In his six seasons as head coach at West Virginia, Mike Carey has seen a lot of success. After taking over a program that was always bottom-feeder in the powerful Big East prior to 2001, Carey has led the Mountaineers to over 100 wins and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. Despite that success, there was still something that Carey wanted to do that he had yet to. In a couple of weeks, the seventh-year Mountaineer mentor will be leading his program to Australia for a five game preseason tour.
"You’re allowed to make a trip like this once every four years," Carey explained on Monday as the Mountaineers began preparations for the trip at the Coliseum. "This is my seventh year and we’ve never done something like this. With seven seniors, you want to reward them a little bit so this is a way we can reward them. Now, after today’s practice they may not feel like they’re being rewarded, but that’s OK. They’re going to be rewarded by making this trip. It’s the experience of a lifetime, and we’ll get a lot out of it."
A trip such as this is not unprecendented in Mountaineer circles. Prior to the 2004-05 season, former head coach John Beilein led the men's basketball program on a similar journey to Europe. While Carey likely could have planned to take his team on a similar jaunt, there was one particular challenge that he wasn't willing to take on.
"To be honest with you I wanted to go somewhere that I could understand English," said the Clarksburg native, who is never afraid to give an honest answer (much to the delight of Mountaineer beat reporters). "I’ve been to Japan a few times, and my goodness if you get lost there’s no one to talk to. We wanted to go to an English speaking country.
Of course, the issue of language wasn't the only reason Carey chose Australia.
"We’ve heard a lot of great things about Australia from other teams that have gone there, so we decided to go there."
The goals of this trip to the Southern Hempisphere are quite simple. First of all, have fun. Not everyone in college gets an opportunity to spend several days in a foreign land with their best friends. Second, it helps develop team chemistry for the upcoming season. Finally, and perhaps most important, avoid injury.
"We’re going to try to play everybody evenly, and get a lot of people a lot of playing time. We want to team bond," explained Carey. "With this many seniors, we want everybody on the same page.
"We want to set our goals, and have an idea of what we want to do when we start back up again in the fall," he continued. "Let’s go over there, have some fun, do some sightseeing. We’ll play five games, and we’ll play hard, but we’re not going over there to go 5-0. We’ll put some new stuff in, and maybe try some new things."
An added bonus for Carey is that it will give him more opportunity to build a staff chemistry with new assistant coaches Semeka Randall and Dave Dagostino, both of whom joined the Mountaineer program this summer. On Monday afternoon, Randall, Dagostino, and longtime assistant Chester Nichols were all on the road recruiting while Carey conducted practice.
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Carey was asked if he worried about spending too much time with the team, specifically on the nearly 20 hour plane ride to Australia.
"Sit them away from me," cracked the quick-witted coach. "They’ll be fine. We have a bunch of good girls. There’s no doubt that we’ll have a good time, and I want them to have a good time on this trip. I want them to play hard, though."
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If you are wondering about how a trip such as this is financed, the answer is simple according to Carey.
"Just hope that football wins," joked the longtime friend of Mountaineer football coach Rich Rodriguez. "That’s what Rodriguez always tells me: ‘Who bought this?’ I told him thank you."
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Coming off of last season's NCAA Tournament appearance, Carey believes that this year's team will be more confident than ever. In the few hours he spent with them on Monday, he could already notice the difference from a year ago.
"The girls have a little bit of a swagger," he said. "It seems like they’re motivated, and that’s good. We want that. Hopefully in the preseason we can be ranked and live up to that."
At the same time, the master motivator must remind his team that while last season was great, it is now a product of the past. For success to continue, they must build upon what they did last season without being content.
"I told the girls that they have to go out and earn it again. Nothing is guaranteed."
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The Mountaineers will practice 10 times before leaving for Australia on August 5. While in the Land Down Under, they'll tour the world famous Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef.
The team will return to the United States on August 17.