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By Steve Phillips for theACC.com
A running blog from #ACCMediaDay for Women's Basketball [Click here for more information]
3:45 p.m. - Virginia: ENDING THE DROUGHT
Virginia last made the NCAA Tournament field in 2010, but head coach Joanne Boyle says she feels no pressure – internally or externally – as she works to restore the program’s status among the nation’s elite.
“I’ve been in the business long enough to know you can’t operate like that, or you are just not going to be successful,” Boyle said. “I know that I am here for a reason. I know the process of building programs is different than it was six, seven years ago. I understand that, our administration understands that. I have a great relationship with (athletic director) Craig (Littlepage), and we talk about it a lot.”
Most felt the Cavaliers would be selected for the NCAA field Boyle’s first season in Charlottesville in 2011-12, when they finished 25-11 overall and stood 9-7 in ACC play. But the call from the selection committee didn’t come.
“You look at the numbers, and we should have been there,” Boyle said. “And then you look at the last two years with injured players. So I look at this year as kind of the year. We’re young, but we are at a point where we can springboard it. We’ve played Notre Dame tough. We’ve had some great wins – we beat Maryland, we beat Tennessee our first year. We just haven’t been consistent, and we haven’t had consistently healthy bodies. I am looking for this year’s team to establish that consistency, and you do that by consistently having great practices. I feel like we are on the right track with that.”
3:20 p.m. - Duke: INSIDE STRENGTH, SCHEDULE STRENGTH
Three collegiate seasons. Three All-America honors. Three times ACC Defensive Player of the Year. It is hard to envision what Duke senior center Elizabeth Williams might possibly produce in the way of an encore, but she is anxious to try.
“Whenever it’s your senior year, you want to leave a legacy,” said Williams, who enters this season needing 24 blocked shots on the all-time NCAA list and 104 blocks to become the ACC’s all-time leader. “I am hoping the younger players are able to learn something from me and take it forward.”
There is a talented corps that is eager to learn, as head coach Joanne P. McCallie lured the nation’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class to Durham. McCallie and her team will face what may be the nation’s most difficult schedule as they eye an improvement on last season’s 28-7 overall record and work for a deeper postseason run in March.
“Since I’ve been at Duke, and even before I came to Duke, we’ve always played incredible schedules,” McCallie said. “But the reality is we’re just not here to collect games by winning easily. I just don’t think that builds any kind of real confidence. Confidence is built by doing something substantial, and by playing an excellent schedule. Our team knows that when they face our (nonconference) schedule that they are prepared for the ACC, and they’re prepared for March and April. That’s really what it is all about. It’s about March and April, and of getting there with the know-how to get things done.”
3:00 p.m. - Georgia Tech: HIGH GEAR
Georgia Tech found its niche running an uptempo offense last season. Look for more of the same in 2014-15, especially with senior Sydney Wallace and sophomore Kaela Davis returning to the backcourt.
“If it’s not broke, we’re not don’t fix it,” head coach MaChelle Joseph said. “Offensively, last year was the first year we were really able to score a lot of points (79.7 per game) and be among the top half of the league in scoring. We were traditionally known for grinding it out on offense and getting stops on the defensive end to win games. But with the addition of talented scorers like Kaela and Sydney and, a year ago, Tyuanna Marshall, we had those players who could score consistently night-in and night-out.”
With the return of Davis and Wallace, Joseph has a pair of players capable of producing 20-point nights on a consistent basis. Davis averaged 18.6 as a freshman last season.
“Those are great luxuries to have,” Joseph said. “But we know that at this level and in this league, you’re not going to win without an established inside game at a consistent level. We’re working hard to establish that. We’re going to try to run and push the ball, but a lot of people know that about us. They are going to try to make it difficult for us to get up and down the floor because they like us in a halfcourt game. But this year I think we will have more of an ability to score in the quarter-court because we have begun to establish an inside game.”
2:40 p.m. - Virginia Tech: INTERNATIONAL HAVEN
Head coaches are usually reserved in their praise of incoming freshmen. But Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff makes no secret of the fact he believes 6-foot-3 Sweden native Regan Magarity is capable of making an immediate contribution as the Hokies seek to replace graduated Uja Ugoka – and her 18.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Magarity earned numerous Swedish All-Star honors and was named the Swedsh MVP of both the U-15 ad U-20 national championships. She was also named the top Swedish player by FIBA at the U-16 European Championships.
Magarity is another in what is becoming a long line of international players that have chosen Georgia Tech during Wolff’s three-plus seasons, most of whom – like Ugoka – have made immediate contributions.
