Wait a second, Drexel’s women’s coach Amy Mallon isn’t from Philly? St. Joseph’s graduate, Big Five player of the year, then an assistant at Rosemont and Villanova and her alma mater, then head coach at Episcopal Academy for seven years. Even played professionally for the Philadelphia Rage (and the Irish national team). Was at Drexel as Denise Dillon’s assistant starting in 2004 …
Nope, Mallon showed up on Hawk Hill two decades ago as a transfer from Richmond, new to the city.
“I haven’t left Philly since,” Mallon said this week. “It worked out really well.”
For Drexel, too. The Dragons are 14-2, and 6-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association, feeling like they are a little more consistent than last season, even after winning the 2021 CAA Tournament and reaching the NCAA Tournament in Mallon’s first season in charge.
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Mallon grew up in Ellicott City, Md. Her Philly stories do go back to her high school days. There’s a recruiting tale still told, about the time Harry Perretta, Villanova’s coach, and John Miller, La Salle’s coach — two Big 5 legends — showed up at her home for an official recruiting visit … together.
It gets told in different ways. Like one coach stayed in the car while the other went into the house to make a pitch, then they switched places. Mallon remembers it differently: For at least a time, they both were definitely in there at the same time.
“They both were there when we were eating at the table,” Mallon said. “I’m sure of that.”
This part she thinks she’s probably imagining: “I thought Harry was sleeping on my couch when Johnny talked … There are parts I don’t remember. I was in high school. That all seemed normal, like, ‘I guess this is how it happens.’”
The kicker: Neither coach got her, but another Philly legend did. Steph Gaitley, now Fordham’s coach, a former Perretta star at Villanova, was at Richmond.
“Steph Gaitley saw something right from the beginning,” Mallon said. “You’re going to be a difference-maker, going to be the heart of our team.”
Perretta, meanwhile, with his typical blunt understatement, said he saw her as a backup at Villanova. She was more of a B recruiting option.
“I was an undersized post player in high school,” Mallon said, adding that she would have made a similar evaluation if she was looking at a high school junior who was 5-foot-10 playing inside, even at a strong program like Mt. Hebron, which routinely produced Division I players, including a teammate who went to Villanova. Perretta eventually changed his evaluation. Maryland state finals, her senior season. Mallon had something like 22 points and 22 rebounds.
“Harry and I always talk about this,” Mallon said. “He said, ‘Listen, you have a scholarship here.’”
Too late. Richmond it was. Gaitley’s vision was on target as Mallon moved to small forward and was first-team all-league two straight years. And when Gaitley left the Spiders after two straight NCAA appearances to take over at St. Joe’s, her star player followed, one season of eligibility remaining.
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There’s more to the Villanova side of the tale. … Mallon’s first game for St. Joe’s, she said, was against Villanova and Perretta.
“I’d sat out a year. I was like a crazy person, had 15 or 17 points in the first half,” Mallon said. “Harry was yelling, ‘Somebody please guard her.’”
Sure, the old evaluation helped fuel that day.
Perretta still tells her: “Biggest [recruiting] mistake I ever made.”
This all factors in as one of the players trying to guard Mallon that day, a freshman named Dillon, eventually got the Drexel head coaching job and hired Mallon away from Episcopal. And when Dillon replaced Perretta when he retired before last season, Mallon moved over to the top job.
That move was always going to happen. Mallon had turned down head coaching opportunities to stay on Market Street.
What is never a given, Drexel hasn’t skipped a beat, Dillon to Mallon. You’d have thought that, even expected it. But you never really know.
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“You know why the program is successful because you’re part of it,” Mallon said of the transition, so when she was asked what she would change, she remembers saying, “I’m not really changing anything. What would you change? Why would I change anything? There’s a culture here.”
No fears at all of a drop-off? Don’t basketball coaches fear everything? That’s not Mallon’s overall outlook, she said.
“I tried not to think of the worst-case scenario,” Mallon said. “When I played, I just never thought we were going to lose a game. When we did, I wasn’t happy, I was a competitor. That’s just my approach.”
What about shifting seats, becoming the boss? Aren’t the head coaches usually the hard-edged ones while assistants translate a bit, maybe softening edges?
“You lead like who you are,” Mallon said. “Why would I change that now?”
All these lessons pile up, Mallon staying in close touch with all the folks mentioned above. She reads books, finds lessons, shares them with her players. Losing this season’s opener to Marist wasn’t a wake-up call, she said, more like a chance to say, this isn’t us. “Dragons are real” is one of their mantras.
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Not that she and Dillon would ever head on a recruiting trip together.
“We’re going up to Scranton together in a week,” Mallon said.
Not exactly the same. Mallon already has a commitment from a player up there, Dillon is trying for a player a year younger. They just won’t lack for stories driving up the Northeast Extension. If they get bored, there’s always the one about the two crazy rival Philly coaches who showed up at Mallon’s house together.
“When I tell that story — you have to remind yourself, that really did happen,” Mallon said.