TRACKING THE ZAGS: This regular web series appears here as long as Gonzaga continues its season.
By Dale Goodwin
SPOKANE, Wash. – Prior to taking the court for every game, the Gonzaga assistant coaches diagram on the locker room white board the strengths and weaknesses of every opposing player, and review this with the Zags.
“We outline how to defend players, where to apply pressure, their tendencies, things like that,” said assistant Coach Jodie Kaczor Berry. “When we coaches walked into our locker room at Portland for our last regular-season game, our players had obviously been there before us, and had diagrammed a plan to defend us (the coaches). It was hilarious.”
Head Coach Kelly Graves – make him a non-factor
Assistant Kaczor Berry – apply pressure, she’s slow-footed
Assistant Lisa Mispley Fortier – no easy looks
Assistant Julie Shaw – be physical
Director of Basketball Operations Michelle (Elliott) Clark – don’t be distracted by her beauty, stay focused.
Of course, there was wisdom in the portrayals of their coaches. Graves’ big personality and huge heart have helped build this Gonzaga program that achieved nine post-season tournament bids in Graves’ 13 years here. Kaczor Berry was a sharp-shooting guard at Western Washington, setting career records in 3-point baskets and free throw percentage. Mispley Fortier could shoot it, too, and was an NAIA Academic All-American at Cal State Monterey Bay. Shaw was an inside force at Cal-Riverside where she ranked third in career rebounds and fourth in scoring when she graduated.
At work, the staff’s shortest coach, Kaczor Berry, works with the post players, and calls the offense. Misplay Fortier works with guards, calls the defense and coordinates recruiting. Shaw is a woman of all trades, and spends many hours on the road recruiting. Clark takes care of travel, game-tape exchange and daily operations. The assistants take turns breaking down opponents and doing game preparation.
With Graves, these assistants have helped foster a team-first, family atmosphere in the locker room, on the court and in everyone’s personal lives.
“There are no superstars on this team,” Kaczor Berry said. “Every night it’s someone different stepping up and making big plays. They don’t care who it is, they know somebody will. These teammates are very supportive of each other, on and off the court.”
Graves is quick to give credit to his assistants his their team’s success. He was first to give them all high fives when the West Coast Conference announced he had been selected Coach of the Year. “You are the coaches of the year,” he boasted like a proud father.
But they are quick to boomerang those compliments right back at Graves.
“He’s a great, humble man,” Kaczor Berry said. “He’s not above doing anything, whether it’s picking up the locker room or sweeping the court.
“All those who have coached with him, and have gone on to head coaching jobs, remain close to Kelly. They seek his counsel.
“Kelly never makes you feel like you’re working for him, but rather with him. He says, ‘Don’t fret the small stuff,’ and gives us good focus on what needs to be done. He is sensitive to our time. He’ll often remind us to get out of here and get home to our families. I don’t have family close, and the Graves have adopted us. He treats each of us as one of his family.”