“I didn’t have any grand plan to recruit international players when I became head coach at Virginia Tech,” Wolff said. “But I have found that they are very appreciative of what universities such as Virginia Tech have to offer. They are very open to constructive criticism, and you aren’t constantly butting heads. One of the things I love about (Australia native and starting point guard) Vanessa Panousis is that I can get on her about her defense, and then we can walk out of gym and still be friends. She’s not calling her parents and 20 other people, and having them on the Internet saying I’ve been mean to her that day.”
2:30 p.m. - NC State: SEASONED VETERAN
NC senior guard Len’Nique Brown-Hoskin transferredt from Southern Cal to join the Wolfpack at the end of her freshman season, and has thus played for three head coaches during her collegiate career. On Wednesday, she was asked how that broad experience had enhanced her “basketball IQ.”
“I doubt I improved her IQ, so thank goodness the first two (coaches) did,” NC State second-year head coach Wes Moore interjected.
Brown-Hoskin said she has learned to mentally re-set, often learning entire new concepts from scratch.
“I’ve learned to adjust on the fly,” Brown-Hoskins said. “I can pick up things easier, just running different sets and learning different offenses.”
Moore sensed he had a special player upon his arrival at NC State last year after a successful stint at Chattanooga, promptly making Brown-Hoskin his starting point guard.
“To me there was no doubt that Len’Nique needed to be our point guard, and I think she has proven that over the last year or so,” Moore said. “I look forward to watching her as she continues that into this year.”
2:25 p.m. - Boston College: THE NEXT (GIANT) STEP
Hard work is supposed to lead to success. But Boston College head coach Erick Johnson says it isn’t that simple, particularly when you are trying to crack the next tier of ACC competition.
“They think, ‘We’re working hard, so we deserve to win,’” Johnson said of his younger players. “My answer to that is, ‘Guess what? Everyone is working hard. Everyone practiced hard over the summer Everyone had a two-hour workout today, and then they went to lifting. Just doing it makes us better than these other teams.’”
But Johnson sees a marked difference as the Eagles prepare for their third season under his watch. After struggling through a 24-38 combined record in his first two seasons at Chestnut Hill, Johnson sees a team that is sick of losing. More importantly, he sees a team that is markedly improved.
“Don’t get me wrong – I love this team and I love coaching them,” Johnson said. “But the first two years here were a bit of a grind at times,” Johnson said. “This year it’s been fun. I’ve spent a lot less time on my soap box and more time just coaching basketball.”
Johnson’s players sense that they are better, too. Sophomore guard Kelly Hughes says that makes a difference.
“I think confidence is going to be a big factor for us this year,” Hughes said. “Last year at this time, we honestly weren’t a very confident team. Now, a year later, we can’t wait to go out to the West Coast to play Stanford. We can’t wait to battle a team that’s ranked in the top 20 in the country. I think confidence in ourselves is the first step. And I think the accountability of this team is impressive. We’re not let anyone get away with the little things, and we are working every day to get the best out of everyone in practice.”
2:15 p.m. - Notre Dame: NEW LOOK IRISH
Notre Dame has been picked to repeat as ACC champions after storming through the conference unbeaten in their first year as league members. Additionally, returning junior All-American Jewell Loyd, was chosen as the likely ACC Player of the Year by both the media and the league’s 15 head coaches.
But with key graduation losses and several newcomers adjusting to their roles, head coach Muffet McGraw says to expect a much different team in 2014-15 – especially in the early going.
“I think this year’s team going to be different because of the way we are going to begin the season,” McGraw said. “We have a couple of question marks. I think this puzzle is starting to fit together pretty well. Some of the pieces are starting to fall in nicely. But I think we’re going to take some bumps early. I don’t think we’re as smooth, and I don’t think we’re going to look as good as we did last year. We lost so much experience. Late game, I think you will see a little different look from us. We’re trying to keep it simple. I know I have to be patient.”
1:10 p.m. - ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Nora Lynn Finch: STILL PLAYING FOR KAY
The Kay Yow Cancer Fun and “Play for Kay” initiative have become focal points of women’s college basketball. Yow passed away in January of 2009, but ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Nora Lynn Finch found the late NC State head coach’s legacy to be very much alive as she met with ACC student-athletes and coaches on Wednesday.
“I would say a third of the student-athletes that I met with this morning knew Kay,” Finch said. “Three of them had been to her camps, so they knew her quite well. All of our coaches in the ACC knew her. It was fun to hear some of the coaches tell their stories while we were talking with the students. They would tell them, ‘We all knew Kay, and yes, she was inspirational and yes, she was class, an yes, she was culture. But she was also funny’ … and then Katie Meier (of Miami) would start on ‘funny.’ The coaches and players alike are glad to be re-introduced to her, get to know her better and to understand better while we are playing for Kay.”
Media in attendance on Wednesday viewed a two-minute video, much of which was devoted to clips of Yow’s expression of her faith and her mission to help other cancer patients. As Finch noted, the ever-growing Kay Yow Cancer Fund is not only devoted to finding a cure, but also to bettering the quality of life of current cancer patients.
