USA TODAY Sports
The Duke Blue Devils took a major blow the other day when they learned that star guard Chelsea Gray would be out for the season with a dislocated knee. Swish Appeal had the opportunity to interview Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie about how the team is coping with the loss, who will take over point guard duties as the team moves forward, and how Duke men's basketball counterpart Mike Krzyzewski has helped in her career.
What was your message to the team after receiving Chelsea Gray’s MRI? And how did they take it?
"Well, at first obviously it was very difficult. (Tuesday), it was a day of grieving for Chelsea and the team. And I think it was just…life. Life is never…so much is unknown and not guaranteed, and we talked about that. You always think it’s going to happen to somebody else, not necessarily to you. This happened to us and this happened to our team. We’re excited about our new season; we’re going to learn more about each other -- after this (adversity). That was really just the message, that this is just life and this is what happens sometimes. And this is where the most of your moments, and they’re so young -- kids think that they can’t be stopped; they think they are going to live to 80 for sure. In a certain way, something like this happens, it’s an incredible reality check.
"We talked about those things and had a great practice this morning. Obviously, we have to retool some things; and [we not only lost] Chelsea, the offensive player, but she was the captain of our defense. She leads us in steals, a rebounding guard and playing an important part to our defense. For us, there is some retooling going on, but that’s life. And I told them to appreciate your opportunities, appreciate what’s in front of us right now -- because that’s all we got, the now."
Can you talk about how you are using this as something to galvanize them to understand the opportunities in front of them? And being able to go to the extra level that they need to ascertain their goals for the season?
"I think we did talk about that -- the urgency. Being in the moment, picking up and running with it kind of thing. We’ll see how we can deal with that. I do know that (yesterday's) practice was very good, I do know that I felt everybody was in the moment, it was kind of humorous at one level -- because it was like, ‘Wow, I never seen her do that!’ It had openness to it, if we can just knuckle down -- regardless of any injuries.
"We’re coming off a very poor game against Wake (Forest). Where we in fact just kind of hung out during the game -- finally we came around and took care of business. But the point being is that it still has to be on our minds, that was not Duke Basketball! We’re still focused on learning from Wake (Forest) and trying to apply those lessons to a great Florida State team."
What does Chelsea mean to the team, not just the tangibles but the intangibles as well?
"It’s just every facet, her ability -- [she has hit] a ton of game-winners for us over her career. She’s had a ton of game-winning steals; she’s changed the flow of so many games. She just has that ability, she just really competes. And now the team can feed off of her competitive energy as she watches. I’m excited for her to watch the game and learn, she sees the very well -- has a high basketball IQ.
"But I think it’s going to become higher after this experience. Because she will travel with us, she doesn’t get her surgery until March so she has a chance to travel and be a mentor for the team."
Coach, you mentioned the retooling process, who do you envision taking over the point guard position in lieu of Chelsea’s injury?
"Lex (Alexis Jones), she’s a point guard and she’s been point guard with Chelsea. She has an uncanny ability to play off the bounce and to see things. Now she just has to settle in and have a maturing about what you can run on the floor -- she’s learned a lot from Chelsea in her period of time of playing with her. We have a great deal of confidence of her. With our other guards…Chloe Wells, Chloe plays the two as well more so Chloe will play the one. Even Tricia Liston ended up playing the one for the last part of the (Wake Forest) game; she has the ability to set things up. We have some people to fall back on, but we’re confident in Lex and she’s played a lot of minutes this year."
How impressed are you with the play of freshman Alexis Jones? And did you envision her playing so well and so good this quickly?
"In recruiting her - knowing her and her family, the way they are as people, I definitely thought she would have a huge impact like she has. I definitely thought she would be in the lineup; I definitely thought she would [make an] impact. Because she did have so much ability, plus fortitude -- she comes from an incredible family! They have been through a lot; they are really incredible people, strong people -- Lex is a fighter.
"And she’s pretty special: she’s a lefty, she can go left or right, she plays off the bounce, she’s got great quickness, she’s got a beautiful three-point shot, she can rebound, she can really elevate, and she can create for her teammates."
Can you talk about how Chloe Wells has been playing ever since she got inserted into the starting lineup?
"Chloe is doing a great job defending -- playing on ball defense and off ball defense, really attacking in transition. She’s got a lot of confidence, she’s a great shooter. I like to play her at the two because she can come off screens and shoot it so well. She’s versatile; of course she can play the one and create from there. And it just seems that she’s getting better every game and that’s important to us -- because I think she’s got some good, solid wisdom to offer the team as a junior guard."
You wrote a book last year entitled, "Choice Not Chance", can you elaborate on the meaning of the book -- and what lessons you wanted people to get from reading the book?
"I wrote the book as a graduation gift to my daughter, because we had moved during a difficult time for her -- when she was 13 years old. We took her from East Lansing, (Michigan) and dropped her into Durham, (North Carolina) that was difficult. So I really [wrote the book] as sort of a mom sharing to her child, to try and explain why. Why we do the things that we do. And what are the lessons we’ve learned. Now relative to the lessons from the book and life and sharing, I just feel really good about…trying to share lessons, trying to make sense of things and trying of how I try do that as a coach after 21 years. So to me, the idea of choices in life and I worry about children today because their’s a randomness about them, and there is also of sense that they don’t have control -- like life is happening to them.
"And that’s sort of one of the motivators for writing, "Choice not Chance." And reminding kids, regardless of their background, that they’re going to make choices and if they make good ones, the (probability) of success is going to go up. It’s a simple concept, no doubt, but it’s fascinating. For example, the choices they are making on the internet -- the stuff that you see on Twitter, I’m appalled at the stuff that I get sent on Twitter. It’s a mind boggle, it’s like people actually show their faces and says the things they do? Those are choices. I feel that we have to get some sanity back to the way kids are speaking. I wanted my team to be part of knowing how I think. It’s so much drama out there, and I just don’t think it’s healthy. It wasn’t mandatory reading [for the team] or anything, I just offered it out there, and this is something that I felt good about doing it."
How much has "Coach K" helped you during your time at Duke? And how much have you learned from him?
"He was instrumental especially early on, in our second year. It’s such a great program here and it was really fun for me. We had the 2003 Final Four team back [earlier this year]. Gail Goestenkors came back and some of the coaching staff. It was quite amazing to share stories relative to her experience going to Texas, and me coming to Duke. So many people here were so hurt [when she left in 2007] -- (they) obviously have a great love and respect for Gail, which you can imagine. We talked about that; we talked about me coming into that and how to navigate that.
"What Mike (Krzyzewski) was really good about was just the early struggles. So in other words, when we were having a difficult schedule and not doing as well -- certainly not a Duke standard. That whole story about him and I talking, that’s when we had lost [a few] and we were facing Rutgers. We had played Connecticut and lost; we had played (Vanderbilt) and lost, and played (Penn State) and lost. Then we had Rutgers coming in, another top team. He was pretty good about reminding me about what’s important. He did feel a kinship because he was attacked [in his coaching career]. He identified with that, and he did offer advice. Now since we’ve been kind of paving our way in year six, we kind of laugh more together more than talk serious."