In his eight-year tenure as the head coach of Slippery Rock Women’s basketball, Coach Bobby McGraw left a lasting impact on everyone around him. He combined an increase in production with an irreplaceable family dynamic on and off the court. The team is taking this year to maintain the positive, connected dynamic that he created while playing for him.
“Coach McGraw, you know, he cared about all of us and would do anything for us,” Acting head coach Chenara Wilson said.
The Rock plans to dedicate this season to coach McGraw. Playing together is going to mean more than ever going into the season as an underdog. Coach Wilson shared that SRU is not highly ranked in the poll for the upcoming year, and they need to pull together if they are to improve from last year.
“We’re playing for McGraw… that’s our motivation right now,” Wilson said.
Last year SRU Women’s basketball finished with a 12-16 overall record, including 7-6 at home. The team hopes to get out of the gates fast again, as they were 6-1 after seven games last year. After the hot start, a rough patch followed and the Green and White hovered around .500 for much of the season before ultimately falling four games under, where they would remain.
The combination of hardships over the past year has undoubtedly been distracting, but Coach Wilson commented on how the low poll ranking and family outlook may provide motivation to put together a successful season. When asked what would be driving the team, Coach Wilson responded, “Our motivation to play for something greater.”
According to Coach Wilson, the team is doing a good job playing off each other and looking at everyone for motivation and leadership. Despite this, she also commented that the two seniors, Kennedy Middleton and Deleah Gibson, are starting to hold the reins to an extent.
“We have two seniors with Deleah and Kennedy who, they will be leaders for us,” Wilson said.
Another player that Coach Wilson mentioned was Bellah Middleton. Middleton appeared in 12 games and started as a redshirt freshman while averaging 9 points per game. Wilson said that Middlton is eager to come back and make an impact after getting injured last year.
Last year’s leading scorer, graduate student center Jamiyah Jackson, is not returning this year. That leaves some questions moving forward. Kelley McKnight is now the oldest and longest tenured center on the team as a sophomore. Coach Wilson noted that the two centers have different playing styles and that she is excited about McKnight’s growth into a bigger role on the offense.
“I do expect her to hold her own and grow into her own person,” Wilson said.
The Rock is thankfully returning their leading three-point shooter from last year. Deleah Gibson is a redshirt senior. She joined The Rock from Youngstown State University in 2020 and started 24 games over the 2021-22 season. She averaged 8.5 points per game while also accumulating 23 steals last season. Gibson is slated to take over a very large role in the offense while helping those around her develop.
“Deleah will be a big factor, we need Deleah to play big minutes along with hitting big shots this season,” Wilson said.
Defensively speaking, Anyah Curd led The Rock women in blocks and is returning this year. Curd is a redshirt junior forward. During her redshirt sophomore season, Curd appeared in 26 games, starting 23. She averaged 7 points per game and 10 rebounds per game in addition to the team leading 22 blocks.
Coach Wilson understands that it will be hard to make up for the talent lost by Jamiyah Jackson and others leaving. The equation to recreate success is simple: teamwork plus hard work. Players may come and go, but there is no replacement for relentlessness during practice and games.
“The girls have come together and they’re starting to gel… I just want us to work hard and play hard,” Wilson said.
All of this is a part of an ever-building mentality of persistence and strength. The Slippery Rock Women’s basketball team has been put through more emotional and physical adversity than most PSAC or NCAA teams have had to deal with. Despite this, they have not lost focus and manage to maintain their important responsibilities to each other and to the program.
They are underdogs, they lost some key players, and they had to experience the largest loss of them all with the passing of beloved Coach McGraw. They have also stuck together, continued to enjoy playing the game they love, and won’t let anyone take any of that from them.
Coach Wilson shared a principle left with her by Coach McGraw that she plans on instilling in this team and hopefully for years to come.
“Treat everyone as, you know, family… He would treat us as his own family,” Wilson said.