- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

Joe McKeown is meeting with all the appropriate higher-ups at George Washington University this week, going over all the details in his mind, weighing the women's and men's basketball programs there, wondering if it is time to embrace the cutthroat world of men's basketball.

McKeown is the women's basketball coach for life at George Washington if he elects to be, a position he has earned after 12 seasons in Foggy Bottom, turning a modest program into one of the nation's best. You probably missed the transformation, because that is how it goes in women's basketball, especially in a city that is obsessed with the NFL team in Ashburn and the goings-on with the Wizards and e-Caps.

McKeown's women's basketball program is way down the local sports food chain, somewhere around chess and checkers, and that's all right with him, because he's not in it to see his name in the newspapers, and if the truth be known, the women's game is still in its embryonic stage of development, painful in general to watch. McKeown's team is usually one of the exceptions, as good as it gets in the area, a click or two below UConn and Tennessee, which is another story, both a celebration and an indictment of the women's game.

Let's not go there, either to Storrs or Knoxville, considering there is no there there in either place, to borrow the throwaway line reserved for Oakland, Calif., the lack of which helps market both programs.

You can watch paint dry or a women's basketball game, and although it is a tough call to make, the women provide a certain comedy, a certain affirmation of your worthiness. You would hate to put that much time into something and be that poor at it.

McKeown routinely makes chicken salad out of chicken fertilizer, which qualifies as a miracle in 2001, the secular version of feeding the masses with a couple of loaves of bread and fish. He is one of the best there is, his achievements more impressive than Geno Auriemma's, given what's on the table at both programs.

His 12 seasons at George Washington, in condensed form, come out to 272-101, plus nine appearances in the NCAA tournament and an Elite Eight finish in 1997. He can tell you a million anecdotes, starting with the players who did a lot of the heavy lifting along the way: Darlene Saar, Debbie Hemrey, Tajama Abraham, Noelia Gomez and Elisa Aguilar.

McKeown is a recovering gym rat from Philadelphia, a one-time point guard of unexceptional height and build who had the clarity and vision to become an All-Mid-American Conference player while he was at Kent State in the '70s. He, too, is married, to Laura, and they have two children, Meghan and Joey, and Jack Kvancz, George Washington's director of athletics, can only hope that when the two children are nearing college age, McKeown does not quit his job to help either child decide which college to attend. The decision is overrated.

McKeown started out at a junior college in Trenton, N.J., and he has done pretty good for himself. He ended up with a master's degree and, more important, a clue. They don't usually teach the latter course at major universities, possibly because the professors are too busy cheering the ongoing death of Columbus and wrestling with a move to Western Europe out of principle.

If you can build a Top 25 women's basketball program at George Washington, with the ACC and Big East breathing at your side, you are close to being able to win with Ray Charles as your starting point guard. Charles would live in the gym, too. Coaching men is easy in that regard. You have to kick most of them out of the gym.

Basketball is the relatively easy part with men. It is the other stuff that leads the occasional coach out of the business, to helping a daughter decide which college to attend, and nothing against the women's program at Melvin Whitaker College in Emmitsburg, Md.

Women perform better than men in the classroom, and they don't rape and pillage the community or wind up with whores in their dorm rooms. They may wind up with each other, which is a different team dynamic, sometimes a tricky one.

Rosie O'Donnell confirms that even fat dolts can make it in America, and that is a testament to this country's greatness, a beautiful thing, except if the pass off the court crosses over to the passes on the court. That happens. That is the women's basketball definition of a distraction.

The illusions in men's basketball are different. SirValiant Brown is under the illusion that the NBA is somehow interested in his zillion shots a game, and he seems bent on learning, as Victor Page did, that it doesn't work that way. It is a big world, and even China, Wang Zhizhi in particular, has joined David Stern's fantasy league.

McKeown is going back and forth on all this in his mind, and some of it concerns where he might want to be in 10 years as well as his comfort level, his family's and the school's.

McKeown has met one challenge already, that much is certain, and he is overqualified to pick up the pieces left by Tom Penders, if it comes to that, and there also is this to ponder, at least if you're Kvancz: A nod McKeown's way plugs one hole but creates another.

Otherwise, the men-women crossover thing is a push, with each side carrying its own unique baggage, and eventually, 30-35 times a season, basketball is basketball, no ifs, ands or whores about it.

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