MORGANTOWN — Finally, someone has noticed the job Mike Carey has done with the West Virginia women’s basketball team this season.
Mostly, the Mountaineers have flown not only under the national radar, which is expected, but under the local radar, winning games and muscling their way into the Top 25 with a 16-3 record, the AP has them ranked in a tie for 19th with DePaul.
For that, he finds himself on the Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year Late-Season Watch List, which is a mouthful to say.
No, he’s not going to win the award short of running the table and reaching the Final Four, but that doesn’t lessen the accomplishment in any way.
Accomplishment? You bet it is.
Anytime you are a women’s basketball coach and on a list of 15 that includes Connecticut’s Gino Auriemma, who didn’t invent the game of women’s basketball but who certainly dominated it, you’ve done something.
And when you look closer down the list, Carey is the only Big 12 coach to be so honored, even Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, who was the national coach of the year in 2011, 2012 and 2019, didn’t make her way onto the watch list and she leads the Big 12 with Carey’s Mountaineers chasing after her.
As noted, Carey’s team has been under the radar, in part because the radar screen around these parts has been so crowded with all that’s gone on with Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team, with the COVID-19 pandemic, with an active off-season in football with players and coaches coming and going as they have never before.
It’s been tough to get air time or space in the papers for women’s basketball. This is not in any way a sexist comment. It simply is reality that the big games in town are football and men’s basketball, paying the bills and giving the fans most of their thrills.
In some ways this is too bad because Carey has really put together a fun team to watch and it hasn’t been easy.
Always, since he’s been at West Virginia, he’s had to fight injuries.
It was almost as if a West Virginia women’s player didn’t have at least one zipper on her knee you knew she was an incoming freshman.
As the players suffered through it, he suffered with them, sometimes fielding a roster where he could only play seven or eight players yet he managed to win games.
And, as the years rolled by — and Carey is now in his 20th year at WVU and his 33rd year of coaching — the cast of characters is quite distinguished.
He coached both the Bulger sisters. He coached Liz Repella. There was Yolanda Paige and Sherell Sowho. He brought in Chakhia Cole and Olayinka Sanni and Sarah Miles and Asya Bussie, Linda Stepney and Bria Holmes, Teana Muldrow, Christal Caldwell, Tynice Martin, Naomi Davenport and now has a team led by Kysre Gondrezick.
It is an All-Star cast, not nearly on a par with what Mulkey has brought into Baylor, but the biggest feather in Carey’s cap has been that they went into the Big 12 Tournament in 2017 and upset No. 2 Baylor in the finals to win his only Big 12 title.
That Carey is here at all is a tribute to him because he took over a mess from Alexis Basil when he gave up the job as men’s coach at his alma mater, Salem.
It was a surprise move when Carey did it, even though it was a jump into the big time. But Carey’s image at the time was not smooth. His language could get rough, his public relations savvy needed some polish and his reputation was that of a rough and tough demanding coach.
To his credit, that’s what he brought with him when he switched to the women’s game.
He didn’t back off at all in his coaching style or playing style, rubbing some players wrong but most of them have come to adopt if not as a surrogate father, at least as the father-in-law that you just aren’t sure about but come to love.
And what’s really been fun has been watching him mature over the 20 years as a coach. Now there are times when he lets a word not meant for PG audiences slip out in post-game press conferences that are going out on the internet, but that is part of his charm, just as is the honesty with which he approaches the job.
There is no bull when it comes to Mike Carey. He’s straight forward and tells it like it is and his players come to appreciate that as much as does the media who follow him.
And with it all there is a strong sense of humor, different than Huggins’ low-key approach to humor, but he doesn’t take himself as seriously as he comes across as doing.
If he did, do you think they would have had Mike Carey mustache night at the Coliseum or dress like Mike Carey night?
He’s put it all together to the point that while we’ve all gushed over Huggins winning his 800th game and now as he approaches 900 wins, earlier this year Carey went past 700 wins by beating LSU. True, 288 of them were won at Salem.
Still, that leaves 426 won at West Virginia. That’s more wins than the 305 Huggins has since returning to WVU 14 years ago, so you can consider it quite an accomplishment.
Carey is the top winner among women’s coaches at West Virginia,
And this year holds a lot of promise. He has put together a team with the ingredients it takes to win, a scorer in Gondrezick, rebounders in Kari Niblick and Esmery Martinez, three guards in Gondrezick, Kirsten Dean and Madisen Smith who have far more assists than turnovers and a team that is shooting the lights out, hitting 45.4% of its field goals, 35.9% of its 3s and 72.8% from the free throw line.
Rest assured, they are eager for the post-season and will surely bring the edge that Carey gives a team along with them in search of the Big 12 championship.
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