Richmond, VA — In an effort to speed up the women’s basketball preview process and get each team in, I have condensed the previews to a few key points with each team emphasized by coach quotes. These quotes were obtained at Atlantic 10 women’s basketball media day which took place Oct. 23.
- Building upon last season’s success
La Salle certainly turned some heads with a largely successful season and a first round home victory at the Atlantic 10 Championships. Now the next step is following up on that with a conference that will play stronger than last season.
Reigning Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year Jeff Williams hopes to keep the momentum going.
“Just to continue to get better and grow the program,” he said. “I think we have some pretty good young kids.”
2. Amy Griffin’s leadership will continue to play a big factor
It is no secret that La Salle lost several seniors to graduation, but the one constant has been Amy Griffin (19.6 ppg/6.2 rpg). She has grown into a leadership role and now her job is to continue that both on and off the court.
“When she first came in no, she was not a natural leader,” said Williams of Griffin. “She has grown tremendously into a leader. She’s our captain, our emotional leader, I think our kids want to mimic her because she puts the work in. She’s on the gym on her own and making sure our young kids are okay off the court. I’m excited about the season she’s going to have.”
Among those expected to help Griffin out on the coach are Sofila Ngwafeng, Shaquana Edwards, Deja King and Adreana Miller. Ngwafeng recently was to be cleared from offseason hip surgery but is a huge impact-play for La Salle.
3. Grind it out
La Salle was picked seventh in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll and it is because of the mentality Williams has with his team.
“We just like to grind,” Williams said. “My identity as a coach is to work hard and grind. It’s not pretty a lot of times, but we have to find a way to get it done. I was just looking at some of the scouting services and where they had some of our kids ranked and Amy was not ranked very highly coming out of high school. She had a 17-minus which says you are a low D-I player and because she’s put the work in and has a chip on her shoulder. If she has the type of year and we have the type of year that we want to have, she will have a shot at playing at the next level.”
- Embrace the pace
Taking one look at the media day packet that was available and Embrace the pace was front and center in big letters. It is clear that coach Michael Shafer wants a chance in tempo.
This has not been an overnight process as it actually began in in the spring with some having trouble with the buy-in. Since then, things have improved in both respects.
“We had a lot of players that we felt could contribute if we put them in positions to do that,” Shafer said. “With that thinking, we felt like we could play 10 and if we’re going to play 10 kids, we don’t want to play at 60%. There’s no reason to play at 60% with 10, you won’t have to sub, might as well play seven. We felt like the best thing to do was speed it up and get them to play to the point of exhaustion, move five more in or however many and let them play. At this point, I would say we’re at 8.5 fully bought into the idea and the other 3.5 are coming, it’s a matter of them understanding that this is what we are going to be doing. It has been good at times and I just want to see us against someone else because it’s hard to really assess it against each other because we are just going up and down.”
2. Using the basketball as an object
This headline may seem a little abstract for some, but how Shafer was describing the basketball was in unique words that seem to shape the change in mindset he hopes his team had.
If Richmond wants to fare better than the ninth place Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll result, then this will be very important.
“We want the ball to be athletic, to move it and make the kids share it,” Shafer said. “Those are the shots we practice and are going to hit. Last year I think we went more one-on-one trying to create our own shot and it just wasn’t good.
3. The team is better
Shafer did reflect on the tragic May 2014 hot air balloon crash which killed then associate coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis. It is an event that certainly can have a large affect on a team. Shafer admitted he coached his team a certain way and Richmond lost some of its competitive spirit.
Now Shafer says the team is past that and the competitive spirit will rise once again.
Part of this belief comes with seniors Kylie Murphree and Micaela Parson.
“I am counting on seniors who had two years where we didn’t like it,” Shafer said. “If they have any pride at all, which I believe they do, then they’re going to address it in terms of being seniors.”
Micaela’s sister Alex is now a freshman on the team and Shafer is going to move Micaela to the wing while Murphree will become the point guard. This puts less pressure on Micaela to have to run the offense and understand the wing position.
Murphree has started shooting the ball in practice and excelling at it. In the past Shafer believes her role was to pass it to others and possibly it was accepting that role, but her shooting confidence has now opened up the passing.
Richmond’s successful sophomore class is headed by Jaide Hinds-Clarke (7.3 ppg/4.5 rpg) who is having to make the adjustment of being a focal point of opposing scouting reports.
” She has to ramp it up a little more and understand that now people know who she is and they’re going to guard her differently,” said Shafer. “She’s going to have to have answers to those things. She works her tail off but we need her to come on a little more. She is now a focal point and has to take that responsibility. She’s not refusing to do it, she’s still in the learning process of doing that.”
- New new new
This year will be an interesting one for VCU as there are senior seniors on this year’s team and five freshman have been welcomed.
VCU was picked 11th in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, which may have surprised some people who follow the conference.
Coach Beth O’Boyle joked that her hair stylist has been busy keeping her hair colored so it does not reflect the gray her new freshman are trying to give her.
In practice it’s a balance of teaching and pace. You want them to understand what the pace of what Division I basketball is but also we want to teach them.”
Still, VCU got a jump on its season with a foreign tour to South Africa and the intentions for this season are fairly clear.
“One of our slogans is ‘start unknown, finish unforgettable’, so we just want to keep working our new players and get them as much experience as they can,” O’Boyle said. “We really don’t talk about being young. As a staff we just determine that it is what it is and from this point on, we’re VCU. We’re going to keep battling and hopefully our learning curve gets us into a good spot in January.”
2. A change of pace
Often times as a coach, you stick to values and principles that work but at times there has to be an adjustment to accommodate the on-court product.
This is something O’Boyle has recognized this offseason and has tried to implement in practices.
“It’s true, we have to change up what we are doing,” she said. “There’s a big learning curve on the defensive side for freshmen and we’re going to have to mix in somethings that are going to make that easier. You’ll see a different style from us, especially in the beginning of the year and hopefully as they learn to continue and grow, we’ll be playing a little bit differently in January.”
For right now, the pace will be slower and more of an effort will have to be made on a control tempo, although O’Boyle views the season as segments. The first segment transitions into January when conference play commences and the final segment occurs during March when it is time for Atlantic 10 Championship play.
3. Keeping offensive rebounds a priority
One thing VCU has been known for is its hard work when it comes to rebounding. It would be a surprise if the Rams did not have at least 10 offensive rebounds a game.
With so much gone from last season’s team, there is a focus on instruction to make sure this advantage continues.
“We’re going to look at Sandra Skinner and Bria Gibson, our two lone juniors and most experienced players back to really help us on the rebounding,” O’Boyle said. “When we talk to our players right now about why rebounding is so important, if you want to play fast, you have to rebound. Every kid coming out of high school talks about how they want to play fast, so we really try to explain how valuable rebounding is. Those two players will be really big for us and we have some length with our guards this year. Tera Reed is a long guard that I think can help us rebound and hopefully be able to keep our pace going.”
BONUS: O’Boyle on the new rules this season
After every couple of seasons in women’s basketball, there is a new NCAA rule book and O’Boyle was quite positive when assessing them, while also providing some humor.
“I think the NCAA Committee did an excellent job with some of the adjustments they made,” she said. “Getting rid of the lose it timeout to me makes a lot of sense. I know there have been games where I use it to use it, now I can hold that until the end of the game. I think being able to choose what side of the court your end of the game play on is another one that is going to have a dramatic impact for women. It just gives you so much flexibility in who you are designing your go-to plays for. I kind of wish the 10 second one was in place the last two years, I thought it would have been great for our pressing teams, but at least the NCAA is catching up now.”