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Coach Graves Leverages Love to Win

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By Brenna Greene
Class of 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. – Coach Kelly Graves, who has led Gonzaga women’s basketball to nine consecutive West Coast Conference Championships and six NCAA Tournament appearances in the past seven years, has found love to be a transformative strategy.

“We’ve come along way, thirteen years ago when we started we weren’t ranked in the Top 25, let’s just put it that way,” said Graves, the most winning coach in program history. When he arrived at Gonzaga in April of 2000, the Bulldogs were coming off of a 9-19 season that ended with a nine-game losing streak.

Fast forward to this year, the Zags were picked to capture their 10th-consecutive WCC crown, three Bulldogs appeared on the WCC All-Preseason team, and the program earned its first preseason AP Top 25 ranking, checking in at No. 25.

Behind his desk, positioned prominently in the middle of his bookshelf, is a wooden carving, painted white, of the word “LOVE.” While success has changed many things for Gonzaga women’s basketball, Graves said the program’s family philosophy will never falter. 

Graves tells his players they don’t have to always like each other, but he insists that they love each other – like family.

“It’s one of the tenets our program is built on. It’s not just words, spend some time around us and you’ll realize ‘Wow, they really are a family,’ ” said Graves. “We have an involved coaching staff that is not only interested in the product on the court, but the product off of the court.”

This approach is not unique to Gonzaga women’s basketball, and can be found throughout campus, he said.

“I think it comes back to the feeling of the University and the institution,” he said. “There’s a feeling here at Gonzaga. It’s something special, something different. People are more real, not as status-oriented, there’s a real family environment.”

Every year, Graves said, the seniors are the people most important in setting the tone for the team – not the coaches. This year’s seniors Haiden Palmer, Jazmine Redmon, and Stephanie Golden all bring unique leadership styles to the Zags, which has helped bond the team.

“They all have a different responsibility when it comes to leading,” Graves said. “Jazmine’s a lot more vocal on the court. Haiden leads by example; she’s our hardest worker and our most competitive player. Whereas Stephanie is kind of a mother hen type, and I think that is one of the most important leadership positions on any team.”

The three women are not alone in leading the team though, as the Zags’ bench is deep with only two new players joining the team this year. Other key returners include returning starters Shelby Cheslek and Sunny Greinacher, and the newest starter Keani Albanez.

Between a strong senior class and a group of players already well versed in the program’s beliefs, Graves aims to keep the Zags among the nation’s best teams by maintaining the family first culture.

 

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