MORGANTOWN — The pounding on the podium comes from Mike Carey’s pointed fingers, as the WVU women’s basketball coach begins talking about next season.
“I told our coaches before they left: Recruiting starts right now,” Carey said, just moments after the Mountaineers’ season came to an end on March 28, in the semifinals of the WNIT. “It starts right now. Forget about this game, the season is over. We’ve got to worry about next year and we’re moving forward, without a doubt.”
Carey, who will coach his 18th year at WVU next season, promises he is looking for more players to add to a recruiting class that already ranks No. 16 in the nation, according to ESPN.
It took only two weeks for Carey to deliver on that promise, signing former McDonald’s high school all-Americans Bianca Cuevas-Moore — a starting point guard for South Carolina’s 2017 national championship team — and De’Janae Boykin, a former UConn recruit, who played the last two seasons with Penn State.
Boykin must sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. The 2019-’20 season will be her final year of eligibility.
Cuevas-Moore is expected to graduate from South Carolina this spring and will be eligible this season, which will be her final year of eligibility.
The transfers add much optimism to an upcoming season that already looks special on paper with a healthy return of star guard Tynice Martin — she sat out all of last season with a foot injury — and Michigan transfer Kysre Gondrezick, who will become eligible after sitting out last season.
But before looking ahead, we take one last look at what might have been, as we begin our question-and-answer session with Carey:
Dominionpost.com: Did you ever ask yourself the “what if” question this past season on what may have been if Martin didn’t have to sit out with the foot injury?
Mike Carey: Usually about 3 a.m. every morning, lying in bed wide awake. You know, ‘Why us?’ and that sort of thing. I never did that around the team. It only happened when I was by myself late at night.
It was tough on her. Her and I would talk all the time. She knows I stay up late, so Tynice would call me and reassure me that everything would be fine. She would always say, “Coach, we’re going to get through this.” The same thing for Kysre, it was tough for her to sit out. Now, the next time we put on a West Virginia uniform, they’ll both be dressed. They can see a little bit of daylight now, which is important.
DP: Having started out as a men’s coach, did you ever think you would be getting ready for an 18th season with the WVU women’s team?
MC: When I first got here, I remember asking who was the best women’s team in the Big East. Everyone said it was UConn, so I asked to see the tapes of the UConn game, and that was when they got beat by
72 points, at Morgantown High School. When I saw that tape, I remember telling myself that I had made a big mistake coming here.
Once we started building the program and I could see, not only getting better with our program but getting better with facilities and that type of stuff, they were going to have to fire me to get me out of here. They may still. That may still happen, but at least I tricked them for 17 years. I think you can win here. We have everything we need here to be successful at West Virginia University.
DP: How much different does the program look 17 years later?
MC: We had three assistants all in the same office. It was the craziest thing I ever saw. I had a thing over my desk that made me have to duck down to sit. If I forgot about it and stood up, I’d keep hitting my head. It was crazy in the beginning. I felt there was nowhere to go but up.
DP: Over the years, you have not shied away from sharing your disappointment in a lack of crowd support for the women’s team. The program averaged 2,228 fans for home games this season (only TCU, Kansas and Oklahoma State averaged fewer in the Big 12). What things would you like to see put in place to help boost attendance?
MC: We have loyal fans that come to every game, and I couldn’t ask anything more from them, but if you go back and look at Big 12 attendance, we are either last or next to last or third from last every year. That’s a little frustrating, because you’re in a big-time conference and everywhere you go, you’re playing in front of bigger crowds than you are at home.
I think we need to continue to think outside the box and continue to come up with things to get people in here.
I would like to try and create a minor-league-baseball-type atmosphere here, where you can watch good basketball, but also be in a minor-league atmosphere.
DP: Is attendance used against you in recruiting?
MC: We get it used against us all the time. Players will say, “Well, I heard you were last in crowds in the Big 12.” What can I say? I can’t say, “No, that’s not true.” People use that against us. That’s not saying anything negative about our fans or the people here, but it is a fact.
TDP: Is there anything that can be done to draw more WVU students to women’s games?
MC: It’s hard. I hear football and men’s basketball coaches complain sometimes that students aren’t showing up like they should. We’ve tried to make connections. Believe me, we sit down all the time and try to think outside the box. We would love to have more students. We’re always trying to think of something.
DP: What is the next step this program must take?
MC: We’ve got to go further in the NCAA tournament. The biggest knock since I’ve been here is we’ve never been past the second round of the tournament. I understand that and I hear people say that. They’re right. We’ve got to take the next step, and if we continue to take the next step, then you have opportunities to keep having great recruiting classes and you have the opportunity to take that next step.
You’ve just got to get the right players. You’ve got to get lucky. You’ve got to hit some shots at the end of games you didn’t think you were going to hit. You can’t have major injuries. You’ve got to get lucky, and Lord knows, we’re about due to get lucky.
DP: With many of the new players you have coming in and new players who will be available next season, are you ready for next season to start right now or do you enjoy the process of the offseason?
MC: I enjoy workouts and I enjoy putting in new things to see how it works. I enjoy putting in new wrinkles over the summer and seeing how it looks and how our players react to it. Then, you build on that.
This summer, I think it’s just as important to do as much on defense as we do offense. We’ve got to get back to defense. I was on our players, but I understood they were mostly playing 40 minutes a game and so they couldn’t always play our style of defense. Something had to give.
Hopefully next year, because we’ll have better numbers, nothing will have to give.