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Coach Kelly Graves on final season of Pac-12 Oregon Women's Basketball: 'It hurts'

Kelly Graves stands in front of a KLCC sign
Love Cross

Oregon Women's Basketball Coach Kelly Graves is beginning his 10th year with the Ducks.

Oregon Women’s Basketball gets underway this weekend as the Ducks host an exhibition match against Southern Oregon.

Coach Kelly Graves is beginning his 10th year with the Ducks.

In advance of this year’s season, KLCC’s Love Cross sat down with Coach Graves to get a preview of what’s to come.

Love Cross: You are about to begin your 10th year coaching the Ducks. Oregon is picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason poll. Utah is the top pick. What are your thoughts on that?

Kelly Graves: Well, they're just predictions. I mean, last year we were picked second, you know, and you just never know. That's why you have the 18 games scheduled to work it out. I think we're probably picked based on the talent coming back. That's the only way you can do it, you know. Might be right, but it doesn't mean that's where we're going to finish. We hope to finish higher. I think we're good enough to beat anybody on any given day, but over an 18-game schedule, you know. It's going to be a challenge for us.

Cross: There are a few notable match ups, with preseason contests against four teams that qualified for last year's NCAA tournament. So I'm curious what you're looking forward to on this season’s schedule.

Graves: I've always been a believer in scheduling up. Baylor and us, we decided to do a home-and-home, so we're going to go to Waco this season, then they'll come back next season. Oklahoma State we’re playing in a tournament as well. It's going to be a sneaky tough schedule, you know, even our very first game on November 6th-counting game- we have an exhibition before then- against NAU [Northern Arizona University]. Well, they shared in the Big Sky Conference championship and then lost in the finals of their tournament and they returned most of their players. So, even though they're maybe not, they weren't an NCAA tournament team, they're going to be very, very good. So, yeah, I think the, the schedule's going to be sneaky good.

Cross: The changes to the transfer portal in recent years have really changed things up in college sports. Has that changed the way you coach?

Graves: Well, I guess it does a little bit. I don't think I'm the same coach as I was five years ago and five years ago, I don't think I was the same coach as five years before that. So you're always evolving. But, yeah, it's a little different now, you know, and the reason kids transfer are just for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes they don't even make sense but they make sense to them, which is the only thing that's important, I guess. So yeah, it's a little frustrating, to be honest with you when you can't count on- let's say you bring a freshman in and they get a little bit of time and you can really work with them to improve, to work into your system. Those days are over, you know. Kids want to play and they want to play immediately and, and if they're not playing, schools somehow get the word to them, hey, we would be interested and it's kind of too bad. It's kind of dirtied up the process a little bit. But I am for the freedom of movement in theory, and it changes.

Cross: I'm sure you're trying to establish team culture, which is so important.

Graves: Yeah. You know, it's funny when you start recruiting a young lady, you know, they might be in ninth or 10th grade and you get to know them, you get to know the family, you do a home visit, usually they’re in their senior year and grandma and grandpa are there and the siblings and mom and dad and you get to know the whole family, and then they come to your program and you spend those four years and you really build a deep relationship with them and their families that carries on for the rest of your life. That's a little bit more difficult now because, you know, they might come into your program for a year or two then leave. That relationship can never be the same because they either quit on you or just decided they wanted something different. And so you're bringing in now a transfer who you don't have that history with and you only might have them for one or two years. And so you don't get quite as deep as you would. So it has really changed relationships, I think, which is one of the best parts of my job.

Cross: Last year, Oregon great Sabrina Ionescu was brought in as the director of athletic culture. How has bringing her back into the fold benefited your program?

Graves: Well, you know, it was Sabrina's idea, she wanted to be part of the program some way and give back. And so we created a brand new title, I guess. What's in a title, right? And, you know, and she's on the payroll to some degree and it's really not a "hang around the team" position. She's not in the offices every day, that kind of stuff. It's mainly, she's just there in case our players need her so they can Facetime her. She watches all our games and she can break them down on Synergy. So it's just nice having her part of the program because she is so important to us. She's on the Mount Rushmore of Oregon athlete legends and she's changing the world right now. So it's neat that she felt compelled to be part of our staff.

Cross: So this is the final year for the Pac-12 as we know it. What impacts do you see on your program from moving to the Big Ten?

Graves: You know, I don't think it's going to be a huge impact. The travel will be a little bit different. People forget it's three hours to fly from Eugene to Tucson on a private plane. Well, now you're flying to Chicago and it might be three-and-a-half, but you're changing time zones, you know, sometimes. So that'll make it a little bit more difficult or challenging, I should say. But, you know, we're a national recruiter, so we're recruiting from all over the country and all over the world. So, I don't think it'll change that. And, you know, our players they just want to play. I don't think it's going to be as big a deal as a lot of people are making it out to be, especially for my sport. I mean, I look at us maybe making three trips a year to the east coast or the Midwest and part of it is to the near-Midwest, you know, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa. That's not too far. So, I'm just disappointed that we're losing the Pac-12. I really am. I'm excited about the new adventure, but at the same time, I just hate to see the Pac-12 go. It really does hurt because in women's basketball over the last seven or eight years, it's been the premiere conference in the country by every metric. So, you know, that goes away.

Cross: Well, the final season is just around the corner.

Graves: Yeah, it's here. Whether we're ready or not. Yeah. But I'm really excited. I like this group. We're hard working. We don't have really any primadonnas and, you know, they don't practice and play with a sense of entitlement that, you know, I think we've had the last couple of years and so I'm really excited to see how we'll do. We're not the most talented team that we've had, but I think we're going to work our butts off and, I think it's a team that the local fans can get behind.

Copyright 2023, KLCC

Love Cross joined KLCC in 2017. She began her public radio career as a graduate student, serving as Morning Edition Host for Boise State Public Radio in the late 1990s. She earned her undergraduate degree in Rhetoric and Communication from University of California at Davis, and her Master’s Degree from Boise State University. In addition to her work in public radio, Love teaches college-level courses in Communication and Public Speaking.