Alex Byers: Say it ain’t so, Joe

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Say you’re not leaving Foggy Bottom for suburban Chicago. Tell us you’re coming back to GW and turning your brand new roster into a third-straight Sweet 16 appearance. Coming back to take new names like Tara Booker and Tiana Myers and put them on the same level as Beck, Joens and Ngongba.

Come on, there’s still time. Just say you changed your mind. If Billy Donovan can do it, so can you.

No? Okay.

After all, it’s your call. And maybe it was just the right time to go.

We could tell at the beginning of last season. This was the year. Kim Beck, the guard you said we couldn’t understand because we never watched her in practice, was leading a forceful trio of seniors into their final year at GW. You had the Adairs with another year under their belts and you had secret weapon, Antelia Parrish.

You knew it was time to make your run. The target was Tampa and the Final Four, and though you never got there, you made sure Kim was there a week later to be the fourth Colonial drafted into the WNBA. Just another feather in a cap already stuffed to the brim.

But when Sarah-Jo Lawrence walked across the stage last month (marking your second straight year graduating players with outstanding academics), it seemed slightly like the end of an era. And while that’s the nature of collegiate athletics – players come and go in the blink of an eye – it was clear that for the first time in a few years, you were starting with fewer high cards in your hand.

From the stands, you’ll be remembered as a gracious winner. You’re the man who steals the microphone from the announcer after home games, thanks the fans for coming out and reminds everyone to be back next week. You’re the guy who has built up a consistent following, even when GW women’s basketball wasn’t the hottest ticket in town.

And we’ll look upon you favorably from press row, too. There may have been times on the court where your face turned seven shades of red at a bad pass or when your mouth hung open in disbelief at a bad call. But win or lose, you would sit across the table from us afterward and answer all our questions in your signature honesty and self-deprecating humor.

You may have written the book on stifling defenses and be one of the biggest names in women’s college basketball, but you’re an even bigger name in the fight against autism. You worked alongside Washington Capitals’ goaltender Olie Kolzig to help fight the disease that your son, Joey, is diagnosed with. You wear that blue puzzle piece on your lapel each time you step on the hardwood to show your support, and you’ve always said if you ever left GW, it would be for a place that has the means to help you give Joey the best care. Looks like maybe you’ve found that at Northwestern’s Articulab and virtual peer program. We understand and respect that your immediate family takes precedence over your extended GW family.

So off you go, Joe, to Evanston, Ill., and the big, bad Big Ten. With any luck, you’ll finally get the exposure and recognition that a McKeown-coached basketball team deserves. You leave behind 441 wins, 15 NCAA Tournaments, and four Sweet 16s – not to mention a lesson in how to work for a good cause.

We hope Wildcat fans appreciate who they’re getting: a great coach, a better man, a puzzle piece-toting fighter – and the biggest piece to solving the puzzle of their women’s basketball program.

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