Richmond, VA — During the season, watching film is often times comes with the mindset of preparing for the next opponent but it can be hard to be self-reflective when a season requires so much concentration.
Second year St. Bonaventure women’s basketball coach Jesse Fleming refers to this as getting caught a bit in the prisoner of the moment.
Last year, Fleming was trying to find his identity of who he was as a coach and just a year after making the NCAA Tournament, St. Bonaventure came away with a 9-20 record.
The year was just as much of a learning experience for Fleming as it was for his players.
Now with a season under his belt, Fleming has a clear understanding of what he wants from his team and how to take that path.
“I just want really tough kids,” he said. “There’s definitely a part where I focus on IQ and I do love the x’s and o’s part of it but at the end of the day when I did my review of our film, I kept writing down that it didn’t matter what we were running, the kids are confident and they are tough. I’ve focused on toughness and giving kids confidence. I think I was too overly critical last year of our players and I think I’ve learned that you just have to build confidence. I feel like we are already seeing some differences in this start of the young season so far.”
That confidence continues to grow throughout the Olean, NY campus and quite possibly for no one more than Fleming himself.
“Losing teaches you some good lessons and I feel like there was never a year I’ve grown more as a coach then last year,” said Fleming. “I feel like a completely different coach coming into this year. You figure out what’s important and you focus on that.”
Assessing this year, Fleming has built a happy medium in how to address last year.
On one hand, St. Bonaventure competed until the very end against both Dayton and Duquesne, the two teams which made last year’s Atlantic 10 Championship finals which can bring pride, but this is a new look Bonnies team by some extent as there are five new players, four of which are eligible for this season.
With this happy medium, Fleming has tried his best to avoid last year with his players, but also stress the confidence of not being too far away.
Still with this rather new team, there are a new set of challenges that will be presented and need to be tackled.
“There’s a fine line because the best teams are the ones that have great chemistry together and I’ve been thrilled with how the chemistry has been these short couple of months, but the best teams are the ones built over a couple of years that get better and better,” Fleming said. “We’re kind of a little bit of patchwork, but I like the talent level a lot. A lot of kids are coming from winning programs and then we have a couple of holdovers from the NCAA Tournament team a couple of years ago, so there is some winning pedigree there which helps a little bit. The concern is when the lights are on if we can execute together and have the chemistry of a team that has been together longer than we have.”
This season, St. Bonaventure returns two of its starters in senior guard Mariah Ruff and sophomore guard Jalisha Terry.
Ruff averaged 13.9 points and 3.8 assists a game, each of which ranks in the top-10 among returning Atlantic 10 starters. She was recognized for her efforts by being named to the Preseason Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team.
Terry averaged 7.3 points per game and twice was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week last season. She scored in double figures five times in conference play.
Also returning for the Bonnies is junior guard McKenna Maycock who averaged 7.0 points per game, an increase of 5.7 points from her 2015-16 season mark. Though she was not a starter, Maycock was frequently called upon off the bench averaging 28.4 minutes a game.
Fleming also had high praised for sophomore guard Danielle Migliore for her efforts this summer in the gym to improve herself as a player. She averaged 1.7 points per game in 20 total contests.
St. Bonaventure certainly has talented guard play which can compete in the Atlantic 10, however the solution for post play is not as clear.
With the losses of Gabby Richmond (12.0 ppg/7.1 rpg) and Matea Britvar (6.7 ppg/6.0 rpg), St. Bonaventure does not have any returning post players.
Fleming conceded that his team will be smaller and that a three-man will be playing the natural four position this season.
“I think that will make us harder to guard and makes us more versatile,” said Fleming. “We can play more pace in space than we were last year.”
As far as the five spot in the lineup and both freshmen Emily Calabrese and Abigail Johnson provide different skill sets for the Bonnies.
“Emily Calabrese is kind of that classic Bonaventure forward that we’ve had in the past where she’s got great footwork, is a little undersized but is a tough kid that wants to get better,” Fleming said. “Abigail Johnson from England is completely different a 6-foot-2, physical, a great rebounder and a warrior near the basket.”
With the decrease in post height, some which may help St. Bonaventure in addition to its versatility are the increased foul calls in the post.
These whistles have been less about size being a factor and more about where a defender is located in the post and how they are defending.
“I think that’s something that hopefully will help us even in the past when we’ve been good, our forwards have drawn lots of fouls whether playing in the perimeter or facing up inside and going by and all of that hand check stuff really does help,” said Fleming. “We really do count on that to kind of even out the size advantage at times.”
St. Bonaventure has an exhibition game on Nov. 4 against Edinboro before opening its season Nov. 11 against Niagara as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team.