ALBANY — More than a month into her tenure as University at Albany women’s basketball head coach, Colleen Mullen is growing accustomed to her new job and the challenges that come with it.
“Everybody says you never really know if you’re ready until you’re sitting in the chair,” Mullen said Wednesday. “The biggest change for me is just the number of decisions you have to make in a given day as a head coach.”
Mullen has been at work as the Great Danes’ replacement for Joanna Bernabei-McNamee since mid-May. In short order, Mullen has started the process of molding a program that has won 21 or more games in seven consecutive seasons into her image for it by hiring a pair of assistant coaches, beginning her team’s summer workouts and putting together a recruiting plan for the summer.
“For me,” Mullen said, “it’s been about prioritizing the most important things each day to get done.”
In recent days, the top priority for Mullen has been on continuing to build relationships with her new players. Summer session started Monday, so this week has allowed Mullen that chance.
“Their energy and their personality has been so impressive to me,” said Mullen, who had 1-on-1 meetings with each of her returning players right after she was hired. “They already have such a great culture and team chemistry. They have a winning mentality to them.”
Mullen credited rising seniors Chyanna Canada and Heather Forster for providing leadership within the team this offseason, while adding that rising sophomore Cece Mayo had played a significant role in helping communicate the coach’s expectations to the rest of the Great Danes. When Mullen served as the associate head coach at Army, she recruited Mayo from Shaker High School.
“So I’ve known her since she was a young sophomore in high school,” Mullen said of Mayo, who originally committed to Army and completed her six weeks of basic training before deciding she wanted to pursue a different collegiate path.
When Mullen was hired at UAlbany, the first player she saw on campus was a smiling Mayo.
“She’s allowed me to have a player on the inside of the team who already knew me,” Mullen said.
UAlbany did lose two players in the transition from Bernabei-McNamee and Mullen, as rising junior Mackenzie Trpcic transferred to UC Davis and rising sophomore Emma List left for Florida Gulf Coast.
UAlbany hasn’t announced any fresh recruits to take those players’ spots, and currently has a roster of 10 players. Two assistant coaches have officially been hired to this point: Yvonne Hawkins rejoins UAlbany from Boston College — where Bernabei-McNamee is the new head coach — after previously coaching for the Great Danes from 1987 to 2002, while Mullen brought Megan Methven from Army.
Methven worked as an assistant coach at Army for the last two seasons, and Mullen said Methven was her “right-hand person” during those campaigns.
“She proved to be incredibly well-rounded, and she does so many things very well,” Mullen said of Methven, who the head coach referred to as a “rising star” in the coaching ranks.
Spoke earlier with new @UAlbanyWBB head coach Colleen Mullen. She said she has reached out often to @UAHOOPSWB during her first weeks on the job.— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) June 27, 2018
“He’s been unbelievably helpful with his willingness to help me and give me advice from his experiences."
Coming up, July will be a busy month for Mullen on the recruiting trail. With that in mind, she used much of May and June to get used to her new campus.
“The thing that’s stuck out the most is the people,” Mullen said. “It’s a great fit for me. Everyone has been so welcoming and has gone out of their to make sure I’m comfortable and I have everything I need to be successful.”
Mullen said she has sought advice, too, from longtime UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown. Among the topics of conversations between the two, Mullen said, has been how Brown built a pipeline of talent from Australia to his program.
“We’re definitely hopping onto that bandwagon,” Mullen said.
Mullen said her first several weeks leading the Great Danes have had their challenges, but she has made her way through them encouraged in her abilities to lead the program. Mullen spent the final six seasons of her seven-season stay at Army as an associate head coach, and said the organizational skills she developed during that time left her prepared for the step up she has taken.
As head coach, her role has changed — but her approach has not.
“It’s a different feeling,” Mullen said of being a head coach, “but I feel the same.”