the idea exchange


Boston College Basketball is on the cusp of an exciting new era. Head coaches Joanna Bernabei-McNamee and Earl Grant are running point on a return to greatness.

the idea exchange


Boston College Basketball is on the cusp of an exciting new era. Head coaches Joanna Bernabei-McNamee and Earl Grant are running point on a return to greatness.

Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s office is the kind of place you want to hang out in. You know, put your feet up and gaze out the large windows overlooking Alumni Stadium. Boston College’s fourth-year head women’s basketball coach has made the space all her own. Mementos abound, from a chair from the 2006 Final Four when she won a national title as an assistant at Maryland, to a family photo from a trip to Canobie Lake Park.

Sitting proudly on top of an end table is a game ball painted with the details of McNamee’s first BC win—an 88-64 triumph over Rhode Island in 2018. The score of that game, in particular, catches Earl Grant’s attention. “We had this stat at College of Charleston: 97 percent of the time, if [the opponent] doesn’t score 65 then they’re losing,” explains Grant, who became the Clement and Elizabeth Izzi Family Head Men’s Basketball Coach in March 2021. “I saw that 64 and I thought, good number.”

Coach Grant and Coach Mac have a lot more in common than just a penchant for lock-down defense. Combined, they have five middle- or high-school-aged sons with robust social lives and their own athletic pursuits. Both try to recruit energetic, “high-motor” players who will dive on loose balls and aren’t afraid to make the extra pass. Both have ACC coaching experience and came to BC following successful stints at mid-majors. And both understand that their job at BC is not only to win basketball games, but also to mold their student-athletes as contributing members of the BC student body and, ultimately, as men and women for others.

Ahead of the 2021–2022 season, Beacon sat down with the coaches for a conversation that touched on all this and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You were hired to turn your program around and restore its winning ways. What made you want to come to BC?

Joanna Bernabei-McNamee: One of the things that was really attractive to me was the fact that we play in the ACC. When I was a younger assistant coach, we played Boston College and they were one of the top teams in the country in women’s basketball. So the idea of me, Joanna McNamee, getting to be the head coach in the ACC at a school that I really admired was pretty exciting.

Earl Grant: I agree. The ACC is the highest level you can go, and I love the challenge. To coach in the ACC at a place like Boston College, with so much rich history—Sweet 16 years, Elite Eights—as a big-time, winning program that hit on hard times recently is a challenge that was too good to pass up. 

What is your favorite BC tradition?

JM: I love that our student-athletes go and support each other at their different events. It’s great to be a part of that tight-knit community. There are many universities—bigger ones especially—where coaches don’t even know each other. But here it’s much more family-oriented. And that trickles right down to our student-athletes. What Coach [Jeff] Hafley is doing with football and the way the student body has been supporting them and been out for games, we would love to see that, and those traditions being brought to our arena, as well.

EG: Singing the fight song and the alma mater with my team and the student body after a big win—that’s what I look forward to and can visualize. 

You know what tradition is unbelievable? Pops on the Heights. I just went to my first one. I loved the energy of everyone joining together to raise money for scholarships. Every seat was filled, the floor was filled. So I was able to see what a sellout looks like in Conte Forum.


Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee

Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee

How important is the role of philanthropy in your team’s success? What role do donors play?

EG: It is the donors’ program—I’m just a small vessel. Being in this profession for 22 years and watching how athletics programs grow, a lot of times it comes from the donors. They’ve done a great job upgrading just about every piece of this campus, from football to baseball to softball. To see what they’re willing to do for basketball is unbelievable. We’ve already started to have success in recruiting, selling a vision of what the Hoag Pavilion will be. What I’ve seen so far here are high expectations—they want to win big—and they really are starting to show their commitment to match that expectation. It’s exciting. Just a perfect time to be here.

JM: People can choose to give to anything. When they choose Boston College Athletics and find what we’re doing worthy, it’s so humbling. It’s also inspiring and it makes me want to pay it forward as well. That’s the beautiful thing about philanthropy. Like coach Grant said, we are their program. Alumni donors learned when they were students to be in that service mindset and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I am impressed that so many continue to live that life. 

You’ve mentioned how the new Hoag Basketball Pavilion is already helping you recruit student-athletes. What else will it do? 

