Tom Archdeacon: Local legend Duffy ready to revive Miami program

Frank Goldsberry sat in his office at Millett Hall on Thursday afternoon and told a story from a decade and a half ago that he believes relates to today.

It’s from the days he was the Chaminade Julienne High School girls basketball coach and his teams weren’t just a perennial state power — 170-16 in his seven seasons — but also had a national presence.

One of his real stars was Megan Duffy, a somewhat petite point guard who was tough and talented and indefatigable in games and practices.

“I remember after practice I’d have some kids stay over who weren’t in good enough shape and I’d say, ‘All right, you guys have to run 15 minutes of sprints,’ ” Goldsberry said. “Then I’d go do something else and when I’d finally look back, who was sprinting right next to them?

“Megan Duffy! How many times is your best player also your hardest worker?

“I can honestly say, in my 41 years of coaching, I haven’t had anyone who worked harder and played harder. She was the total package. She just refused to lose.”

And just the way she used to help wheezing teammates, Goldsberry believes the now-32-year-old Duffy will be able to revive the Miami University women’s basketball program she took over as head coach two months ago.

“Her effort is contagious,” he said.

Sitting a few yards away at the front desk of the Miami women’s basketball offices, Justine Raterman agreed.

A former hoops standout at Versailles High and the University of Dayton, where she scored 1,832 points, Raterman gave up a more lucrative job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — where she was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton — to join the RedHawks’ basketball staff a year ago. And Duffy kept her on when she took over for Cleve Wright, who was fired after four seasons with a 35-87 record.

While serving as director of video operations, Raterman, who hopes one day to be a college head coach herself, said she’s seen Duffy already make an impact:

“Although a change is difficult, everyone is excited. There’s a lot of buzz around the program. The girls are really buying in. Coach Duffy just as so much energy. And with everything she did as a player, it makes her more relatable. They see how successful she was and they want to feed on that.”

The Miami players are learning what the 26-year-old Raterman and her contemporaries have long known.

“When you grow up in the Dayton area, everyone my age knows who Megan Duffy is,” she said.

“She’s just a local legend.”

Duffy first starred with the Dayton Lady HoopStars AAU team, then at CJ and Notre Dame before being drafted into the WNBA and playing for the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty. Along the way she also played overseas in Wales, Italy, Slovakia and Romania.

While still a viable pro, she switched gears and became a coach, having stints at St. John’s, George Washington and Michigan before she was lured back close to home by Miami athletics director David Sayler, who said he’d had his eye on her for a while.

In fact, he had talked to her at length back in 2013 when he was looking for a women’s basketball coach. He didn’t offer the job then — choosing Wright — but stayed in touch and said he watched her grow.

This time she was his first choice.

“She’s going to be a star in the coaching profession,” he said.

She already has been as a player.

A champ at 11

Her parents were both prep standouts. Mike won a state basketball title at Chaminade High and Marilyn was an accomplished golfer and field hockey player at Fairmont. Megan also credits her mom for her toughness.

Megan and her sister Laurie, two years older, honed their basketball chops on a court they fashioned on Willow Twig Lane in front of their Miami Township home.

“There were just houses on one side of the street so we put up a hoop on the other side and we were able to fit a whole 3-point line onto the road,” Duffy said.

“Laurie and I and the kids down the street would be out there all the time. We’d put the stereo outside and plug it in and we’d have games and we’d set up some big (orange construction) cones and we’d dribble through them and work on our ball-handling. We’d be out there a few hours every day.”

She was 11 when she won the first of three national AAU titles with the HoopStars.

Goldsberry was her coach then, as well. At the time he was a boys high school coach and had gone 165-112 at Tipp City and would end up 42-24 at Northmont. But he agreed to fill in and coach the HoopStars — his own daughter, Ashley, was on the team — until a replacement was brought in.

No backup ever materialized and that launched his new career coaching girls and now women.

He ended up at CJ, as did Duffy, whose dad and three uncles had been hoops stalwarts at Chaminade and whose grandmother Martha Duffy, 95 now, was a longtime teacher at Julienne High.

As a freshman at CJ, Megan led the Eagles to the Division II state title and was the MVP of the tournament. Her senior year the team was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the USA Today poll, and though her season ended after 13 games with a torn ACL, she still won second team All-Ohio honors and finished with 1,436 career points.

