McGraw eyes quick turnaround for SRU women
It's been a whirlwind summer for Bobby McGraw.
From the moment he was named acting head coach of the Slippery Rock University women's basketball team on May 5, it's been go, go, go for the 1990 Mars graduate.
“I am unbelievably excited. I was born in Pittsburgh, but I was raised in Butler County,” he said. “To have my first head coaching opportunity come in Butler County, I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity.”
McGraw, who served as an assistant coach with the team last season, hopes to make his new position permanent when SRU conducts a national search after the upcoming season.
“If we're heading in the right direction after the season, I like to think I have a good chance to be here. There'd be nothing more important to me than to remain women's coach at SRU. This is where I live and where I want to be,” he said.
“I can't thank (SRU president) Dr. Cheryl Norton and (SRU director of athletics) Paul Lueken enough. Without their vote of confidence, I wouldn't have had this chance. I can't explain how much I appreciate it. Now, it's up to me to do something with it.”
That meant hitting recruiting trail immediately for some summer visits.
“As soon as I took over, within that next month, I was in Raleigh, St. Louis and Chicago twice trying to put pieces in place,” he said.
“That first 30 days, I wasn't home a lot. You can't sit back on your heels and hope to be successful. That would not be good.”
McGraw and new assistant coach Ryenn Micaletti, a New Castle native, hope to bolster The Rock's young talent so it can improve on last year's 6-20 overall record.
“We are very fortunate with the players we have coming in. I am very excited about the pieces in place,” he said.
“What we really need for an immediate impact are a couple junior college transfers. The school year just ended and there were players who had offers. We were blessed enough to find some players who hadn't found the right situation yet. Sierra Fordham, the MVP of the (Pittsburgh) City League, is coming here.
“She is fantastic and electric.”
“July is the main timeframe for the NCAA-certified events. We'll be at major AAU tournaments looking for people.”
Slippery Rock returns one of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's top players in senior forward D'Asia Chambers. The Farrell product was a first-team Western Division selection a year ago, when she averaged 17.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
“Offensively, we're starting to figure out our philosophy. We have arguably the most dominant player in the PSAC coming back in D'Asia. She is the real deal,” McGraw said.
“We will focus our offense around her, and it won't be a big secret. We'll figure out what else we'll do once we get everyone on campus.”
Offense, however, is not McGraw's biggest concern. He wants to shore up the team's defense first.
“The first thing I can promise you is that we'll be stopping the basketball and guarding the basketball,” he said.
“Numbers don't lie. The last two years, the SRU women's team has been ranked 268th and 264th out of 287 teams in points allowed per game. We cannot allow 75 points per game.
“When I recruited these players and the first thing I told the returning players is that they either guard or they'll be watching.”
Defense and rebounding worked during McGraw's stops as an assistant coach with the La Roche College men (2010-12) and SRU men (2012-13) before he joined the women's squad last year.
“We won 25 games at La Roche in 2010-11 and, with the SRU men, we won 23 games to tie the program's best single-season record,” he said. “We were the first Slippery Rock men's team to win an NCAA tournament basketball game. Both of those teams guarded their brains out and rebounded the ball.
“I expect to put that same formula to work. It all had to do with the mentality of the players going out and guarding and rebounding the ball.”
The Rock women struggled to a 19-85 record the past four seasons. But McGraw is confident he can get the program back among the PSAC-West's elite.
“The PSAC is fantastic on the men's side. On the women's side, it's arguably the best conference in the country. At the end of the season, we had three teams among the top 20. The best players in our conference are from Western Pennsylvania,” he said.
“We need to keep them here at SRU. We can't let them get out,” he said. “To get those Western Pennsylvania kids, you have to establish relationships with the kids. I know a lot of these local coaches. Having that connection now where I am on the women's side is great. I plan on establishing more connections.
“In 2000, this program was the Atlantic Region champ and it can be done again,” he said. “That's what we're working toward.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.