New UAA women's coach makes his debut Friday

bbragg@adn.comNovember 8, 2012 

— Before you conclude that new UAA women's basketball coach Ryan McCarthy is the luckiest man on the planet for taking over a nationally ranked program before he even turned 30, consider the following:

• Most key members of last year's 30-5 Elite Eight team are gone, a group that furnished about 70 percent of last season's scoring.

• He was a last-minute hire who got the job in mid-August, a replacement for the man who held the job for about two minutes before leaving amid allegations of "professional misconduct." That coach, Nathan Altenhofen, had been hired to replace six-year coach Tim Moser, the architect of UAA's winning program who abruptly resigned last spring.

• So many players fled when Moser left that upon his arrival in Anchorage, McCarthy needed to hold an open tryout for any and all interested UAA students so he could fill out his roster.

All of that is why McCarthy talks about "returning" UAA women's basketball to where it was, rather than "keeping" it there.

It's also why he isn't suffocating from the pressure of taking over a nationally ranked program before he even turned 30.

"If I had been in a different situation with everybody back, the pressure would have been significant," McCarthy said Thursday, the day before his debut Friday at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex in a game against Colorado School of Mines.

"Right now, I don't think anyone has higher expectations of us than we do."

And even if school boosters or his boss expected McCarthy to seamlessly continue Moser's success and guide the team to the Elite Eight or beyond this season, McCarthy said the pressure wouldn't overwhelm him.

"That's the reason I coach," he said. "If you don't like pressure, don't be in athletics.

"I get that natural high from it. It helps that I've done it before -- I've been an assistant coach, an associate coach and I took over for one year. We had a lot less coming back (than UAA has this year) and we were still able to make the national tournament.

"There's no reason we can't get it to the level it's been the last six years."

McCarthy is the ninth coach in program history and one of the youngest head coaches in school history -- he turned 30 on Sept. 26. He's young enough to be mistaken for a graduate assistant, but experienced enough to land a head coaching job.

He spent the last five seasons with the women's basketball program at Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, Idaho. He stepped in as interim head coach for the 2010-11 season when the head coach took a year off to have a baby and finished with a 14-13 record.

McCarthy's wife, Jenny, and 2-year-old son, Donovan, are still in Nampa, where Jenny works as a registered nurse. Their move to Anchorage is "up in the air" for now, he said; in the meantime he is living in a furnished Midtown apartment but spending most of his time at UAA. "A lot of late nights at work," he said.

The job brings McCarthy back home, in a way. He was born across the street from the school at Providence, lived with his family in Peters Creek and attended Birchwood Elementary School. His dad worked for TOTE before moving to Oregon to run a hardware business.

"I grew up watching the Seawolves and the Great Alaska Shootout," he said.

McCarthy played college basketball for Northwest Nazarene and spent two seasons after college playing professionally in Germany, where he also coached a men's team -- an experience that "got me the coaching bug," he said.

He favors a high-scoring, up-tempo offense and measures a defense's success by how many turnovers it forces and opportunities it creates rather than by how low it keeps an opponent's field goal percentage.

"We're not there yet," he said of putting his mark on the program, "but it will start to change in the next year or two."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

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