Meet Megan Gebbia: The AU coach is winning games and looking to attract attention across college basketball
A moment with Megan Gebbia amid another historic Patriot League and NCAA Tournament run
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
You may not know it, but American University’s women’s basketball head coach Megan Gebbia made history twice this season.
After breaking the program record for all-time wins as a head coach, Gebbia won the 2021-2022 Patriot League tournament and took the Eagles to the NCAA tournament again. She is the only coach in Eagles history to do so in program history.
The Eagles’ season was a byproduct of Gebbia loosening her grip and trusting her team, and her system has created a culture of success.
The Eagles have won three of the last seven Patriot League championships and it may have been four of the past seven if the 2020 season hadn’t been shortened. They are 43-17 in conference play over the past four seasons.
In an interview with The Eagle, Marist head coach Brian Giorgis was asked about the best X’s and O’s coaches in the game right now. He highlighted former Marist assistant coach Gebbia, whom he had met at a recruiting event in the early 2000s.
“She exudes confidence in her ability,” Giorgis said. “And she has a great personality. You just remember she had that look about her.”
In 2003, Giorgis said he saw Gebbia at the airport, ran after her and asked her to join his staff at Marist. Gebbia accepted and spent ten years as an assistant coach with the program. Gebbia and Giorgis masterminded nine NCAA Tournament appearances during her time there.
“She bought into our system and we had a lot of success with it,” Giorgis said. “We clicked really well. We can basically read each other’s minds.”
All this can be seen in the 21-second possession Gebbia manufactured out of a timeout in Bender Arena on Feb. 12 against Boston University.
It began with a high-post screen for her point guard, senior Emily Fisher. This drew two defenders out, and her stretch four senior Taylor Brown snuck through toward the basket. This is where the play ends for most teams. Attract multiple defenders on the ball, bounce pass inside, contested layup. But the Eagles are trained to make the extra pass and that is where the artistry kicked in.
Every drive, every pass, every rotation was expertly run and the ball eventually wound up back in the hands of Fisher for a mid-range jumper just before the shot clock expired.
Plays like these have the college basketball world asking: how does Gebbia get her players to play like this?
The answer, Gebbia said, begins with the program’s culture.
“Culture is everything for your program,” she said. “You have to have that in order to sustain for the year and your time at the school.”
The 49-year-old is in her ninth season at the helm of AU’s women’s basketball team. Gebbia is energetic – she talks the way she coaches – equal parts enthusiastic and collected. And after 25-plus years in college coaching, leads with an effortless amount of enthusiasm and positivity. The 2021-22 team, more than any other in Gebbia’s career, is a manifestation of the coach.
“You’re trying to find the niche, the fit and the people like yourself in some ways,” Gebbia said. “I’m a very consistent person in my life and this year’s team is working towards the consistency piece of how they approach games.”
Winning-wise, the Eagles have certainly been consistent under Gebbia. They have claimed four Patriot League regular-season titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances since she arrived. She has created a dynasty. AU closed out Boston University late, running in transition and tearing apart the Terriers’ defense, holding onto a 65-52 lead for another hard-fought victory.
Gebbia praised her team in the postgame press conference.
“I think we have a team full of talented players, and when they’re playing well together we’re a tough team to overcome,” she said. “It’s all about going up to them individually and saying ‘I believe in you’ and trying to build their confidence. You need to know that the positivity is where they’re gonna find that confidence.”
The fact is, if Gebbia and stars Jade Edwards, Brown and Fisher were doing what they’re doing at some acclaimed top-tier program like Duke or the University of Connecticut or Stanford, they’d probably be household names by now.
The current AU team will have to show greatness somehow, and the opportunity is there. Since Gebbia was hired, the Eagles have made it to the NCAA Tournament two times, but never advanced to the second round. Could this be the team to finally reach the second round?
That would get people’s attention.
Gebbia is the latest in a line of women’s basketball coaches to assemble a dynasty in the conference. The 150-win club for Patriot League coaches is a difficult one to get into. It has only a few members among the various head coaches all-time in the conference’s 36-year history. The club also only has two active members in Lehigh’s Sue Troyan and the latest addition — Gebbia.
“They are competitive year in and year out and she’s won three times,” said Giorgis, an eight-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “She’s knowledgeable. She’s enthusiastic. And she has people that believe in what she’s doing.”
Maybe it’s time for the college basketball world and beyond to get to know Megan Gebbia.