, the Guru flashed a message to see if Cook was actually on line.
"Nervous," Cook responded, despite his years of experience. "Getting near my first game."
The Guru wished him well and then jokingly reminded Cook, "Don't forget to bring a bunch of hard candy to toss to the crowd," a pre-game ritual that was practiced by Chancellor.
"Great idea," Cook responded. "I forgot about that."
Mystics Still Mysterious
The WNBA's Washington Mystics, who had the worst overall record in the league last season, but became the odd team out in terms of the lucractive top three picks available to the four lottery teams, may have set a record for twice dropping all their eggs in a basket in a small amout of time only to see them get scrambled.
After the season ended and anticipating a perceived great chance to add either Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, or Notre Dame's Diggins to the squad next season and reverse direction, Washington dismissed coach Trudi Lacey and her staff two days before the lottery.
It looked like a humane move because it would have been unfair for Lacey to learn the Mystics had landed a big fish and then kicked off the pilot house two days later.
But of course, the Mystics executives also were counting on having one of the three collegiate superstars become a magnet for persons who might want either the separate or combined general manager-coaching positions.
The Washington folks were so sure they were about to hit paydirt they hauled most of the notables of their in-house arena crew, video cameras and all, up to Bristol, Conn., and the ESPN studios where the lottery results were broadcast live.
Then the ping pong balls went south on the Mystics, causing such shock as written by ESPN.com's Graham Hayes, that it seemed necessary to build high walls alongthe Patomac River down here to discourage the wrong way to create staff changes.
Now, speaking of shocks, the Guru hears that Washington was coming to the realization that big bad Bill Laimbeer, the scourge of opponents while being the best designer in Motown not working in the auto industry but capable of making the former Detroit Shock roar and rumble, seemed to be a no-brainer to come to DC and revive the Mystics' fortunes.
Well, it is not known if the talks ever got under way, but somewhere in the process Washington slept here once too often because the New York Liberty came along and grabbed the former NBA Detroit Pistons' terror -- how many ND graduates can the Guru have in one post? -- and now the Mystics are back to square one with no one in place to begin scouting candidates for the No. 4 pick as the collegiate season gets under way.
To be continued.
Meanwhile, the Guru is sequestered down here to stop by Maryland's exhibition opener Monday night. The original opener was set for last Wednesday but got cancelled in the wake of recovery from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Special Alert: Look for a major Guru joint announcement Tuesday at 4 p.m. His twitter handle @womhoopsguru will flash when the post is live.
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