Not Just Another Game
Georgia Tech women’s basketball Big Ten/ACC Challenge game vs. Purdue is personal for Coach Jo
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Want to see the competitive side of MaChelle Joseph?
Issue her a challenge -- any kind will do.
Want to really play with fire?
Issue Joseph a basketball-related challenge.
You get the idea of how fired up Georgia Tech women’s basketball’s coach is for this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Yellow Jackets play their game in the Challenge against Purdue tonight at McCamish Pavilion. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
“This has always been a big game on our schedule no matter who we play in the Big Ten because we’re not only representing Georgia Tech, we’re also representing the ACC,” said Joseph, who is 6-4 in the Challenge and is 4-1 as a host. “We feel like we play in the toughest women’s basketball conference in the country and I feel like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge gives us an opportunity to show that. So it’s one of the things I always talk to the kids about is, ‘We have to represent the ACC when we go and play anybody in another conference.’”
While helping the ACC add on to its 3-2 lead heading into the final night of the challenge and staying perfect in the Challenge (it is 7-0 with three tied series) is paramount to Joseph, this year’s matchup is even bigger as her current team goes against her alma mater.
It may be the only night that she doesn’t root for Purdue.
“Purdue holds a very special place in my heart,” said Joseph, who grew up in Auburn, Ind., less than 150 miles from West Lafayette, Ind., and is a 1992 graduate of the school. “I’m very proud of the legacy that we left behind there, the championships and the NCAA Tournaments and all the great people that I shared that with -- my coaches and my teammates. So any time I think about Purdue I have really fond memories of great people and a lot of success that we had the opportunity to experience.”
Between 1988 and 1992, Joseph helped raise the Boilermakers’ women’s basketball program, re-writing their record book on the way. She’d lead Purdue to its first NCAA Tournament appearance as a freshman -- they’d make the NCAAs all four years she was there -- and to its first regular-season Big Ten Championship as a junior. Joseph, an all-American as a senior, graduated as the school’s all-time leader in scoring (2,405) and assists (628), marks she still holds. She’d return as an assistant coach from 1993-96, helping the team to three more NCAA Tournaments and advancing to the Final Four and Elite Eight. This year, as part of the school’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mackey Arena, she was named to the Women’s Basketball All-Mackey Team.
Interestingly, Joseph would replace a four-year starter at guard named Sharon Versyp. Versyp, who was influential in her attending Purdue, will be on the opposing bench tonight, where she’s been for the last 12 of her 18 years as a head coach.
“Growing up in Indiana we all know who ‘Miss Basketball’ is because basketball is the king sport in Indiana,” Joseph said. “I grew up about two hours from her so I always heard about her. She was ‘(1984) Miss Basketball’ in the state of Indiana and when I was being recruited by Purdue, they recruited me to come in and take her place because she was their point guard and their scoring guard. The year after she graduated I came in as a freshman and so, obviously, I knew a lot about her legacy and what she did as a player at Purdue and now what she’s done as a coach.”
Versyp, the winningest (240 wins) and longest-tenured coach in Purdue history, has led the Boilermakers to six Big Ten Tournament Championship Games in 11 years -- winning four times -- and to nine NCAA Tournaments. Her coaching greatness continued her equally superb play on the Mackey Arena floor, where she was a four-year starter (1985-88), three-year all-Big Ten, and three-time Academic all-Big Ten and an Academic all-American. She’s an Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer and also a member of the All-Mackey Team.
Following Versyp was quite a task, but Joseph lived up to it. She was even prouder of the legacy that followed her in West Lafayette.
“They had some phenomenal players there right after. I went back there as a coach, we signed Stephanie White-McCarty, who was the No. 1 player in the country -- she’s now the coach at Vanderbilt,” she recalled, adding with a laugh, “She not only replaced me, she wore my number.”
On the coaching level, Versyp and Purdue have had Joseph’s and Tech’s number.
This will be the third time they have gone head-to-head, with Purdue holding a 2-0 edge. The Jackets fell as a seven-seed to the second-seeded Boilermakers, 76-63, in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, Georgia Tech’s first of seven appearances under Joseph, then, dropped an 85-73 decision to No. 14/13 Purdue at Mackey Arena, in the 2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Having coached against Versyp and Purdue before will take some of the pressure off the first home game in the series.
“I had the opportunity to coach up at Purdue four years ago in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge,” she said. “We also played them in the second round of our first NCAA Tournament when I was at Georgia Tech. So it’s not my first time playing them.”
As if seeing Versyp isn’t enough, seeing the way these Boilermakers play presents even more of a feeling of deja vu for Joseph.
“There’s a lot of tradition there with great guards and high-scoring guards. That’s one of the things that’s no different with this Purdue team,” she said. “Their starting point guard, ‘(2017) Miss Basketball,’ is a freshman (Karissa McLaughlin). They’ve got a couple of guards from Atlanta (Andreona Keys, Dominique Oden) that are really great shooters. So I expect them to have a great crowd and I expect them to come in and be very competitive.”
She’s also expecting a different result in this first time hosting Purdue.
Her players know the magnitude of the game and they’re ready to play for their coach, especially the seniors.
“We know how much she cares about winning this game,” said guard Antonia Peresson.
The seniors actually have similar incentive to win this game.
“I’ve never won an ACC/Big Ten Challenge,” said Peresson, pointing to losses at Michigan State and Indiana and last year to Michigan. “This is the year we really have to win it and I know it means a lot to Coach Jo so we’re going to do it for her, too.”
Following a spirited showing in the Bahamas in the Junkanoo Jam -- Tech beat Penn and battled No. 8/9 Baylor, before suffering their first loss of the season -- Tech sees the game against Purdue as a big opportunity to get the attention of the NCAA Selection Committee.
“It would be another good win,” she said. “They’re a good team so it will help us get even more confidence in ourselves. These are the kind of games that can keep you in or out of the NCAA Tournament. So it’s a big game for us.”
Joseph would like to see the team build off and improve upon some things from the Bahamas trip.
“(Junkanoo Jam) was great,” Joseph said. “I thought we played really well against Penn and in the Baylor game, I thought we did some really good things. To lose to the No. 8 team in the country by 22 but miss 14 free throws, obviously, that’s been our Achilles heel for a while now. We can’t make excuses anymore. We have to step up against top-10 teams.”