JM: The Hoag Pavilion is going to afford us time to work on our craft. Right now our players are often limited to [working out during] their practice time because our spaces are also being used by other teams. Their opportunities are set into a specific time of day, and it doesn’t always allow them to get workouts in during off-times. 

Thanks to Mikey and Jay Hoag, the new facility will allow us to build a schedule that really allows our players to be true student-athletes. They’re going to be able to put time into their academics and not have to come to the gym at eight or nine o’clock at night trying to get in work when they really should be studying or doing other things at that time.

Coach Earl Grant

Coach Earl Grant

EG: It is going to make us one of the most elite programs in our conference. We already have an elite city, we already have an elite academic situation. BC is like the American dollar. You can go to Tokyo and say, I have a Boston College degree—it’s recognizable. When we add this resource—full access to the weight room, full access to the gym, a nutrition center, a health and wellness center to sustain your body through a long season—it shifts the atmosphere. 

For Mikey and Jay [Hoag] to start that project, and then for all these other individuals to jump in and be passionate about this sport is just a good sign of where this program is about to go. And I’m just happy and fortunate and humble that I get the opportunity to be here at this time.

What are your goals for this season?

EG: My goal is to move the program forward. I think winning is a means to an end. For me, it’s more about the day-to-day with our student-athletes and building a foundation of: what kind of day did you have? Did you treat people right? Can you look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about what you’re doing? Did you compete academically? Did you have a good day in practice? I want my guys to function like winners. I think winning will find you if you continue to do that. 

JM: I’m looking forward to this being my fourth year and having a group of seniors who have grown with me from the first day I stepped on campus. I have a beautiful group of 15 women that I’m around every day. They bleed maroon and gold. They want to make a name for the program, and they think it’s really going to start with them. COVID took a lot away from us—two years ago we should have gone to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a long time. And last year was a really rough season. I can’t wait to give them everything they deserve as student-athletes and give the community everything it deserves in a women’s basketball program. We also cannot wait to have fans in the stands again.

Coach Mac, you’re in your fourth season at BC and this is Coach Grant’s first. What advice do you have for him?

JM: It’s funny, he’s actually given me great advice since he’s been here. I would say my advice for him, he already knows: just fall in love with the process. It’s not only about the wins and losses. It’s about molding young people and being a role model to them, using your words to inspire as a coach. I’m telling him nothing he doesn’t already know, and embracing the community of Boston College, because it’s full of unbelievable people. 

And for you, Coach Grant. She’s got a well-known nickname on campus. Do you have one yet? 

JM: He’s got a one-syllable last name, he doesn’t need one! (laughs)

EG: I’ve had players call me different things over the years. We’ll see what transpires. But for now, most of them call me Coach Grant or just Coach. Call me Coach, that’s it!  



Coach Mac on Service

Coach Mac on Service

“I’ll never forget in my first year here, we had a team meeting during which I said to our players, ‘I want you to come up with three things that, if we improve on them, as a basketball program we’ll be better for it.’ And I was shocked. One of their three goals was to get more involved in the community, to do more community service because ‘we feel like we’ve had so much given to us at BC.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, now this is different.’ You just don’t hear that in other places.”


Coach Grant on Recruiting

Coach Grant on Recruiting

So you want to play for Coach Grant? If you possess these three qualities, you’ll succeed in his program. “I know if I get all three, that’s a special player,” he says. The results are already beginning to show: In Grant’s first year on the job, BC has the number 22 recruiting class in the nation, landing multiple four-star recruits for the first time in school history.



“I have to be able to look a kid in the eye every day and feel good about them. I have to look forward to seeing them in the gym. These are people who come from good families with parents who raised them well.”


“I came up in a family where my dad and my uncles, they just worked. For 30 years, every day, they went to the same job. They’d go in early and get off late to provide for their family. I don’t do well with lazy. I want guys with energy and a motor and a willingness to work.”


“If a person is humble they know they don’t have all the answers. They want to be coached and can follow teammates. They’re willing to go into the community and serve. They will come to this campus and realize they are just one of many students and aren’t more important than anybody else.”

Beacon Staff

Share via
Copy link