''I Can't Wait for the Next Day to Start''

''I Can't Wait for the Next Day to Start''

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For Tricia Cullop, the last few days have felt like a surreal whirlwind.

Miami’s head women’s basketball coach moved from Toledo, Ohio to South Florida, bringing two full suitcases with her. She’s held countless meetings with her new team, players, and staff alike. And on Thursday, she outlined her vision for the Hurricanes as she takes the reins of a program that for 19 years, was led by Katie Meier, the winningest basketball coach – male or female – in Miami history.

But there’s something else Cullop did on Thursday.

She got a chance to see her team up-close during a morning workout that left her even more excited and energized about the future of Miami women’s basketball than she already was.

“The energy was great. I love watching players that are hungry and humble, humble because they know they can get better, but hungry because they’re aspiring to be more,” Cullop said. “And the players that were in there with us this morning did a great job … They did a wonderful job. They’re very coachable. There was great energy and great enthusiasm.”

Cullop, who coincidentally enough played at Purdue for former Hurricanes coach Lin Dunn, called her move to Miami a “full circle” moment, in part because of that connection. She comes to Coral Gables from Toledo, where she built the Rockets into a consistent force in the Mid-American Conference.

With Cullop at the helm, Toledo won five regular-season MAC championships and earned 11 postseason berths, including two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. She amassed a 353-169 record in her 16 seasons there and was named the MAC Coach of the Year six times, earning that distinction in each of the last three seasons as the Rockets totaled 85 wins and brought home three conference championships.

Before taking over at Toledo, Cullop – who served as the President of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association from 2019 through 2021 – spent eight seasons at Evansville, where she went 123-110. She also previously served as an assistant coach at Radford, Long Beach State and Xavier.

Now, the veteran coach will transition to the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, which sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament this past season.

Cullop expects she and the Hurricanes – who just narrowly missed the NCAA tournament themselves and are coming off a 19-12 season – will need some time to get to know each other, but she’s confident they can make a splash together in the ACC.

And when it comes to how she’ll adjust to coaching in a league like the ACC, Cullop pointed to the success of some of her new conference colleagues, including Syracuse’s Felisha Legette-Jack and North Carolina’s Courtney Banghart, both of whom previously coached at mid-major programs.

“More than half of the coaches in this league came from my level. Basketball’s basketball,” Cullop said. “What the difference is is what you have to sell the caliber of athlete that you can sell and now, I have more to sell. … I’m very excited. We played a tough schedule [at Toledo]. I’m not scared. We scrimmaged Notre Dame. We played Duke. We have played Virginia in the past. We were never scared to play anyone, so we’re not going to be scared of anyone now. We just need to get ready because we [don’t just want to be] ready to play. We want to beat them.”

As to how she intends to get the Hurricanes ready for the season ahead, Cullop said she envisions Miami being a team that continues to be quick and is a defensive force.

To that end, she praised the work Associate Head Coach Fitzroy Anthony has done with the Hurricanes and noted that Anthony will remain on Miami’s staff, along with Assistant Coach & Director of Basketball Operations/Coordinator of Recruiting Lonnette Hall and Director of Basketball Operations & Special Projects Margie Gill.

Joining the staff are Jessie Ivey and Danielle Page, both of whom coached with Cullop at Toledo.

“I love up-tempo. I love to press. I love to push the ball in transition and find the best shot available. But if it’s not there, we have a pretty equal opportunity offense and I think the players will enjoy that,” Cullop said when describing her style. “The ball’s going to move. And it’s going to be hard to stop us because we will have more than one player that’s capable of scoring 20, 25 points. And that’s the formula that really helped me where I came from. Taking care of the basketball, though, and having a good assist-to-turnover ratio is going to be part of that.

“We’re going to take good shots. We’re going to make great passes. We’re going to be unselfish. I think all those things are very important on the defensive end. I love high-pressure defense. I love frustrating what the other team wants to do. If you can take away their best scoring options, it tends to lead to easy baskets on the other end. … I’m so excited about the potential and the opportunities of what we can do with the team that we have right now. As I said before, one reason why I’m so excited about this team is that it’s not broken. This team is very much cupboard full. And that’s the exciting thing for me coming here. … I can’t wait for them to show us the desire after missing something they wanted. Sometimes, when you’re kind of hit in the stomach by a blow of not making something that you thought you so desperately should have deserved, it’s great inspiration for the next season.”

"I’m so excited about the potential and the opportunities of what we can do with the team that we have right now."

Head women's basketball coach Tricia Cullop

As excited as she is to see what the Hurricanes can do on the court, Cullop also made it clear Thursday she’s excited to see what they do in the community and in the classroom, too.

Last semester, the Rockets posted a 3.84 team GPA – the highest in program history, with six student-athletes earning a 4.0.

And she can’t wait to continue seeing the Hurricanes not only build relationships with their peers on campus and their fans at the Watsco Center, but the young people in the South Florida community, young people that Cullop wants to see get excited about Miami basketball.

“There’s an incredible amount of synergy in the country in women’s basketball right now. You look at the TV ratings, they’re soaring. You look at all the young kids that are coming out to games, all the sold-out arenas. I want to do everything I can to build our attendance,” Cullop said. “I think that’s something that we can do. We have talent on this team. We need to get them out in the community. They need to build relationships. We need to make sure that people know that, yes, we want you to come out to games, but we’re going to come out and help you, too. That’s very important to me, that we develop those ties in a very strong way and that we’re interacting with young kids. Our players need to understand the amazing role models they are and definitely reach back and help those younger kids understand how to play basketball, to get excited about it, to come to our games and then also, motivate kids younger than them.”

As busy as Cullop has been over the course of the last two weeks, she expects the hectic pace will only continue, something she welcomes.

There’s a lot to do, she knows. And she’s already set more than a few goals for herself and her team over the next few weeks.

“I can’t say the word relationships enough. Building strong relationships with our players, you don’t do that overnight. You do that with time and being consistent with my effort with it and showing them how much I really do care, I’ve got to do that daily,” Cullop said. “I think every coach in the country, if you’re not recruiting your own team every single day, you’re going to lose them. In this day and age, that’s what it is. But you should be doing that anyway because you should care deeply enough about your players. So, that’s first. I want this team to know how much I care and how much I’m really invested in their future.

“And secondly, I’ve got to recruit, recruit, recruit. It’s the two R’s, recruit, and relationships. I’ve also got to finish out our staff. I think those are the three things that I’ve absolutely got to get done and we’re well on our way. We’ve got visits lined up. We’ve had a lot of time with the team already and we’re going to keep that going. … I can’t wait for the next day to start.”