KELLY GRAVES FINDS HIMSELF AS AN EXCLUSIVE MEMBER OF THE FINAL FOUR COACHING CLUB – “I think professionally, obviously, this is something every coach wants a chance to do”
In the concrete bowels of Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, there was Oregon women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves smiling from ear to ear.
And rightly so.
Only a select few college basketball coaches know the feeling of reaching an NCAA Women’s Final Four.
And now, Graves finds himself as the newest member of that select club.
“I think professionally, obviously, this is something every coach wants a chance to do” explained Graves on Thursday at the official Final Four press briefing.
“I was really emotional when I saw Tony Bennett, all the things that he said, because he’s been working so hard his whole life to get there. It’s a special time.”
If you were to put together a Mount Rushmore of women’s college basketball coaches, then each of these here in Tampa this weekend would be front and center carved in that mountain.
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw has won two national titles, ( 2001 & 2018 ) and has appeared in eight Final Four’s. Kim Mulkey, the long time head coach of Baylor, has also won two national championships and guided her Bears to five Sweet 16’s, four Elite 8 appearances and two Final Four’s.
The Dean of women’s college basketball, Geno Auriemma of UConn, has notched 11 national championships and has made the Final Four 19 times.
And then there’s Graves.
A paltry two Sweet 16’s and two Elite 8’s.
As he put it Thursday, he’s the ‘New Kid on the Block.’
So yes, Graves is smiling and enjoying every moment of his very first Final Four.
“I’m enjoying it” smiled Graves.
“There’s no question about it. I actually had a chance to spend a little bit of time with Coach Geno last night. He kind of welcomed me to that club. That really meant something.”
Graves of course has been attending Final Fours as a visiting coach but not a participant so he understands the difficulty of getting here to play on the big stage.
“I think when you get as close as we did the last two years, yeah….there’s part of you that pangs for being in that position” explained Graves when asked about the pain of being so close. “I remember being with her ( Sabrina ) when one of the buses went whizzing by, a shoot around or a practice. She took it hard. She took it hard.
I didn’t as hard, but it’s certainly something I wanted to have happen for this group. I knew we were good enough and we were almost good enough in the past, but not quite there.”
So what advice would Graves take from the others on top of college basketball’s Mount Rushmore?
“A lot. They’ve been here, done that” said Graves when queried about how much more the other three Final Four coaches know about being in this spot.
“I’m that new kid on the block, so to speak. I’ve relied on a lot of my coaching colleagues and friends to kind of help me through it. They gave me some dos and don’ts, some tips, including Dana Altman, our men’s coach, who was in the Final Four two years ago for his first time. He gave me some really good words of wisdom, some insight.
That’s really all I can go on. I’ve been watching these for a long time. Until you’re actually here, you don’t know what the experience is really like.”
WATCH KELLY GRAVES FINAL FOUR MEDIA DAY PRESS BRIEFING