- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The fastest coach in women’s basketball to win 400 games doesn’t hear fans clapping to “Rocky Top” or celebrate perfect seasons in the Big East.

Mike McLaughlin doesn’t even have his own office.

McLaughlin has built a Division II power at tiny Holy Family and the evidence is tacked all over his cubicle.

Yes, a cubicle.

There’s a basketball from his 300th career win in a case and the one for No. 400 is wrapped in a bag waiting for better protection. Pictures of former players and net-cutting celebrations pop up on a digital photo frame slideshow. There’s an autographed framed photo of this year’s team with the inscription, “400 and Counting.”

“There’s a lot of good memories in here,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin is nowhere near as recognizable as Tennessee’s Pat Summitt or Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, but he hit a milestone last month that neither of those NCAA tournament regulars were able to achieve. McLaughlin became the fastest women’s coach to 400 wins, reaching the mark in only 459 games. He’s won six more games since and has the Tigers (25-5) as a No. 2 seed going into Friday’s Division II opener against Queens, N.Y. (24-6).

This was just another ordinary season for McLaughlin and the Tigers. They went 18-0 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and won 25 games for the 14th straight season under McLaughlin. The five losses were two fewer than the last three years combined.

Not a bad feat for a team at any level, whether it’s rec league or a power conference.

“It’s not Big East level, but it’s high-level basketball,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a challenge sometimes as a coach, because you don’t try and convince someone not to go D-I. Here’s what we have, here’s why we’re here, and hopefully they make the decision.”

This year’s seniors were freshman when McLaughlin won his 300th game. The seniors have lost 12 games in four years and this year’s freshman class wants to top that mark.

His players and the entire northeast Philadelphia school of 3,500 celebrated when McLaughlin won his 400th game, a 64-47 win over University of Sciences on Feb. 3.

“I didn’t realize the impact it had on so many different people I knew,” McLaughlin said. “It was a bigger deal than I ever thought it would be. I wanted to try and bring in everyone and make it not so much about me, but about all the players that did it for me.”

Odds are, McLaughlin will hit 500 with the only college program he knows.

He played high school basketball in Philadelphia (Father Judge), and then starred at Holy Family where he is fifth on the school’s career scoring list and third in assists. McLaughlin also holds the school record for 3-point shooting (59.3 percent).

McLaughlin was 23 when he signed for a six-week tour with the Washington Generals, the longtime hapless foil of the Harlem Globetrotters, and his first day with the team saw him dropped straight in Red Square.

He toured the world for three years with the Generals and returned to Holy Family for two years as an assistant coach. While he interviewed for the LaSalle job in 2006 and hasn’t ruled out a jump to a Division I program, McLaughlin feels at home at Holy Family. McLaughlin also successfully steered the Tigers in the jump from the NAIA to Division II in 2003, and had them in the regional semifinals only two years later.

“This is a great spot for me and it would have to be a super spot to be able to change courses,” he said.

McLaughlin has found his niche by finding the player who is maybe an inch short or a step slow to be a starter at a major D-I program, or the one who simply wants to stay close to home. Christine McCollum, of Abington, Pa., spurned D-I programs so her family could watch her play and for a shot at regular berths in the NCAA Division II tourney.

All the perfect records at home and in conference play are simply a bonus.

“I don’t think we necessarily feel pressure, it’s just something we work for,” she said.

The Tigers were upset in the conference tournament opener and aren’t a favorite to win the national title this year. A national championship is about the only notable achievement missing from McLaughlin’s resume.

“Someday, I still think it’s going to happen,” he said.

The run starts Friday on Holy Family’s home court. The Tigers could get as many as three games at home and the winner advances to the Elite Eight in San Antonio.

“I’ve seen the growth from the start to finish,” McLaughlin said, then laughed as he caught himself. “We’re not finished yet. Just to the point we’re at today.”

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