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Challenges are opportunities, not roadblocks, for UVA women’s basketball’s Coach Mox

Amaka Agugua-Hamilton
Virginia women’s basketball coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton and athletics director Carla Williams. Photo by Scott German.

Virginia’s new head women’s basketball coach, Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, aka Coach Mox, comes to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia having posted a 74-15 record over three seasons at Missouri State.

Her Missouri State team won Missouri Valley Conference titles in 2020 and 2021, and Agugua-Hamilton was named MVC Coach of the Year in both campaigns. During her inaugural season with the Lady Bears, Agugua-Hamilton led the team to a 26-4 record, and finished the season ranked 19th in the USA Coaches Poll.

Spoiler alert, just in case Virginia fans are dreaming of a repeat first-year performance at UVA, not so fast. Agugua-Hamilton was given the keys to a nice ride in Springfield. Agugua-Hamilton succeeded former Lady Bears head coach Kellie Harper, who left to become the boss at her alma matter Tennessee – yes, that Tennessee.

Under Harper, Missouri State in 2019 advanced to the NCCA Sweet Sixteen, finishing the campaign 25-10. The Lady Bears had at that point advanced to either the Women’s National Invitational Tournament or NCAA tourney in five consecutive years. In short, the cupboard was overflowing when Agugua-Hamilton took possession of the MSU basketball program.

At Virginia, let’s just say the ride she’s just taken title of is on the side the road waiting for a tow truck, and for Agugua-Hamilton, that’s what she’s been waiting for.

Agugua-Hamilton, accompanied by her husband, Billy Hamilton , and their son, Exe, was introduced Thursday morning at a press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.

Agugua-Hamilton succeeds Tina Thompson, whose overall mark in four years at Virginia was 30-63.

“It’s a blessing to be leading a program with such rich women’s basketball history, academic excellence and global name recognition,” said Agugua-Hamilton,  who grew up in Northern Virginia, graduating from Oakton High School in Vienna.

Many, including former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, who attended the introductory press conference consider Agugua-Hamilton one of the most dynamic young coaches in the sport of women’s college basketball.  They say if a coach can win the press conference, that’s half the battle, and if true, Agugua-Hamilton  is already on the way to restoring Virginia women’s basketball.

Virginia Athletic Director Carla Williams spoke before introducing Agugua-Hamilton at the press conference.

“An elite program requires selflessness by all involved, a team-first approach, a commitment to integrity, a relentless work ethic, a determined pursuit of excellence on and off the court, talented and coachable player, a dedicated staff, and lastly a leader that can bring these people and these ideas together, a leader who can inspire others to believe,” Williams said. “And Coach Mox is that person for us here at the University of Virginia.”

After listening to Agugua-Hamilton’s opening comments and seeing the confidence beaming from her face, it’s obvious she checks all the boxes in what UVA needs in their women’s basketball coach-and more.

“Being home, there’s no better feeling, to be honest”, said Agugua-Hamilton, who was an assistant coach both at Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University.

“Being here, just a few days, it has just been awesome, I think almost every coach in the athletics department has already reached out to me,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “My husband is excited to be closer to family. There’s nothing like it. I think it’s the best possible situation for me personally and professionally.”

The transition to Virginia will be a bit easier as Agugua-Hamilton brings her entire staff from Missouri State to Charlottesville. She uses an acronym “FAB” to describe the mentality she instills in her program. It stands for “family, academics, basketball.”

“Family”, Agugua-Hamilton stated. “We must work at this, it’s not going to be something we say, it’s going to be who we are. You will be accountable to the person on your right and your left and will understand you are part of something that’s bigger than yourself.

“Academics. You have to take care of your business in the classroom, just as much as you take care of your business on the court. My job is to not only make you a better basketball player and to win games, but it’s also to prepare you for life after basketball.

“Basketball. Basketball is last in that order, but it’s certainly not least. It’s a big reason why we’re here. The tradition here for many, many years was to pursue championships and to put banners in the stands. We will get back to that. Player development will be the key, recruiting will be essential.”

After the press conference was over and the photo op was finished, I had an opportunity to speak with Agugua-Hamilton separately, and afterwards I wanted to rush to the ticket office to snatch a few season tickets, she was that dynamic, that motivating. It was easy to see, she felt at home and wants to restore the pride in Virginia’s women’s basketball.

I was fortunate to have covered many of the most dominant seasons of Virginia basketball under Debbie Ryan. University Hall was, on many nights, an OSHA violation waiting to happen for noise levels. The community supported the program and was a vital part of the success. Agugua-Hamilton gets that.

“You know, Scott, I’m someone who just loves to go out and talk,” said Agugua-Hamilton. “I want people to get to know me, get to know my vision. It’s not just about me, it can’t be. Our players are going to be part of the community, and the community a part of our program.”

Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett has often said that “you have to learn to lose with your players before you can win with them.”

For Virginia women’s basketball fans, they have experienced plenty of losing the past few seasons. Now comes some genuine enthusiasm, dedication and support, like every strong family possesses. And family is what Coach Mox is all about.

Story by Scott German

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