When Mike Bozeman was hired as the head coach for the women’s basketball team in June 2008, he inherited a successful program, one that posted back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances the previous two seasons.
He never anticipated just three years later he would find himself struggling to rebuild after battles with injuries, inexperience and a short bench.
But Bozeman’s remained confident in his team. He knows rebuilding takes time, and he thinks the Colonials are ready to make a comeback.
“There is a time for planting seeds. There is a time to water those seeds. And there is a time for the fruit to finally grow,” Bozeman said. “We’ve done enough watering and tending to the garden, and now it’s time for us to start picking that fruit.”
Bozeman feels his team is due for success after a disappointing last season. GW suffered the worst loss in program history in February, falling to Temple by 53 points. By the end of the season, Bozeman’s group accrued an 8-21 record – the second-worst winning percentage ever for GW women’s basketball.
It’s a record Bozeman wasn’t expecting.
“I’m a winner. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve been a winner,” Bozeman said. “I’ve never lost that much in my life.”
If Bozeman wasn’t prepared for this record, neither was the program. Before he became head coach, Bozeman served as an assistant for the Colonials under former head coach Joe McKeown. McKeown led the Colonials for 19 seasons, making 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament during that time, including Sweet 16 appearances in his final two seasons as coach. When Bozeman took the reins from his former boss, the stage seemed set for a continuation of McKeown’s success. During a four-game stretch in 2007, while McKeown recuperated from a knee injury, Bozeman assumed the post of interim head coach and won three of the four games he coached.
Yet since Bozeman has stepped onto the court as full-time head coach, the team has encountered far bleaker results. The Colonials’ record of 31-57 during his tenure as head coach doesn’t speak to the past success of Bozeman or the program. GW’s head coach makes no attempt to shy away from his record, asserting his accountability.
“If I can’t do it, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be carried and be that one that the whole program, the whole school, has to carry, because I can’t do my part for the whole athletic department,” he said.
Bozeman believes his team is on the verge of a comeback – and has the new staff to back it up. After the departures of recruiting coordinator Kristeena Alexander and assistant coach Katie Rokus, Bozeman said he has recruited assistant coaches from “winning programs.” Though he could not officially announce his new staffers’ names, saying they have yet to formally be hired through the University, Bozeman remained confident about the fresh incoming hires.
“It’s a fresh start for everything,” Bozeman said. “It’s an opportunity for us to start anew and get rid of some of that old feeling about-at least the last two seasons-kind of feeling snake bitten.”
The last two years, 11 season-ending injuries racked the confidence of a once-proud program. Those injuries prompted Bozeman to reorganize his players, forcing them out of their natural positions and comfort zones. Bozeman pointed to losses such as junior Shi-Heria Shipp, whose defensive prowess was sidelined this season as she nursed a knee injury, and junior Megan Nipe, who averaged 32 minutes per game before tearing her right meniscus in November of last season. The injuries, Bozeman said, forced other talented players into exhausting, demanding roles.
Bozeman does not believe the team has lost confidence in him, since they are aware of the role injuries played in last season’s losing campaign. There is an understanding, Bozeman said, that without those injuries, GW would have competed at a much higher level.
“For the whole team, everybody, every individual on that team, I’ve got to keep myself together, my confidence, my head up high, and take these blows for them. And not allow myself to get depressed behind it,” Bozeman said, adding, “It’s enough to get you depressed.”
Bozeman stopped short of predicting a dominant team total for the upcoming season, but did say his team will be competitive and at least have the opportunity to leave every game victorious. Provided the team puts in hard work, Bozeman said, the wins will take care of themselves. As a coach, he added, he’s grown in the role and is ready to bring success back to the Smith Center.
“I’m a better coach than I was when I got here,” Bozeman said. “The past three seasons prepared me to be able to lead this group to have a lot more successful season.”