When West Virginia women’s basketball head coach Mike Carey arrived at WVU 13 years ago, the program was not in good shape. His office was small, all three of his assistants shared the same room and the facilities were subpar. When he asked a staff member for the Connecticut tape from the previous season, she responded by asking him if he was sure he wanted to look at it.
After reviewing what the Huskies did to Alexis Basil’s squad, he was almost ready to call his alma mater, Salem College. But Carey’s heart has always been in West Virginia. It’s where he was born and where his family lives. Leaving was never an option for the Clarksburg native.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been great. I knew I wanted to coach somewhere in the state of West Virginia. The administration has been great here. They gave me what I needed to be successful,” Carey said.
It didn’t take long for Carey to establish credibility at WVU. Just one year after going 5-22 in the Big East, Carey guided West Virginia to its first winning season in more than six years. The 15-13 regular season record in 2003 marked the beginning of a turning point in women’s hoops at West Virginia.
For more than a decade, Carey’s defensive style of basketball stumped opponents and helped propel West Virginia into national headlines. In the 2003-04 campaign, Carey was named Big East Coach of the Year in his third year on the job. That year the Mountaineers went 21-11, which at the time was the third most wins in school history and the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years.
Carey continued to find success when West Virginia entered the Big 12 Conference in 2012. In just their second year in the league, Carey’s intense demeanor directed the Mountaineers to their first conference title.
Carey said he knew players like Asya Bussie and Christal Caldwell could be special, but he just had to patient. Four years later, on Bussie and Caldwell’s senior night, his team was cutting down the nets in the WVU Coliseum.
“It’s great to win the Big 12 in our second year with this group. I really mean what I say about our seniors. They are great people, and they deserve everything,” Carey said.
At times, Carey may get wary glances from fans who hear him yelling during timeouts at home games and he may seem harsh on his players. But Carey’s tactics work, and his players consistently respond in a positive way.
His style of coaching has not only won the favor of his team, but has gained respect from his peers. Most recently, Kansas head coach Bonnie Henrickson praised the way West Virginia plays basketball.
“They’re willing to do the tough things. Defensively, their fours can guard guards. You know how many special guards there are in this league, and they have four players who can switch everything with some of the best guards in America,” Henrickson said.
Tough basketball is exactly what WVU women’s hoops has turned into. Carey is not interested in style points, which is why he was fine that his team flew under the national radar for so long this season.
West Virginia can enjoy its accomplishment, but it won’t be long until Carey is pacing furiously while drawing up plays for his team in the Big 12 Conference tournament.
The Mountaineers earned a first round bye in the Phillip’s 66 Big 12 tournament and await the winner of TCU vs. Texas Saturday.