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Duffy bases coaching style on McGraw

Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Many basketball players have made their greatest memories under the immense spotlight of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York, N.Y., but former Irish guard Megan Duffy’s favorite recollection came from another Manhattan – Manhattan, Kan.

“One of my fondest memories was when we went out to Kansas State to play in front of a sold-out ‘Purple Nation’ crowd in the NCAA Tournament,” Duffy said in a phone interview with The Observer. “We were the 11th seed and ended up knocking [No. 3-seed] Kansas State off. It was a chance for me to go to the Sweet Sixteen and play back in my home town, which was really cool.”

The win not only allowed the 2006 graduate to return to her native Dayton, Ohio, for the NCAA Regionals but also displayed some of her impressive potential. A true freshman at the time, Duffy came off the bench to score 10 points, including four free throws down the stretch, and grab five rebounds in Notre Dame’s 59-53 victory.

Viewers watching the game would have seen the recipe for Duffy’s future success: a capable scorer mixed with a near-perfect free-throw shooter, an all-around scrappy player who played taller than her five-foot-seven frame.

Duffy commanded the floor as a point guard for the Irish from 2002 to 2006, serving as team captain for her final two seasons. Despite the pressures of her position and leadership role, Duffy said she welcomed the additional duties.

“Being a point guard, you have a lot of responsibility in general, and being at a place like Notre Dame makes you want to embrace that responsibility to lead others and help be a smaller part of a bigger cause,” she said. “I really embraced that role and loved the dynamic of running the team.”

Duffy served as a consistent team contributor in her first two seasons but really embraced her leadership role in her junior campaign. That season, she dished out over five assists per game, many of them to then-senior Jacqueline Batteast, the 2005 Big East Player of the Year. Equally important to the team was her contributions on defense, as she led the Big East in steals, and at the free-throw line, where shot at an 89.5 percent clip to break the single-season school record for free-throw percentage.

“I spent a lot of time in the gym working not only on my free throws but on my game in general,” Duffy said of her free-throw prowess. “When you’re in the gym a lot, you build your confidence when nobody’s watching and then when the lights turn on, it’s a little bit easier to perform well.”

After Batteast graduated, however, the team needed Duffy to occupy the role of go-to scorer for her senior season. She responded by increasing her scoring average from 12.3 points per game during her junior season to 15.6 points per game and winning the Frances Pomeroy Naismith award, given to the top senior women’s basketball player standing five-foot-eight or under.

“With the departure of [Batteast], I got the opportunity to move off the ball a little bit, and there was the greater need for me to bring a little bit more scoring,” Duffy said. “I think that helped me move on to the next step, since I was able to be versatile and play more positions.”

The next step for Duffy came in the professional ranks, as she was drafted 31st overall by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2006 WNBA Draft. She averaged 3.4 points per game as a backup for the Lynx in 2006 and then bounced around between the WNBA and Europe before retiring from the game in 2009.

“The athleticism was different, it’s a little more of a business than college, and you’re fighting for your livelihood every night,” Duffy said of the WNBA. “But it was an amazing opportunity for me to be in the WNBA for three years, and I got to play with and against some of the best players in the world.”

Although Duffy’s playing days ended in 2009, her basketball career was far from over. Shortly after retiring, she was back in the Big East, this time as an assistant coach for St. John’s.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a coach, and I think, back in grade school and high school, it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to some day get back into coaching,” Duffy said. “I didn’t necessarily know what level it would be at, but I think just because my experience at Notre Dame and playing for [Irish coach Muffet] McGraw was so positive, it just fueled me into the desire and dream to be successful at the college coaching level.”

Duffy served as an assistant at St. John’s from 2009 to 2012, helping guide the Red Storm to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. In May 2012, former Notre Dame assistant and current George Washington head coach Jonathan Tsipis hired her to be the Colonials’ associate head coach.

“[Tsipis] coached me for three years when I was at Notre Dame and is a great friend of mine,” she said. “I knew another part of this journey with coaching was to get different kinds of experiences. While my time at St. John’s was really good and beneficial, I needed to take a different kind of step, and I’m so thrilled to be with Jonathan and help him rebuild this program at George Washington.”

As part of her role as associate head coach, Duffy helps oversee recruiting, player development, scouting and student-athletes’ academic performance. She said her recruiting responsibilities are time-consuming but worthwhile.

“My job is to spend half my time with our team and the other half scouring the country for top student-athletes,” Duffy said. “When we’re not playing games and practicing, we’re on the road recruiting and talking to coaches and watching prospects.”

Although she has put her own spin on her coaching style, Duffy admitted that she draws heavily on the lessons she learned under McGraw in her time at Notre Dame.

“Coach McGraw is definitely a mentor to me,” she said. “She is definitely the epitome of a first-class coach. Her competitiveness is one thing that I really use with my own team. She’s one of those people who does everything she can to find ways to make her players better.”

Although Duffy is only in her fourth season as a coach, she said she hopes to one day achieve the position her mentor has succeeded in.

At the moment, however, Duffy said she is more focused on her role of leading her players, a role with which she is quite familiar.

“I would eventually like to be a head coach if that opportunity presents itself,” she said. “But right now, I’m just trying to get a little bit better every day, get our players better and learn a lot. I’m still young and in this unique stage of finding my way in coaching, but one thing I know I’m passionate about is basketball and another thing I know I’m passionate about is helping student-athletes.”

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu