Geckeler Provides Balance and Stability to Howard
WASHINGTON, D.C. - As a point guard for the Georgetown women's basketball program, Niki Reid Geckeler proved to be one of the best in school history. A four year starter, she left her mark on the program as the school's all-time leader in assists and in three-point field goal percentage.
Not only was Geckeler a success on the court, she was also an outstanding leader and student.
That is why it is no accident that she pursued coaching once her playing days were over. After receiving her degree in psychology from Georgetown in 1993, Geckeler began her matriculation as a coach.
She started her trek first as an assistant at her alma mater, then served as associate head coach at Fordham for two years, and then returned to Georgetown as assistant coach, recruiting coordinator and academic advisor for the women's basketball program before being named the head women's coach at Howard last season.
"I always knew that I wanted to be a head coach," says Geckeler. "The various duties and responsibilities that I performed in various capacities helped prepare me for this opportunity. And the fact that I played the point guard position was also key because it helped me hone my leadership skills."
Geckeler's achievements in less than two years are just short of remarkable. After getting the position relatively late, she was faced with a challenge that she could never have imagined. With no time to recruit, Geckeler inherited a team that finished 4-26 in 2007-08. The team regrouped and became the Lady Bison, starting at 0-16 to begin the season under their new coach.
Displaying the patience and mental toughness of the lead guard position, Geckeler was unflappable and stayed the course as Howard rebounded to go 9-9 the rest of the season and advance to the second round of the MEAC tournament before losing to eventual champion, North Carolina A&T.
"I have to admit that it was a challenging transition for me," says Geckeler. "We had to change the culture and get them to believe that they could win."
Geckeler and her staff quickly embarked upon building the program through an intense recruiting process and Howard signed eight incoming freshmen.
Among the top recruits were point guard Cheyenne Curley-Payne, talented guard Tamoria Holmes, twin forwards Portia and Nicole Deterville and swing player, Kara Smith. All have come along nicely during the season and are making timely contributions.
"It was important for us to bring in student athletes who were from winning programs," says Geckeler. "Coach (Jimmy) Howard, who is recruiting coordinator, did an outstanding job in that area."
Although the Lady Bison were picked eighth in the MEAC pre-season poll, they have been one of the surprises in the conference and boast a 15-13 record overall and 10-6 in the MEAC going into the postseason tournament.
The contributions of the freshmen class, in particular the sterling play and leadership of Zykia "Ziggy" Brown and the consistent and dominant play of red-shirt freshman Saadia Doyle, has resulted in a team turnaround. Brown is a 5-8 junior guard, who led the team in scoring last season as a sophomore. She had played sparingly during her freshman season. Geckeler recognized Brown's ability and slowly built much of the offense around her, resulting in a 9-9 finish down the stretch in 2008-09. Brown was named to the All-MEAC First Team on Thursday.
It was also Geckeler's prompting and encouragement that has helped Brown to be more effective and take on the role as team leader for what is perhaps the youngest team in Division 1 women's basketball.
Doyle has been one of the most pleasant surprises in recent history at the Mecca. After sitting out last season with an ACL injury to her knee, Doyle, who was recruited along with Brown by the former coaching staff, was relatively unknown by the coaches until they got a chance to see her in the pre-season workouts. The talented forward from Atlanta, GA says that Geckeler made her feel comfortable. This resulted in her having a phenomenal season.
"I was trying to find my way and get to know the players and the coaches," recalls Doyle, the 2009-10 MEAC Rookie of the Year. "She told me that I was going to be an important part of this team. From that point, I became very comfortable." Doyle is averaging a double-double this season and ranks nationally in that category and in rebounding.
Along the way to this reclamation project for the Howard women's program, Geckeler faced perhaps yet another one of those most unexpected challenges. She and her husband Timothy realized they were expecting a child and in addition to coaching the team, Geckeler was preparing to become a mother for the first time.
"I had to make some serious adjustments during that period," she recalls. "I had to slow down because I was trying to do things that I normally do in terms of practice and demonstrating certain things to the players."
A little over nine months ago, Geckeler gave birth to her daughter Makenzie and in addition to coaching, recruiting and being a wife, she has the added responsibility of being a mother.
"It has really been an easy transition for me," she says. "I get so much support from my husband, my staff, the University and the players. They have all been great. It is really a blessing."
Oftentimes, Makenzie can be seen at practice or on occasion making the short road trips.
Geckeler's philosophy on the point guard position and the responsibility it entails and how it prepares for life, is well taken. She has handled it all very well. The Lady Bison are in a position to finish as high as third place and no lower than fourth. They have played in 10 games that have been decided by five points or less and are 9-1 in those games.
"It is interesting how I have gone from being Coach "G" to Mama G with the players," she says. "One of the biggest keys to success is the communication between the coaches and the student athletes. It is important that they become not only successful in the sport of basketball, but also in their lives as they mature and develop as a result of this experience."