Choosing Notre Dame over Duke (“a perfect fit for an Irish Catholic,” she grinned), she became a four-year letterwinner and ended up one of four players in school history to with over 1,000 career points (1,290 in 127 games), 500 assists and 200 steals.

Drafted by the WNBA Lynx in the third round, she played two seasons with them and one with the Liberty.

“For me that was incredible,” she said “I was playing against players I’d looked up to growing up.

“One of my first games was against Katie Smith. Dawn Staley, one of the veterans who started everything, was still playing then, and so was Lisa Leslie. I played against Sue Bird and I remember Sheryl Swoopes.”

She started to laugh: “She knocked me on my rear end so hard I thought I’d died.”

“When I look back, all that’s what I think about more than the money and the travel.”

Yet travel she did. Joining a team in Wales her first offseason, she played in the Euro Cup, which enabled her to travel all over Europe. The following year she played for a team in Sicily and after that there were the stops in Slovakia and Romania.

“What was neat there was that the fans were so supportive,” she said. “They were like soccer crowds. They had bells and scarves and they packed the house and you felt pretty important.”

And yet in the back of her mind she was already formulating ideas about becoming a coach.

“Even in middle school I wanted to coach,” she said. “I was always the one with the clipboard, the point guard directing the team and being a leader.

“The turning point for sure was Notre Dame. I really embraced the whole college basketball scene. I loved my coaches. Loved being at Notre Dame. I could see how you could have an impact on student-athletes and that’s what I wanted to do.

“Even when I was playing professionally I never saw myself as someone doing that when I was 30.”

The opportunity came when St. John’s, in New York, offered an assistant’s job just as she was about to embark on another season in Italy.

She talked to her parents, put the passport away and soon was living in Bayside, Queens and recruiting in the projects. Her final year at St. John’s the Red Storm made their first Sweet 16 and ended up No. 15 in the nation.

She then joined former Notre Dame assistant Jonathan Tsipis when he took over at George Washington and they began a rebuilding project. After two seasons she headed to Michigan, which was coached by Kim Barnes Arico, her former St. John’s boss. The Wolverines won 20-plus games three straight seasons and the WNIT this year.

Although she had drawn some head coaching inquiries from schools she decided were not the right fit and she had shown interest in a couple of schools that weren’t ready to hire her, it was during her Ann Arbor tenure that she said she became sure of one thing:

“It solidified my confidence to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to do this. I’m ready to be a head coach!’ ”

‘Beautiful’ setting

Surprisingly, Duffy had never seen the Miami campus or even been to Oxford before taking the RedHawks’ job.

“But finally seeing the place made me more sure,” she said. “I had come from a place like Notre Dame, where you walk around and it’s one of the most beautiful places. This place to me, while it’s different, the beauty is the same . When you bring people here, the campus sells itself. People love being in beautiful places.”

As for the program, she noted there had been success under former coach Maria Fantanarosa (who led the Hawks from 1998 to 2013) and said women’s basketball can blossom here again.

The entire roster has returned from last season, including the Mid-American Conference freshman of the year, point guard Lauren Dickerson.

With no turnover she was not able to bring in any players of her own, but Duffy said: “I inherited a great group of kids so I don’t have to clean up anything. Sometimes you get a program where there’s some bad actors you just don’t want to be around and you want to run them off.

“What we have to do here is develop our kids’ love of the game again and build their confidence.”

She’ll look to her staff for that and she knows Goldsberry, for one, will do whatever he can:

“He’ll be my right-hand man. He has a tremendous amount of knowledge, but he’ll also be a calming influence. He’s the most loyal person I could have. He has my back.”

Goldsberry said joining Duffy — after spending nine years at UD and the past five with former Flyers’ assistant Kyle Rechlicz at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he lived during the season while his wife Paula lived back here in Troy and continued to teach — is a chance for him “to give back.”

“I’m gonna go beyond for her just like she went beyond for me,” he said. “She made me a better coach and now I want to do everything I can for her. I believe in her totally. She’s going to turn this thing around.”

A lot of people are pulling for her.

The entire Michigan staff came down to her introductory Miami press conference to support her. She and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw talk or text every week about the challenges of the job.

And her family is just an hour away and will be at her games.

“It’s been incredible to be back in the area again, reconnecting with people,” she said. “Yes, you can go home again.”

Goldsberry agreed … for the most part.

“Oh yeah, my wife’s thrilled to have me back here,” he said with a grin. “I’ve done more yard work in the past month than I did in the past five years.”

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