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New Duke coach has had smooth transition in replacing a legend

OKLAHOMA CITY — Tradition doesn't just happen, it's one of those rare entities built over time, with a foundation of hard work, consistency, continuity in leadership and trust.

For 15 seasons, Gail Goesten-kors helped build a tradition in women's basketball at Duke, compiling a 396-99 record. So when Goestenkors left last season to take over at Texas, the biggest question was could the tradition be sustained?

The Blue Devils have answered with a resounding yes.

When No.  3 seed Duke plays No.  2 Texas A&M tonight in the NCAA Tournament region semifinals, the Blue Devils will be vying for their eighth trip to the Elite Eight in the past 11 years.

"The first year is an exciting year," said Joanne P. McCallie, the former Michigan State coach who took over after Goestenkors. "I think the thing I'm so impressed with is the trust factor. Because at this point in time in the tournament, that's truly a critical factor.

"As you know, many teams in this tournament, (their) coaches have been with their team multiple years, five years, 10 years, a long, long time. So I think what's fabulous about this group is they've been able to really just come together as a group and keep that trust factor alive. That's really what can be the difference down the stretch."

McCallie walked into practice for the first time in October and began talking about March, hoping to make her team understand she expected the same standards as before.

But the transition hasn't been without its trials and tribulations. Duke is 25-9, its most losses since 1997. At one point in midseason, it lost three straight.

"The transition got smoother toward the middle of the season," senior guard Wanisha Smith said. "I think that's normal to have a new team with a new coaching staff, just knowing what they expect and trying to do what they want us to do. Now we're completely comfortable with each and every one of our players and our coaches."

Texas A&M veteran coach Gary Blair said he sees a lot of similarities between Goestenkors' team and McCallie's.

"The personnel is the same because most were recruited by Gail," Blair said. "Usually when a coach comes in, the team is at the bottom and you're never in a win-win situation. But the thing (McCallie) has added is the matchup zone, what she was known for at Michigan State. … You can win with a lot of different systems, and she's doing very well with her system right there."

Though she's all for building on tradition, McCallie doesn't want her team feeling a sense of entitlement, especially tonight.

"I think each team is different," she said. "So whatever has been done in the past is not relevant to now. It's just not. What's relevant is now, and what we can do together as a team. … So it's not about any kind of name or seed. Everybody here is very, very good. None of that matters. It matters which team has its act together."

New Duke coach has had smooth transition in replacing a legend 03/29/08 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2008 8:46pm]
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