McKeown Has GW on a Two-Decade Roll

Texas A& M Coach Gary Blair calls GW's Joe McKeown, above,
Texas A& M Coach Gary Blair calls GW's Joe McKeown, above, "the most underrated coach in the country. . . . He does more with less" than other schools. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

Joe McKeown never dreamed he would remain at George Washington for as long as he has when he arrived in September 1989, a young and ambitious coach taking over his second program. In the vagabond world of college coaching, his tenure at the Foggy Bottom school is unusual.

"To think you're going to coach at one school for 19 or 20 years, I don't think coaches think that way," McKeown said.

Along the way, McKeown, 51, who signed a contract extension through 2014 last year, found success. Including his three seasons at New Mexico State, he has averaged 23 wins per season. He has won more games than any other coach in Atlantic 10 Conference history and made 16 NCAA tournaments. Under his leadership, GW is one of just 10 Division I women's programs to make the NCAA tournament in at least 14 of the last 17 seasons.

"We've played against his teams a number of times," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "They always bring great intensity and competitiveness."

Tonight, McKeown can win his 500th game as a head coach when 16th-ranked GW (17-4, 5-1 Atlantic 10) plays at Duquesne (11-10, 2-4). Instead of focusing on the accomplishment, McKeown is thinking only about what his team needs to do to beat the Dukes.

"Probably at the end of the year, I'll maybe have time to sit back and reflect on how we got to this point, all the great players," McKeown said.

McKeown has recruited a handful of talented players over the years, most notably Kodak all-American Tajama Abraham Ngongba, now an assistant coach with the program. Four of his players have played in the WNBA, and several more have enjoyed professional careers overseas. But mostly, McKeown has won with players who have gone on to become doctors, lawyers and, in one case, a dancer. Kristin McArdle, who graduated in 1992 and earned a Fulbright Scholarship, has performed on Broadway.

"I think he's the most underrated coach in the country because of what he's accomplished," said Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair, McKeown's good friend. "He does more with less than most other programs. He's not doing it with Parade all-Americans that end up in the ACC or Connecticut or whatever. He takes that next level kid and coaches them up."

McKeown's teams are known for their stifling defense. "Blizzard," a matchup zone that takes its name from the Dairy Queen dessert McKeown promised his New Mexico State players in exchange for good defense, has become his hallmark.

"A lot of people play zone," Blair said. "But nobody can play it as many different ways as Joe can. . . . It's not one of those 2-3 zones that you sit back, hold your hands up and play hope-they-miss defense. It is a very confusing, complicated matchup zone that he can trap off of and do a lot of different things."

The only hole in McKeown's r¿sum¿ is a Final Four. He came close in 1997, when the Colonials upset top-seeded North Carolina in the round of 16 but lost to Notre Dame in the region final.

"Joe has a Final Four in him," Blair said. "This could be it this year. He's got those three great senior guards. He could get it done. Don't count him out."

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