Tsipis takes on rebuilding GWU women's program
Jonathan Tsipis was in high school when his family moved from Ohio to Hillsborough in 1989, and he quickly learned how the rivalry between Duke and North Carolina works in college basketball.
“You can’t cheer for one team and then cheer for another,” said Tsipis, 40, a 1991 graduate of Durham Academy, where he played basketball.
But if anyone could, Tsipis certainly would qualify. Now in his first season as the head women’s basketball coach at George Washington University, Tsipis graduated from UNC in 1996 and was a graduate assistant under Mike Krzyzewski for one season at Duke.
Tsipis returns to his North Carolina roots Sunday when the Colonials play N.C. A&T in Greensboro. He said he set up the game as a homecoming for GW senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp, who played at Salisbury High School and was a player of the year in Rowan County.
“Even though I was a graduate of UNC and graduate assistant at Duke, you can’t cheer for both,” Tsipis said with a smile.
Tsipis, however, does have an insight that perhaps many fans outside of the Triangle may not be aware of.
“The general public sees hatred” between the schools, he said. “I think there is a lot of mutual respect. They are both trying to win national championships.”
The same is true of Tsipis, the son of the one of the most notable Greek national basketball players in history. His father, Lou, played at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio and then was a pro player in Greece.
His brother, Dean, played basketball at Case Western Reserve University, and his sister, LuAnn Damiris, was a three-sport athlete at Baldwin-Wallace. His niece, Amanda, played basketball at Notre Dame.
His mother passed away this past summer, and his father now lives in Cary.
Jonathan Tsipis took a circuitous route to his first head coaching job at the college level. He was preparing for a pharmacy career before he took his first coaching job with the men’s program at Cornell after graduating from UNC.
He later worked on the men’s side at UNC Greensboro, Elon, LeMoyne and Duke before spending nine seasons as an assistant with the women’s program at Notre Dame.
What are his memories of his one season under Krzyzewski?
“He had just come back from his back injury," Tsipis said. "It was a rejuvenated time for him. I came to practice every day. I tried to be a sponge. I did a lot of video work; it was an amazing year.”
He was part of nine NCAA Tournament appearances with the Irish, and helped Notre Dame reach the national title game in 2011 and 2012. He reached the level of associate head coach under Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw before he was named head coach at George Washington, which plays its home games just blocks from the White House, in April.
“It has been a whirlwind since last April, going from Denver (at the Final Four) to South Bend and Washington in three days, and I have not looked back since," Tsipis said. "For me, it is a dream come true to be a head coach here at GW.
“Muff and I have been in constant communication. She told me to be myself. She has helped me since when I first got the job.”
Tsipis said he remembers something that former Notre Dame football coach Ty Willingham once said about being a head coach.
“You are making more decisions that impact more people than you ever have before,” Tsipas recalls Willingham saying.
Tsipis is taking over both a challenging and promising situation. He takes over for Mike Bozeman, a former GW assistant whose contract was not renewed after four seasons. The program had slipped under Bozeman after a successful run by Joe McKeown, who took the head job at Northwestern after he led GW to postseason play 20 times in 24 seasons.
“I have watched him coach and teach up close for nine years, and I am thoroughly impressed," Mike Brey, Notre Dame's head men's basketball coach who is a George Washington alumnus, said in a statement when Tsipas said.
"Who wouldn't want their daughter to play for Jonathan? He has a fabulous feel for the game and is a great communicator. I am thrilled my alma mater has chosen him.”
Danni Jackson is a senior point guard at GW and was recruited to the school by Bozeman. While it may not be ideal to go through a coaching change as a senior, Jackson said she enjoys playing for Tsipis.
“I see it as a fresh start," Jackson said. "I enjoy having him as a head coach. I see it as a growing experience. I don’t see it as a negative at all, even as a senior.”
The Colonials were 11-18 last season and currently have a 6-7 record, but that does not sway Tsipis.
“As a first-time head coach, I could not be more excited,” he said. “We're not trying to make this a quick-fix situation. We have tried to put in the building blocks.
"At times, it has been like having 13 freshmen. They have all had to learn new terminology and a new way to do things on a day-to-day basis due to my philosophy. It is a strong and proud tradition.”
GW began its season at home Nov. 9 with an 80-47 win over Texas-Arlington. The Colonials then had an impressive outing when they lost at Rutgers 56-52.
“I thought we played very well," Tsipis said. "I was really proud of our kids.”