The University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s basketball program has been struggling for about a decade now. The team has not had a winning season since the 2010-2011 season, has not finished higher than 11th place in the Big Ten over the last nine years and last year hit rock bottom with a 5-19 overall record (2-18 in the Big Ten).
This past April, UW made Marisa Moseley the eighth coach in Wisconsin women’s basketball history and is counting on the former “Patriot League Coach of the Year” to turn around the UW program like she did at Boston University.
Moseley took over a team at Boston University that had not had a winning season since 2012-2013 and had been 26-63 overall record in the three seasons prior to her arrival. During her first season, the 2018-2019 season, Moseley led the Terriers to a fourth-place finish in the conference after they were predicted to finish ninth. It was the team’s first winning season in five years. Moseley was named Patriot League Coach of the Year.
“Had you seen me in October or November of that year, you would have never thought that that was what the outcome would have been. I was just trying to keep my head above water,” Moseley laughs. “But, yes, I was really flattered to get that honor and to be with the people around me, the players and the staff. I’m grateful for the ‘Coach of the Year’ honor … but to be able to build a winning tradition and a foundation of a winning program, that was what I took most out of that experience.”
Moseley ended up guiding her Terrier teams to a 45-29 overall record during her three years as head coach at Boston University. During the 2020-21 season, she led her team to a spot in the conference tournament championship game for the first time in program history.
There are some parallels from that Boston University team pre-Coach Moseley and to the current UW women’s basketball program who has had great struggles. To the many doubters who feel like the UW women’s basketball team is hopeless, Moseley responds, “Why not here? Why not now?”
“I looked around at all of the success that the University of Wisconsin has been having in so many sports and I was like, ‘Why not us?’ as well. I think we have every resource and every opportunity to do this and the right combination of people, skillset, and knowledge on my staff to get it done,” she says.
But how did the Badgers even get on Moseley’s radar?
“When the job opened up, I’ll be completely honest … I wasn’t like, ‘God, I have to go to Wisconsin!’” Moseley smiles. “Boston was really good to me and I was really happy there. But when I did get a call from the search firm I remember thinking that I recently had a conversation with myself about not closing the door on too many opportunities.
“As I began to talk to Mac [UW Athletic Director Chris McIntosh] and Justin [Doherty, Senior Associate Athletic Director for UW Athletics] and go through the process, I really became more intrigued,” Moseley adds. “I talked to Coach [Geno] Auriemma and he said it was a no-brainer: it’s a great academic school, great location in a great conference. Having his vote of confidence was important and helpful in taking that next step.”
Before landing the head coaching job at Boston University, Moseley was an assistant coach for nine years under Coach Auriemma at the University of Connecticut, a national women’s basketball powerhouse. Moseley didn’t know much about Madison, prior to her arrival in Wisconsin, but she says that one of her best friends from college was from Milwaukee who helped her learn about the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin.
“I had been here a few times in college but mostly just for basketball where you come in at night and you leave at night. You really don’t get to know the city,” she says. “I honestly had no idea how beautiful it was living between two lakes.”
One of the first things Moseley did when she came to town was to get to know her new community. You soon could see her at vaccination events at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side or with Madison West High Football Head Coach Art Bonomie and other Southside Raider coaches giving inspirational speeches to the young football players.
“Being involved in the community is a huge part of what we do. I think we owe so much to the folks in any community that we are in so I wanted to really immerse myself in Madison shortly after I got here,” Moseley says. “I have so much more work to do in that regard. But I wanted to take every opportunity when I first got here.
“[Coach] Artie [Bonomie] was amazing when I first got here to give me an opportunity to speak to his young men and their moms and dads about what we look for and what we are building,” she adds. “That really transcends — championships transcends gender and leadership transcends genders. To be able to talk to young men about what we are doing at UW was wonderful.”
Moseley says that she is very impressed with the tremendous fan support she has seen here at UW.
“I have to be honest, in all of the places I have been I’ve never seen the affinity that people have for the Badgers here anywhere else. So that was exciting. Especially for women’s sports,” she says.
“For me, to know that we’re going to put a really good product on the floor and that we can really entice people to come out, you first have to build community with the fans and they will be even more willing to engage with what you are doing,” she adds.
One of Coach Moseley’s most important jobs this year and the next few years will be recruiting. It’s much easier to recruit great players when you have a powerhouse program like UConn versus a Badger team that was 5-19 last year and hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade. But Moseley is confident she will get the players that she wants and needs to turn around the program.
“The big thing you’re selling is yourself and what you’re going to build. I think my experience as an assistant at Connecticut and what I was able to accomplish in that role and as head coach in Boston, being able to turn around a program that was going through five years of not winning… I think my track record and experiences have helped me and will help me to paint a picture for future Badgers and their families to see this is possible and it is not only something that I’d like to do,” she says, pausing.
“It’s something we’re going to do,” she adds.
Moseley is a former basketball stand-out herself — she was a two-time captain of Boston University’s team and helped lead the Terriers to the 2003 NCAA Tournament. She says that her recruiting style is ‘what you see is what you get.’
“People that tell you that they are genuine, are often not genuine. I want people to feel that and not have to tell them that ‘I’m soooo genuine.’ I want them to actually feel like they could trust me with their child for the next four years and that I have their child’s best interest at heart,” Moseley says.
“I have a holistic way that I recruit and develop my players. I don’t want them to feel like they are just basketball players or that they are just here to get their education in the classroom, but that we can provide an education for them to become really empowered young women,” she continues. “I think that really speaks to people and they feel that me and my staff are the right people to lead them.”
Badgers fans will get their first chance to see Moseley’s coaching style and her new team when they kick off the season against UW-Oshkosh on Halloween at the Kohl Center this fall. Moseley is very happy about the staff she’s put together, a group that she says she compiled learning from her past experiences coaching at UConn and Boston University.
“You want good people who are also winners. Those were the two things that are always critical to me. Because winning begets winning,” Moseley says. “Then you also go out and recruit really good kids who are also winners and if they are not, they really don’t fit in with what we’re trying to do. That’s how you develop a championship culture.”
According to her bio, Moseley is a leader in diversity and inclusion-related initiatives, a founding member of the Patriot League’s Anti-Racism Commission, and was a key member in the formation of BU’s Social Justice & Inclusion Committee. She says that she wants her players to be well-rounded on and off the court.
As the basketball season rapidly approaches, what are her goals?
“I’m an odd person in that I never really set a lot of specific goals. As much as I try to talk to my team about having goals, I never really did it. I just try to be excellent at whatever I’m doing and I feel like that is boding well for me,” Moseley says. “That’s what I’m going to try and do … be the best version of myself and make this team the best version of ourselves every day and I feel like if we do that, we’ll turn some heads this year and we’ll be building a foundation for the future.”