Once Carla Burube was finished with her successful basketball playing career at the University of Connecticut, her initial thoughts didn’t turn to coaching.
But it didn’t take long for Berube to realize just how much she missed the game and wanted to still be a part of it.
“If you ask my college coach, he can’t believe I became a coach,” said Berube, who played for the legendary Gene Auriemma at UConn. “I was really shy and quiet throughout college. I was living out in California after I stopped playing and was not in coaching or part of basketball at all and I really missed it.
“I did some volunteering at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo and fell in love with the on-court coaching and the building of relationships with players. It felt great giving back to women’s basketball. I had such great experiences during my career and UConn and I wanted to share that.”
Berube spent two years as an assistant coach at Providence College before becoming the head coach at Tufts University. After a successful 17-year stint at the Massachusetts college, Berube was recently named the new head coach at Princeton University.
After going 384-96 in 17 seasons at Tufts, reaching the NCAA Division 3 final twice, the Final Four four times and the Sweet 16 nine times, Berube takes over as the Tigers’ head coach. She replaces Courtney Banghart, who left for the University of North Carolina.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity,” Berube said. “I am thrilled to be the new women’s basketball coach here at Princeton. Thanks to Mollie (Marcoux Samaan, Princeton’s Director of Athletics) and the search committee to trust me with the reigns of this program. I am looking forward to building on the success. The values and philosophies are right in line with mine.
“It took a really special place and community for me to leave Tufts. In 17 years there I grew personally and professionally. It was an incredible ride as a Jumbo. I am looking forward to this journey.”
In 12 years at Princeton, Banghart won 254 games and seven Ivy League titles. It’s a tough act to follow but the Tigers feel like they have found the right person for the job.
“We were clearly looking for an experienced and highly-competitive coach who knows how to get the most out of their student-athletes,” Marcoux Samaan said. “We wanted to get a good recruiter and we wanted a proven winner. We win a lot here at Princeton and we wanted someone who knows how to win and how to win in tight situations. We feel so fortunate that we found what we were looking for in Coach Berube.
“The program is at a point where we're trying to win the Ivy League first and foremost, but we're also trying to be great nationally. I think the perception is Princeton's different. That's what we try to do with all of our programs. We also have aspirations beyond the Ivy League and I think people felt that out there because of who we are in the NCAA and the success that we've had. This year we were so close to winning that first-round (NCAA Tournament) game and a few years ago we did.”
Berube knows she is coming into a situation where the Tigers are expected to win. They went 22-10 last year and reached the NCAA tournament. Most of the roster returns, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie.
“There is a lot of talent,” Berube said. “But you also see how hard they work. These are driven student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the court and you can see that during games. I have been able to watch several games from this past season and the season before. I’ve watched Bella through USA Basketball quite a bit. She is a very talented player but she has a great group around her as well.
“We’ll tap into all of the talent that we have and we are going to play hard for 40 minutes and use the depth that we have. I am excited about the personnel and the chemistry we are going to form with four new players and Abby (Meyers) will be back as well.”
Berube won as a player at UConn, as the Huskies went 132-8 in her career, including a 35-0 national championship season in 1995. She won as a coach at Tufts, and now brings that resume of winning to Princeton.
“There is a nice blueprint here for success and there have been really great teams that have been here already,” Berube said. “I just know how to win. I am very competitive. We’re going to play the style that fits to the personnel that we have, but also to who I am as a coach. It’s been successful for a number of years now. So finding that balance of both.”
Part of Berube’s background in winning comes from playing for Auriemma at UConn. Her former coach felt like the move from Tufts to Princeton was just the right step up for his former player.
“I talked to him right away when this job opened up and the first thing he said was, 'That's perfect, that would be the next best place to be. You're ready for it, let's go’,” Berube said. “He called Mollie soon after. He's been someone over the years who I've gone to with anything. I appreciate all of his support.
“You’re a product of your environment and I took so much from what I learned there. How driven you need to be and how hard you need to work. In practice there you just can’t take seconds off. You need to be laser focused. But also a lot of things off the court I learned from him and how important relationships are off the court. He gets the most out of his players. You go in there thinking you can do this and then he takes you to (the next level). I hope that I do that with my players as well and push them past the limits they have for themselves.”
Berube knows what she wants in her players and it fits the mold of that the Tigers have done for more than a decade under Banghart.
“I’ve got a lot to learn, but I think there are so many people here that are willing to help out in this transition,” Berube said. “There are so many great coaches I have met in the last few weeks as well as people in admissions and across the board. So I think that will be a big transition. The academic piece is sort of recruiting the same kind of driven student-athletes. With any new job, there's going to be some differences and transition, but this one felt right and felt like a good next step.”
Princeton has a current streak of 10 straight years over .500, winning more than 20 games in nine of those seasons. The Tigers will look to continue that same success under Berube.
"There's only momentum to build off of at this point,” Marcoux Samaan said. “I think that's the perception that's out there, and I felt that in the search and I think that's why coach Berube was interested in this job. It took a little bit to pull her away from Tufts. She did a phenomenal job there and they love her there. It had to be a special opportunity and we knew that from the beginning.”
Added Berube of her time spent at Tufts: “I was there 17 years and loved all parts of coaching. From the recruiting to the relationships with alumni to on-court with the players to behind the scenes and the Xs and Os with my staff to watching film. It’s been my passion and I am looking forward to brining that here to Princeton.”