Nov. 27, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Hallowed arenas, like Mackey Arena on the campus of the Purdue University, have their share of ghosts that can haunt first-time opponents.
Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph, who will be coaching her first game as a head coach in Mackey, isn’t afraid. She shouldn’t be.
Her spirit, the one of the one-time talented guard, is one of them.
Joseph’s No. 22 jersey hangs from the rafters of the arena and in January, Joseph (class of ’92) was voted one of the Legends of Mackey by Purdue University. It’s an honor befitting the school’s all-time leading scorer — male or female.
The Auburn, Ind., native doesn’t expect her players to know of her playing career and didn’t plan on bringing it up as her 3-2 Yellow Jackets prepared to head to West Lafayette, Ind., for the match-up with the 14th-ranked Boilermakers (5-1) in Wednesday night’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“I’m so much older than them. I think I finished playing before most of them were alive,” she said, with a laugh. “So I doubt they know.
“My jersey is hanging in there, so I’m sure it’s one of those things that will surely come up at some point,” she added. “But I just want to make sure that we keep the focus on where it needs to be, and that’s what’s going to go on between the lines. That’s what we’re there for.”
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a split over the weekend in the San Juan Shootout, where they lost a heartbreaking 75-72 overtime decision to Syracuse but bounced back to knock off UW-Milwaukee, 66-57. Purdue also was on an exotic trip, playing in the Paradise Jam, where they beat Marist and Wake Forest before suffering its first loss of the season, in the championship game against second-ranked Connecticut.
Joseph was pleased with the team’s effort in both games.
“We had every opportunity to win [the Syracuse] game,” she said. “So I saw a lot of good things. We definitely got better from that experience. It’s one of the things with a young team. You’re on a journey. Now you’ve got to continue to build and get better and develop players and find combinations that work.
“This next week, we’re in the grind of a very tough non-conference schedule,” said Joseph. “So, we’re real excited about the opportunity we have in front of us, especially this game at Purdue.”
Following the Purdue game the Jackets host Georgia for the first time at McCamish Pavilion on Sunday, then open ACC play at Duke, the following Thursday.
Joseph knows she certainly won’t be looking ahead, as the trip to West Lafayette is special.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever sat on the visitor’s bench,” she said with a laugh. “It will be a different experience but it’s one I’m embracing and really excited about. It’s a chance to take my team back home, where my family still lives, and we have a player from Indiana on our team in freshman Nariah Taylor. So it’s a great opportunity for us to go play against a team like Purdue with the tradition and the history they have.”
A lot of that tradition began with Joseph.
Purdue basketball began in 1975 but the program didn’t make the NCAA Tournament until 1989, when Joseph stepped on campus. She’d lead the team in scoring and assists all four seasons (raising her totals in both categories every season) and helped Lin Dunn’s program win its first conference championship (17-1, 26-3 overall in 1990-91) and get to the Big Dance all four seasons. They even made a pair of Sweet 16 appearances (1989-90, ’91-92).
“Obviously I’m very proud of being a part of that program and helping build it,” said Joseph. “When I walk in there, I have a sense of pride about Purdue and what it represents and that program.
“I think the thing that stands out the most to me is what we were able to accomplish as a team,” she continued. “We took a program that was at the bottom of the Big Ten and when we finished it was at the top of the Big Ten and playing for Big Ten championships and going to the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Individually, just finishing my career as their all-time leading scorer, men or women, and that record still holds today. So obviously, it’s a really special thing for me to be a part of that and 20 years later, the record still stands. So it’s a great accomplishment and it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Joseph was a prolific scorer, finishing with 2,405 career points, 154 ahead of Shereka Wright, who is second among Purdue women, and 82 ahead of Rick Mount, the Boilermaker men’s all-time leader. She still holds records for career points per game (20.2), season points per game (22.2) — all four seasons ranked in the school’s top 12 — and for season averages by a freshman (18.9 ppg), sophomore (19.4) and senior (22.2). She is easily the quickest to 1,000 points (52 games) and 2,000 points (101). Stephanie White, who was next quickest to 1,000 and 2,000 points needed 18 and 17 more games to get there. She also holds the school-record for field goals in a game (16 at Michigan State on on Feb. 15, 1991).
While Joseph is rightly proud of her scoring prowess it’s how she made her teammates better that she remembers most fondly remembers. Joseph graduated with 628 assists, 50 more than White, and her 16 helpers on March 22, 1992 against Northern Illinois still stand as the school single-game record for assists in a game.
“A lot of people talk about the points that I scored, but the fact that I still am their all-time leader in assists says a lot, too,” she said. “That I wasn’t just a great scorer, that hopefully my teammates remember me as a great teammate, a playmaker that not only got shots for myself but was able to get shots for my teammates.”
Joseph hasn’t given much thought to what kind of reception she’ll get when she gets introduced, but still holds a special place in her heart for her alma mater and its faithful.
“It was a very special time,” she said. “I was fortunate to play with great players and coaches that allowed me to play the way that I played and found a way for us to be successful with that.
“Purdue fans are very educated as far as basketball,” she added. “They’re avid fans, they have a lot of longtime loyal supporters of that program. I think they’re appreciative of history, of the people that came before and really helped establish the Purdue program to the level that it’s at.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to send them home disappointed tonight and extend her perfect record in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to 6-0.
“I think us and Maryland are the only two left that haven’t lost,” said Joseph. “But, you know what? Records are meant to be broken. What we’re going to do is play our best basketball and get better and have a great experience.”