All of the continual reminders, Finch hopes, will keep the memories of Yow and her heroic battle fresh for years to come.
“I think that is going to be a challenge,” Finch said. She compared that challenge to that of those who keep the memory of the late Jim Valvano alive through the Jimmy V Foundation.
“Hence, that is why ESPN is so important to us,” Finch said. “Jimmy is going to live on because of the national and international awareness of his fund through their telecasts and our games, and they will do the same for Kay. All of these things help us keep Kay front and center. Her faith, her witness and her teaching people how to deal with adversity are things we all continue to benefit from.”
11:35 a.m. - Wake Forest: WHY NOT US?
Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover starred as a post player on the school’s last NCAA team. The Demon Deacons return four starters from last season, including 6-foot-3 senior Dearica Hamby, who led the ACC in scoring (22.0) and rebounding (11.0). Hoover, beginning her third year at the helm of the program, hopes this is the year things go full cycle.
“It has been too long since we’ve been to the tournament,” Hoover said. “That’s been my goal since day one returning to Wake Forest. I had a great four years and a great career here. I had some really great teammates who were a big part of the reason I had success.”
Hoover said she and Hamby talk frequently about their NCAA Tournament aspirations. They don’t talk a lot about Hamby chasing individual records, some of which are held by Hoover herself.
“I try not to put that kind of pressure on her,” Hoover said. “I think she is going to shatter the records this year. But I think the most important thing for her, and she will tell you this, is to take us to the NCAA Tournament. For a kid who is going to get a lot of individual accolades, that speaks volumes as to what she is about. It is about what this team wants to go and where she can help to take us.
“We talk about the NCAA Tournament as our ultimate goal, and of what it will take to get there. And we’ve just kind of asked ourselves, ‘Why not us?’ “
11:20 a.m. - Louisville: ONE, TWO, THREE …
Jeff Walz and Louisville are preparing to compete in their third conference in as many years.
“I am hoping there is not a fourth one after this. I am hoping we are here for a while,” Walz joked.
“For the players, it is a great time. You are going to places you’ve never been before. You are getting to go places you’ve never gone before. You get to go to Duke, you get to go to Wake Forest, you get to go to Virginia.”
Cardinals senior forward Sara Hammond expects some period of adjustment.
“Playing UConn, getting familiar with their players and other players from Big East, you knew what you were going to get every time,” Hammond said. “Now it’s all going to be new. There is good and bad with it, but it is going to be different.”
Walz, a former assistant to Brenda Frese at Maryland, is looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the ACC after a seven-year absence. he has a pretty good idea of what lies ahead.
“I think I can make the argument that our league is as good as any out there,” Walz said. “We are all chasing UConn and trying to win a national championship. But our league, from top to bottom is a good as any. I tell our players all the time, ‘You can’t just show up.’ “
Louisville has been picked for a third-place finish in its first year as an ACC member.
“I was a little surprised, having graduated four seniors (from last season’s team that finished 33-5 and reached the Elite Eight), Walz said. “But I think part of that was the respect for returning seniors, as well a respect for the strong freshman class we have coming in.”
10:50 a.m. - Clemson: HIGH DEMANDS
Clemson coach Audra Smith, by her own admission, approaches the game of basketball with the highest level of intensity. Her players admitted that took some getting used to last season – Smith’s first with the Tigers – but everyone is on the same page entering the 2014-15 campaign.
“Coaching changes in the ACC are a big deal,” Clemson senior Nikki Dixon said. “Once you’ve adjusted to a coaching philosophy it is hard to adjust fast and quick to something new. For me personally, I knew time wasn’t stopping for me. I had to quickly figure out what this set of coaches needed from me and what this group of coaches wanted from me.”
Smith fully understood.
“It did take them a while,” she said. “I am somewhat of a wild bird – you’ve seen me on the sidelines, and I’m the same way in practice. I am very, very demanding. I knew coming in last season that it would be an adjustment period for these young ladies, and that it would take some time and that it would be a process.
“There were some ups and downs. But I think now they know me, and they know I am a competitor. I compete in everything they do. I demand that they be great. I know what their potential can be. And my main thing is that I will not allow them to settle. I will not allow them to be mediocre.”
Which suits Tiger senior Chelsea Lindsay just fine.
“The biggest thing is they want to win, and I want to win, too,” Lindsay said of the Clemson coaching staff. “So whatever they throw at me, I’ll take it.
10:40 a.m. - Syracuse: WORKING HER WAY BACK
Orange junior guard Brittney Sykes has made phenomenal progress since suffering an ACL injury last spring, but head coach Quentin Hillsman is prepared to be patient as he works his All-ACC player back into action.
