The center-court team huddle breaks at practice and head coach Mike Bozeman is smiling, cracking a joke with his players. This is his second season as the head coach for GW women’s basketball, but for the first time, the players are his.
Bozeman took the reins last summer after the departure of longtime coach Joe McKeown, who, in 19 seasons at GW, led the Colonials to the NCAA tournament 15 times and to the Sweet 16 or further four times. Bozeman, who served as an assistant on McKeown’s staff for three years before taking the head job, has a long way to go to match his predecessor’s accomplishments, but he credits McKeown for helping him prepare for the role.
“I got to learn from a future Hall of Famer. He taught me a lot and he also gave me a lot of freedom,” Bozeman said. “Coming in, I wasn’t the average age of a guy coming over as an assistant coach, but he always had me in a position of prominence on the staff.”
Despite the “total shock” of McKeown’s move to Northwestern before last season, Bozeman felt he already possessed the necessary mindset that a head coach needed.
“I always had a head coach’s mentality,” he said. “In our personal meetings, [McKeown] was always saying, ‘Listen, you’re a head coach. You’re just in an assistant coach’s position.’ So I always thought, ‘What would I do if I was at the helm?’ “
Last season, he got the chance to answer that question. In his first season, Bozeman’s team went 17-12 in the regular season, including a 9-5 record in the Atlantic 10, but was upset in the first round of the conference tournament by a No. 12 seed team – Rhode Island.
Despite the early exit, the Colonials received a bid to the WNIT, though they lost in the opening round to Florida Gulf Coast in overtime. Some might have considered the season a success, considering the coaching staff change and the graduation of three starters the previous spring, but Bozeman will be the first to say he had other plans.
“I was disappointed with the outcome,” he said. “Change for anybody is a little difficult and I thought that it just didn’t allow for us to maximize the potential of the team. I thought there were certain times in the middle of the season that we didn’t play well, but toward the end we kind of dropped the egg a little bit.”
Now that the team is more than 90 percent underclassmen, Bozeman officially has his own squad, save for redshirt junior Ivy Abiona, the only player on the team to have played under McKeown.
Despite their lack of experience, Bozeman thinks the young players are ready to play.
“The challenge here now is this group came to play for me. [They’re] really, really talented,” he said. “There’s a freshness to the locker room, a freshness to the practices, and there’s a craving to learn more basketball – to really get at it.”
With renovations on the Smith Center newly completed, Bozeman is happy to be playing in what he can finally call an “arena,” and thinks the new facilities are going to help motivate his team to have a successful season.
“They came up with millions of dollars in renovations,” he said, “so we need to come up with millions of dollars worth of effort.”
In the conference’s preseason poll of coaches, the Colonials were picked to finish eighth in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference, which may seem generous for such a young team. Bozeman, however, believes his team is going to surprise a lot of people.
“I’m looking forward to a successful season, and I think we have a shot at it,” he said. “We could sneak up on people. People will be very mistaken to overlook us.”