MORGANTOWN — A few hours after it was officially announced that former West Virginia women’s basketball star Liz Repella was returning to the program as a graduate assistant for coach Mike Carey to begin what she expects to be a coaching career, equipment manager Steve Beirer reached deep into his files for a picture to post on Facebook that he knew Repella would enjoy.
The picture showed Repella as a player from behind as she stood in a huddle during a time out, staring at her with a look that could would be termed an intentional foul if it were committed during the game, his mouth wide open and the veins in his neck surely ready to burst was Carey, making one of those coaching points you sometimes just have to make.
When the posting of the picture was brought up to Repella, she laughed at the thought of it.
“That picture is awesome, isn’t it?” she said.
She could laugh now, although at that moment there had to be a bit of discomfort for Repella.
That was one the things about Carey she liked so much. The man was human, he could get mad, yes, but he cared.
We’re not talking about caring about the wins and losses although they were life and death at the moment, but he cared more about his players.
Yes, he comes across as a tough guy at times. It’s his coaching style, coaching the way he wants his team to play which is hard and with a chip on his shoulder.
But those who play for him see a different side, too.
“He knows the important things about life,” Repella said. “He’s a family guy. As soon as I came up here on my recruiting trip I saw that. There’s a lot of coaches in the nation who are like him on the court – fiery and passionate, maybe not as much as him because he does have a lot of fire in him — but there’s not too many who off the court you can just go into his office and talk about your family, talk about life and school.”
That is was why, when Repella opted to begin down the road toward becoming a coach, she wanted it to be with the coach who had guided her through the many land mines there are as a young lady goes from Steubenville, Ohio, into a college setting like West Virginia’s and tries to combine academics with athletics, social life with growing up.
“I never regretted for one minute coming to West Virginia,” she said. “Everything he told me on my recruiting trip was true. The main thing about coach Carey is, when I graduated I knew I wanted to get into basketball and I wanted to come back and coach under him. What a privilege it is for him to ask me to come back.”
Where, one wondered, had Liz Repella been since she ended her basketball career at WVU in 2011, having averaged 12.2 points a game as she started the final 99 games of her career, a savvy player who added 5.3 rebounds a game, 162 assists and 207 steals to her career statistics.
Upon graduation, like so many athletes at the end of their collegiate days, she wasn’t ready to give up playing, heading off to Spain where she learned a few tricks about playing the game but not too many words of the Spanish language.
“It was a great experience to actually live in a different culture,” she said. “A lot of people get to go over there on vacation, but this was different. I was living there and had to adjust to a different culture.
“It was something if I had a chance to do again I would definitely do it, but I’m kind of a homebody and I got a little homesick.”
And so given a chance to return stateside, hired by Michigan as assistant director of basketball operations, she returned home and stayed two years until the graduate assistant spot gave her a chance to experience the side of basketball she had yet to experience – coaching.
She watched from afar as Carey’s team grew into what he thought this year was a national contender, although it still has not figured out how to make through the post-season. But Repella, and how many other former WVU women’s players, were tuned in when the Mountaineers beat Baylor to put itself in position to win the Big 12 regular season title, then topped TCU to clinch it.
What was Repella feeling at that moment?
“Pride watching them cut down the net,” she said. “I was watching that on my computer. It was an awesome feeling knowing I played here. I was watching with my roommate but there was a little ‘Oh, man, that was always my goal, to cut down the net and I never got to do it.’
“It was great for the seniors, because I played with them, to see all that hard work paid off.”
The seniors like Asya Bussie, Crystal Caldwell, Taylor Palmer, Brooke Hampton and Jess Harlee had played with Repella when she still at WVU.
“There was so much pride. I was so happy for those girls and for coach Carey, too, for his commitment to the university. To see it pay off like that was something special.”
Repella hopes to learn a lot from Carey as a graduate assistant before she sets off on her own, but if she learns nothing more she already understands the important things he brings to the table as a coach.
“His passion for the game and developing the player as a whole, caring about them not only on the basketball court but in life, in school, with their family,” she said. “One thing I always said when I played here, he never took a day off in practice. You’d think he’d get tired of screaming and yelling but he never did. As a player, you want to see that from a coach, to see that they care so much about you and making you better.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel