“It came back full-circle,” coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said. “I don’t think we’ll get boos like we did when I was a Tiger.”
A Clemson assistant for three years, McPhee-McCuin was back at Colonial Life Arena on Thursday with her Jacksonville team. The third-year coach is taking the Dolphins to their first NCAA tournament appearance and was rewarded with a first-round game in her former home state.
She’ll also get to play a coach she describes as a mentor – South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. McPhee-McCuin has tried to model her program after Staley’s process in building the Gamecocks.
“She is the face of women’s basketball, in my opinion,” McPhee-McCuin said. “A lot that I do with this program, I model behind Dawn Staley and what she’s done here and at Temple. Not step for step, but definitely the how and the why.”
Never miss a local story.
McPhee-McCuin still dips into her South Carolina connections – sophomore guard Keanua Williams is from Sumter’s Crestwood High, although she can’t play this week due to a broken foot. She’ll coach the Bahamas national team this summer.
“I like her style. I like what she’s about,” said Staley. “She’s definitely one that is an up-and-coming coach. And she’s done it the right way, the hard way.”
MORE FAMILIAR FACES
Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie was also able to catch up with an old friend. One of his first jobs was as an intern under USC sports information director Steve Fink when both were with the Kansas City Royals.
“We’ve stayed in touch and ironically how this business works, sometimes your paths cross again,” Mittie said. “We were together at TCU, and now I think the biggest thing we share is the concern of the Kansas City Royals’ rotation right now.”
The two were able to briefly meet Thursday although Fink was preparing for USC’s second spring football session and Mittie was coaching up his team for George Washington. Mittie credits Fink as getting him started and Fink credits Mittie for his career path.
“He was really the key person to get me to TCU,” Fink said. “When he was coaching there, he called me out of the blue one day about an SID position. He was a big part of me getting that job.”
Fink came with Eric Hyman from TCU and has been at USC since. Mittie coached at TCU until taking over at Kansas State in 2014.
The Bahamas is believed to have produced three women’s Division I signees directly from high school. The Columbia Regional boasts two of them.
McPhee-McCuin was the first. George Washington’s Jonquel Jones is a second, with North Carolina’s Waltiea Rolle the third.
Jones was recruited to Clemson by McPhee-McCuin, and nearly averaged a double-double with 9.8 points and 10 rebounds in eight games, along with 2.1 blocks per game. But Jones didn’t stick with the Tigers – she left after the first semester as part of a wave of defections that gutted the program and helped cost coach Itoro Coleman her job.
Jones landed at GW and became Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as a junior.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState