Friday, June 20, 2014

Jacksonville's "Coach Yo" Talks Bahamas, Recruiting, JU and more

 JU Women's Basketball
Coach Yo Twitter 

First-year head women's basketball coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin told the JU community in April of 2013 that there are "No Ceilings" to the program's potential. 

Seven months later she and the Dolphins put their hard work into action, winning 10 conference games and recording their best A-Sun finish since 2008-09, along with the right to host a first-round quarterfinal game in the A-Sun Championship.

Now is time for her to work the same kind of magic at home in her beloved Bahamas, as she takes the reigns as head coach of the Bahamian Women's National Team.

Basketball runs in Coach McCuin’s blood. The daughter of legendary Bahamian coach Gladstone “Moon” McPhee and educator Daisy McPhee, she has continued her storied basketball career by inspiring young women – especially those from her home country of the Bahamas – to chase their dreams.

She was the first female Bahamian to sign a Letter of Intent for women’s basketball at a Division I school, and is the first to coach at a Division I program. As a player, she led the 18U Junior National Team to a silver medal at the FIBA National Games and now as a coach has her eyes set on the 2016 Olympics.

Preparation for Brazil is underway as Coach McCuin prepares to go back to the Bahamas to find the 12 best players to represent the country at the games.

The senior women’s championship begins on July 8th, with the Bahamas suiting up against the Virgin Islands, Dominica and Barbados in the preliminary rounds. Currently leading the Caribbean as the winningest nation with nine medals, the Bahamas boasts six gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

If Coach McCuin’s expectations are anything like those she places on the Dolphins, the Bahamas should get ready for some up-tempo, defense-oriented, blue-collar basketball. 

Following are a few of her thoughts on a number of topics ranging from the Bahamian national team to her family.

Q: Trailblazing runs in your family. You were the first Bahamian female to sign a Letter of Intent to a Division I school, and were also the first female from the Bahamas to coach at a Division I program. Now you are the Bahamian women's national team coach in March of 2013. What does all of that mean to you? 

Through hard work I have been blessed with opportunities to succeed not only individually, but also to help others to do the same. I am honored and humbled to be able to give back and represent my country internationally. I was a part of our country's junior programs and played on the Junior National Team and that experience is one I will never forget. This is a dream come true for me.

Coaching and playing on the national team is an opportunity to do something that is bigger than yourself. Nothing is bigger than your country. I was born and raised in the Bahamas and so this means the world to me. Bahamians are big sports lovers, and so getting this program and the sport back on track with some success is a tremendous opportunity for me.

Q: You have made a large impact in each of the communities in which you have been a part, including developing the foundation in the Bahamas called Back2Basics, which helps the development of children through education and athletics. Talk about your commitment to community service. 

I take great pride in being involved in the community, and I learned that importance from both of my parents. My Mom was also an educator and of course my Dad was extremely involved in our community, so I have known all of my life how important it is to give back. Even in the Bahamas I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of initiatives while we were down for the national team tryouts.
The most recent community service activity that has been rewarding to me was having the opportunity to visit Children's Hospital in April with our team. We had the chance to meet with several patients and spend time with me, which I believe was as good for our team as the kids.

Q: While you were at Clemson you were tagged as one of the top assistants in the nation by the National Women's Basketball Insider. In fact, in 2012 you helped assemble the 16th-ranked recruiting class in the country, landing five McDonald's All-American nominees for the Tigers. Talk about your approach to recruiting.

I see recruiting as an opportunity to build relationships. My approach in my career has panned out to be true, and that is to be honest and transparent. It is extremely important to me that people are able to believe in what I say. Having that balance between convincing someone to buy in to what you are presenting while at the same time being completely transparent has helped make me a successful recruiter. Plus, I can still relate – I haven't been out of college too long to separate me from understanding what student-athletes are going through. 

Q: Your father has been influential in Bahamian sports, particularly basketball, for years as one of the country's most passionate advocates, coaches, administrators, etc. How much has that affected your success?

It is true that my Dad has been an integral part of the development of sports and youths at home, but it unfair to just single him out in talking about the impact that my family has had at home in our community and in sports. My Mom was also a pioneer in education and sports and they both instilled in me the importance of discipline, pride and focus. I was given opportunity to earn what I had the success that I accomplished, it was not given to me. So those disciplines became second nature to me. I would see something I wanted and I would work hard to get it. That is where our theme at JU of "No Ceiling" came from - there is no limit to what we want to accomplish. Sometimes I think our youths grow up and have put glass ceilings put in front of them, where they see what they want to accomplish but then they aren't provided the means to get there. I am living proof that hard work does pay off.

Q: When you were hired at JU you talked immediately about changing the culture. You have said the same thing about the national team. What does that mean and how did that play out at JU in your first season?

Any coach has aspirations to win championships. I am encouraged by the steps we took as a program this year, and we are changing the culture at JU, putting down milestones that we can build upon. 

We won 10 games in the Atlantic Sun and clinched the No. 4 seed in the championship, which was JU's highest finish since 2008-09. We were picked to finish eighth and we finished fourth, and earned the right to host a home quarterfinal game in the conference championships. Obviously the last outing didn’t end the way we would have liked, but our last game can in no way define our season. There is a lot to be celebrated and a lot that we can build on as far as the future is concerned. Our end goal is still to win an A-Sun Championship. Once we achieve that, we’ll set another goal for this program.

Q: You have been back home once for initial tryouts and now head back for more practice beginning June 23rd. What are your thoughts on the team at this point?

I expected to see athleticism and some terrific competition, and we got that. We will be young, but talented and I look forward to working with the best talent that we have to offer. One of the things that I expected was that we will need to be in better condition. Something that has hurt the Bahamas over the years has been that we are out of shape when we came overseas to compete. Everyone has been in a conditioning program since tryouts last month and I look forward to seeing the difference as we get back to work next week.

We tested them not only in conditioning but also in basketball and implemented some things to see how they would respond. They did a good job and I like the way that things are shaping up. 

To be honest this is also a wonderful opportunity for me individually, because coaches don't get chances for reps during the offseason. It is challenging, however, because there really has been no time to relax since I joined JU last April. 

My husband if a great support, and my daughter, while still very young, gets to experience another culture. They travel with me and so we get to experience all of this as a family.

Plus, this experience will allow me to work among good coaches around the world, sharpen my craft, and build a program that my fellow Bahamians will be proud of.