CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — New Virginia women’s coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton had a simple message for Cavaliers fans as she stood on the court at John Paul Jones Arena, beneath banners hanging from the rafters heralding a strong women’s basketball history: “There’s no reason why we can’t win here.”
During Agugua-Hamilton’s introduction Thursday, the former Missouri State coach acknowledged being wowed by the 14,500-seat arena then quickly that while facilities are nice “people make the place.”
Agugua-Hamilton certainly made her mark at Missouri State.
She compiled a 74-15 record in three season with the Lady Bears, leading them to Missouri Valley Conference regular season titles in 2020 and 2021 and the NCAA Tournament the last two years. Her team was 26-4 in her first season and would have been tourney-bound if not for the pandemic canceling the event.
Virginia, meanwhile, is coming off two disastrous seasons. They were 0-5 before opting out of the rest of last season. This year they finished 5-22 overall, including a 2-16 Atlantic Coast Conference mark with a pair of forfeits.
Athletic director Carla Williams, who hired Tina Thompson four years earlier, said she got input from the Cavaliers current players, former players and Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan, who attended the introduction.
“We think the history of the program is really, really important,” Williams said with women’s Final Four banners from 1990, 1991 and 1992 hanging alongside the men’s basketball 2019 national championship banner behind her. “And I think that’ll be a huge asset for coach `Mox’ and for the team moving forward.”
Ryan agrees, though cautioning that it will be a process requiring patience.
Of course priority No. 1 is recruiting, but Ryan said there needs to efforts to rejuvenate community interest in the program through involvement beyond the basketball court. She also believes Agugua-Hamilton’s up-tempo offensive philosophy will be exciting to watch.
“I think she’s going to ignite the fans” with that fast-paced style, Ryan said. “But once she starts winning, that sort of takes care of itself.”
Agugua-Hamilton’s Lady Bears teams were also known for something Virginia’s fans have come to appreciate under men’s coach Tony Bennett: defense.
Missouri State finished 11th nationally, allowing 53.9 points per game, and was 19th in field goal percentage defense, allowing teams to make 35.7%.
“That’s a staple. That’s who we’re going to be,” Agugua-Hamilton said.
Senior Carole Miller said it was exciting to hear during the introduction that player development will also be a priority under the new coaching staff.
“I think the only way right now we can go is up and we already have so much here that we can work with that maybe was mismanaged in the past,” said Miller, who started every game this past season.
“So I think the player development will be key and it will translate.”