Kelly Graves has turned Gonzaga University women's basketball into one of the elite programs in the nation in his 12 years at the helm. The winningest coach in Bulldog history led GU to their unprecedented eighth-straight West Coast Conference Championship and fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six years in 2011-12.
Graves guided the Zags to a 14-2 mark in league action in 2011-12 after back-to-back perfect 14-0 seasons. Despite having their 40-game WCC unbeaten streak broken - which included both regular season and tournament play and spanned parts of four seasons - the Bulldogs found themselves as a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament after earning the school's first at-large bid. Gonzaga reached the Sweet Sixteen for the third-straight season after upsetting both No. 6 Rutgers and No. 3 Miami. GU's season came to an end against No. 2 seed Kentucky.
The Bulldogs closed out the year at 28-6 - their sixth-straight 20-win season; and earned a final ranking of No. 19 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Top 25 poll. Gonzaga also jumped from No. 25 in the nation to No. 14 in the nation in attendance, averaging 5,443 fans per home game.
With Graves as head coach, the Zags are now 8-5 in NCAA Tournament play.
The 49-year old now owns a 324-151 career record that also includes three year stints at both Saint Mary's College and Big Bend Community College. At Gonzaga, Graves is 261-125 overall and 124-44 in West Coast Conference.
Dating back to his years as an assistant coach at the University of Portland, Graves has now coached 32 All-West Coast Conference performers, seven WCC Players of the Year, six All-Americans, two WCC Defender's of the Year, four WCC Newcomer's of the Year and 25 WCC All-Tournament selections. He also has coached two players who were selected in the WNBA Draft, including the 2011 No. 3 overall pick Courtney Vandersloot.
The 2010-11 season is probably the pinnacle of his career thus far and won't be forgotten anytime soon. The Bulldogs became the Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 11 seed bulldozed their way to their inaugural Elite Eight appearance by defeating a Big 10 Conference member, a Pacific-10 Conference member and Big East Conference member. The Zags defeated No. 6 seed University of Iowa; No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 10 seed University of Louisville before falling to No. 1 seed Stanford University.
Gonzaga closed the season with a school record 31 wins. After starting the season 2-3, the Bulldogs went 29-2, including a 21-game winning streak that ended in the Elite Eight. The Zags were rewarded for their spectacular season, ending the year ranked a school-high eighth.
The recent success isn't a surprise for many as the Zag had slowly been making a name for themselves nationally. Gonzaga won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game in 2008-09 and found its way in its inaugural Sweet Sixteen game in 2009-10. The Bulldogs first appearance in the NCAA Tournament was in 2006-07.
No stranger to the area, Graves started his coaching career in nearby Moses Lake as the head coach of Big Bend Community College. In three seasons at the school, Graves turned a struggling program with four wins his first season into a Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges power his last season with 23 wins.
From Big Bend, Graves earned his first taste of West Coast Conference basketball as an assistant at the University of Portland under head coach Jim Sollars. During his tenure at Portland, Graves recruited many of the players that helped the Pilots post a 102-46 record and 51-19 WCC mark in five seasons. The Pilots made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1994-97 and boasted three straight WCC Players of the Year from 1995-97.
In 1998 Graves moved south in the WCC to guide the program at Saint Mary's College. He made an immediate impact with the Gaels, producing a 66-26 record in three seasons with WCC Tournament championship game appearances his first two seasons. In his first season at the helm he guided SMC to a 20-9 record, the first 20-win season at the school since the 1990-91 season.
Graves followed up that success with a 26-7 mark and two firsts for the Gaels program. The first-ever WCC Tournament championship and first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, a 61-57 setback to Notre Dame. His final Saint Mary's squad finished with a 20-10 mark that included a first-round WNIT victory over Hawai'i and a second-round loss to Long Beach State.
Graves is an active member of the WBCA (Women's Basketball Coaches Association) and currently sits on the Board of Directors.
This past summer, Graves added USA Basketball to his resume, becoming an assistant coach with the U18 women's basketball squad and helping the team to a gold medal at the 2012 FIBA Americas.
Graves and his wife Mary have three sons - Maxwell Joseph (1995) Jackson Obde (1997) and William Kelly (2000).