Catching Up with Former Monarchs Coach Maura McHugh

By Scott Mammoser

Maura McHugh has coached basketball in just about every corner of the United States, including three seasons leading the Sacramento Monarchs, from 2001 to 2003. But for the past 12 years, you can listen to her analyzing Arizona State games on KDUS 1060 AM with award-winning play-by-play man Jeff Munn.

“Leaving coaching,” McHugh said, “I wanted to stay connected to basketball, and broadcasting was a good way to do it. I like being able to watch a lot of good college basketball teams and being able to describe it to an audience.”

McHugh has been on the call for many spectacular games, but she mentioned the Sun Devils’ win over an Oregon team that was ranked second in the nation on January 10, saying what an emotional moment it was and exciting for the fan base.

Born in Massachusetts, McHugh’s family moved to Connecticut before two and a half years of high school in Virginia. That led her to a playing career at Old Dominion and roles as a graduate assistant and assistant coach at Penn State. She was the head coach at Oklahoma during the 1980s and Arizona State from 1987 to 1993, before leading the Long Beach Stingrays of the American Basketball League in 1997-98 and ultimately the Monarchs.

Yolanda Griffith played for McHugh on both the Stingrays and the Monarchs, where she was the WNBA MVP in 1999 and would later win gold medals in the Sydney and Athens Olympics.

“It was great,” McHugh said of coaching in the pro leagues. “I was fortunate to coach Yolanda Griffith in the ABL. She was the franchise player and invited me to be at her Hall of Fame ceremony (in 2014). I enjoyed the level of competition and the level of play. It was nice to be able to focus on basketball, not recruiting. It was nice being connected with an NBA team and to see how they got connected.”

The Monarchs teams of the early 2000s were stacked, not only with Griffith, but Hall of Famer and fellow Old Dominion alumna Ticha Penicheiro, Tangela Smith, Kara Lawson, Ruthie Bolton, and Edna Campbell to name a few. McHugh wrapped up her coaching career at Stony Brook University in New York. Besides calling Sun Devil games, McHugh spends her days working out, reading and meeting with friends who describe her as a ‘Lady of Leisure.’ There is also a group of friends she has joined for hikes on the Maine coast for the past 20 years. While most of her family still resides in the Virginia Beach area, McHugh and her husband have owned the same house in the Phoenix neighborhood of Ahwatukee since she was named ASU coach in 1987. She added that her husband, who she has been married to for 36 years, works for a beer company, which she likes because she’s Irish.

McHugh was also enthusiastic about the job Nikki McCray-Penson has done in her three years at Old Dominion. McCray-Penson won two Olympic gold medals as a player with Bolton and one with Griffith.

“I think she was a great hire,” McHugh said. “The program had really been struggling. It was a total rebuild. She was a great player with unbelievable basketball experience. She won a national title under Dawn Staley at South Carolina (as an assistant in 2017), she’s paid her dues and got her feet wet as a coach.”

The Monarchs were 24-4 and in first place in Conference USA through the weekend, while the Sun Devils were 20-10 and headed to the Pac-12 Tournament as the fifth seed.

“They’ve had some very good wins,” McHugh said. “There were a lot of new players to get into the mix. The Pac-12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. There is a lot of height, size and quickness. Every game is a battle. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing No. 1 or No. 12. There is a great mixture of new and old, and it’s a matter of consistency. They are an undersized team, without an inside presence, which is tough in the Pac-12. Charli Turner Thorne has done a great job coaching the team this year.”