A lot of things can happen in 10 years.
A lot have things have happened to Joe McKeown, who is entering his 10th year as the head coach of the GW women’s basketball team. During the last decade, McKeown has experienced both high and low points and has coached all types of athletes.
McKeown has been lucky – his teams have been good enough to make it past the regular season and into NCAA Tournament routinely. One of his high moments occurred in 1991, the first time the Colonial women made the NCAA Tournament.
“It was very exciting,” McKeown said. “We had a great group of kids but no one believed in them but themselves and us (the coaches).”
During the regular season, the Colonial women played and defeated ninth-ranked Rutgers University for the first time in school history en route to GW’s first-ever NCAA Tournament.
“The place was packed,” McKeown said. “At that point, it was as big a game as we had ever won.”
The following year, the Colonial women beat Rutgers on the road to win their first-ever Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
Another high point in McKeown’s career was the Colonial women’s win over Drake University in overtime to go to the NCAA’s “Sweet 16” in 1995. Trailing 78-61 with about five minutes to go in the game, GW staged possibly the most dramatic comeback in school history to advance in the tournament.
“The crowd won the game,” McKeown said of the GW faithful at the Smith Center. “No one quit and we came back to win.”
GW’s win over the University of North Carolina in the 1997 NCAA Tournament to reach the regional final was another great moment in McKeown’s career.
“We made it to the `Elite Eight,’ ” McKeown said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Although McKeown has coached his team through many good times and exciting wins, he also has experienced heart-breaking losses. In his eyes, the worst loss came right after the team’s win over UNC in 1997. The Colonial women lost to the University of Notre Dame 62-52.
“We were so close to getting into the `Final Four’ that they could taste it,” McKeown said. “Losing to Notre Dame was our hardest loss – I still have nightmares about that.”
Another tough loss was in 1994 when GW fell to the University of Southern California in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We had them beat – we were up by two with 50 seconds left – and then a girl who had not made a shot during the whole game threw in a three to beat us,” McKeown said. “We could have been in the `Sweet 16′ that year.”
Because of his success during his years at GW, McKeown has had the chance to pursue coaching positions in the WNBA and other top collegiate programs but has chosen to stay in Foggy Bottom. He says he has many goals for the team that have not yet been met, which is one of many reasons he has stayed at GW for 10 years. Among his goals are making the “Final Four” and winning a national championship.
“We do have talent and outstanding players,” McKeown said. “On paper, we have talent that we had in 1997.”
Beyond unrealized goals, McKeown wants to be at GW for other reasons.
“We are a basketball school, with no football team,” McKeown said. “Our women get treated as good as the men’s team does. I want to be at a place that cares about women’s basketball, which GW does.”
McKeown has a talent for winning on the court, but he also has a talent for being more than a coach to his players. Former player Colleen McCrea, who graduated in 1997, fondly remembers her coach. She says she respected him because of the way he treated all his players.
“He wants all of his athletes to get more of an experience out of college than just playing basketball,” McCrea said. To this day, McCrea keeps in touch with her former coach.
“It is comforting to know that he will always be there for any of his ex-players and will always be willing to do just about anything to help us succeed in life.”
At a Glance
Years at GW: 9 (205-76)
Years in coaching: 12 (273-96)
Before GW: Head coach of New Mexico St.
Accomplishments at GW:
-Eight consecutive 20-win seasons
-Seven trips to the NCAA Tournament
-7-0 in NCAA first-round games
-Three A-10 titles
-Two-time A-10 Coach of the Year