“She’s in good shape right now, ahead of schedule,” Hillsman reported Wednesday. “She is shooting, she’s running, she’s jumping. I think she will start cutting pretty soon. If you watched her now, you wouldn’t even know she had an injury. Obviously, we are very excited for her.”
That is welcome news to Syracuse fans, who watched Sykes – one of five underclassmen to be named All-ACC – averaged 16.6 points and lead the Orange to 23 wins and an NCAA bid in its first year as an ACC member.
But don’t expect Hillsman to rush Sykes onto the court if she is not ready when Syracuse opens this season against Fordham on Nov. 16.
“I’m not going to play her until she is 100 percent,” Hillsman said. “No matter who clears her, it is going to be my decision as to when she plays. I know her skill set is her athleticism. When she gets back to doing all those things that have made her such a great player, that’s when she will play.”
10:30 a.m. - Pitt: LESSONS LEARNED
Pitt’s first season as an ACC member was a learning experience. Some of the lessons were hard ones, as the Panthers struggled to an 11-20 overall finish and posted a 3-13 mark in conference play. But as she prepares for her second go-around through the league, head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio believes she and her team are better because of the experience.
“Every team we played was brand new for us – their tendencies, their personnel,” she noted. “ I think now there is some familiarity of what we need to prepare for coming into the season.”
McConnell-Serio’s goal for this season is an improvement on last year’s overall record and to win enough conference games to reach at least “the middle of the pack.”
“The culture has started to change, but we know we are a work in progress,” she said. “ I am not a very patient person, but we know it does take time, particularly when you are competing in a conference as talented and as deep as the ACC.”
10:10 a.m. - Miami: GROWING UP FAST
Miami will enter 2014-15 season as a deeper, more athletic team. But the Hurricanes will still count heavily on sophomore guard Adrienne Motley, who broke in last season averaging a shade over 11 points per game – 13.2 in ACC play – and wound up as the team MVP. All-ACC Freshman and All-ACC Academic Team honors iced the cake.
“I just had to get used to it,” Motley said of her first collegiate season. “Once I get the hang of something, I usually manage things pretty good. It was just a matter of getting used to the game and of getting used to managing my time academically. Once I got used to that, it was smooth sailing.”
Motley wound up being a big reason the Hurricanes finished with a winning record and broke even at 8-8 in conference play. But head coach Katie Meier admits last season didn’t totally foreshadow what lay ahead.
“I knew she was very special,” Meier said. “But as this time last year, she wasn’t that good yet. We were like, ‘What’s up with Motley?’ But she is a researcher. She is going to take her time and let the game come to her. She never goes outside herself and forces things or does something crazy.
“We just had to let it marinate and let her grow into her role. And her role was huge for us last year. We wouldn’t have won a conference game without her.”
9:40 a.m. - North Carolina: WELCOME BACK
This year marks the return of North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who missed all of last season after being diagnosed with leukemia in October of 2013.
“We are beyond thrilled to have her back,” said senior guard Latifah Coleman, who could have been speaking for the ACC and all of college basketball.
Hatchell, whose cancer is now in complete remission, will be entering her 40th year of head coaching. She inherits a strong nucleus from last year’s team that finished 27-10 overall and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.
“I am so happy to be back out there,” Hatchell said. “At this time last year, I was lying over there in the cancer center, worrying about whether I am going to make it or not.”
Hatchell’s return to practice has been an eye-opener, especially when noting the progress of players she last saw practice on a day-to-day basis during the 2012-13 season.
“They are a whole lot better,” Hatchell said. “I go to practice now, and I’m like, ‘Wow! They are just so much better.’ I just don’t want to mess them up. This team went to Elite Eight last year and missed the Final Four by three buckets. I want to add to that and improve on what we did last year.”
9:25 a.m. - Florida State: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The first question of the 2014 ACC Women’s Basketball Media Day went to Florida State head coach Sue Semrau, and it was the same question everyone who follows the Seminoles closely has been asking since last spring.
How does FSU plan to compensate for the loss of Natasha Howard, the Seminoles’ do-everything inside force who closed her collegiate career by averaging 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds as a senior?
“I think everybody should ask that question,” Semrau said. “Natasha meant so much to our program throughout her career at Florida State.”
One possible could answer could be the collective strength of promising newcomers and a deep bench. Florida State’s 14 roster players tie for its third-most since Semrau took the coaching reins in 1997. Many eyes are on forward Shakayla Thomas, one of seven McDonald’s All-Americans entering the ACC this season, as well as highly-touted freshman guard Chania Ray.
It is a young but talented group. The flip side is that senior forward Lauren Coleman is the only returning Seminole who has played more than one year in the ACC.
“It’s an interesting mix,” Semrau admitted, but one that has time to evolve into a cohesive, winning group between now and March.