North Central College successfully coaxed an Illinois basketball great to return to the western suburbs in July when they hired Maggie McCloskey-Bax to fill their women's basketball head coaching vacancy. McCloskey-Bax, a Riverside-Brookfield High School and Loyola University Chicago graduate, accepted the role after five years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"I learned a lot from all of the coaches I've worked for, especially in the last five years at Carthage," McCloskey-Bax said. "When the North Central job opened up, it hit all of the marks for me."
In terms of basketball résumés, McCloskey-Bax's is hard to beat. At RBHS—where she played for head coach Larry Rocco—she was named to the Suburban Prairie all-conference team four times. In three of those years, she was named player of the year in the conference.
At Loyola, her dominance on the court continued. McCloskey-Bax is the all-time leader in three-point field goals made at both Loyola and in the Horizon League with 325. She holds a NCAA record for making at least one 3-pointer in 69 consecutive games. During her collegiate years, she was a favorite of newly famous Loyola icon Jean Dolores Schmidt, better known as Sister Jean.
After college, McCloskey-Bax continued her playing career and began her coaching career in Reykjavik, Iceland. She played for the Fjölnir basketball club in the Iceland Express League and simultaneously coached a 12-year-old girls basketball squad.
"Those years helped me grow up and get out of my comfort zone," McCloskey-Bax said. "I had to learn a little bit of the Icelandic language, so it was a tough first head coaching experience, but it was worth it."
McCloskey-Bax's background in basketball is immense, but her experience at Carthage is particularly advantageous as it pertains to the North Central job. Both teams compete in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, which has enabled McCloskey-Bax to familiarize herself with the competitive atmosphere for the last five years.
"The CCIW is such a great conference so it was a great opportunity for me to stay within that," McCloskey-Bax said. "At Carthage, I primarily recruited Illinois kids, so I know exactly the kind of recruits that I'll be looking for."
Though the recruiting transition may be relatively seamless, McCloskey-Bax still has her work cut out for her at North Central. Before bringing in any new players, her immediate priorities include acquainting herself with the current roster and hiring an assistant coach.
North Central finished last in the CCIW last year, only amassing three wins in conference play. Carthage, with McCloskey-Bax's help, finished third in the conference and earned a bid to the CCIW tournament last season.
North Central's athletic director, Jim Miller, expressed excitement over the hiring of McCloskey-Bax.
"Coach McCloskey-Bax brings a variety of experience to this position," Miller said in a press release. "She was an outstanding local high school player at Riverside-Brookfield High School, played at the NCAA Division I level at Loyola University Chicago and has now coached at two NCAA Division III institutions."
If McCloskey-Bax's prior work in basketball is any indication of how her head coaching career will turn out, Miller is right to be enthused.
"In the first year, it's all about getting comfortable with my coaching style," McCloskey-Bax said. "In five years, I hope North Central will be at the top of the CCIW. Eventually, we want to compete for a national championship. I think North Central has a lot to offer in terms of bringing the right kids here in order to achieve those goals."
McCloskey-Bax's husband is originally from Naperville, so the homecoming was doubly welcomed.
"I love living in the west suburbs and I had a great experience at Riverside-Brookfield," McCloskey-Bax said. "To settle down, and plant my family's roots here for the future is an exciting opportunity. I have such great memories here and it'll nice to be closer to family."