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Steve Phillips is on site at the 2015 ACC Women’s Basketball Media Day and will offer notes and quotes from the event throughout Wednesday’s session at Grandover Resort.
BEYOND THEIR YEARS (4:20 p.m.)
Duke welcomes the nation’s top-rated recruiting class, a five-member group that includes ACC Newcomer Watch List selections Kyra Lambert and Angela Salvadores.
If head coach Joanne P. McCallie had any worries about establishing a team chemistry between the freshmen and eight returning letter winners from last year’s 23-11 squad, they were put to rest over the summer and during preseason practice.
“Low maintenance, low drama,” McCallie replied when asked to describe the mood in the Blue Devils’ camp as they prepare for their Nov. 13 opener at Penn. “We were almost concerned at the start of the fall. We had such low drama, it was ridiculous. At the same time, they have found out how to get on to each other, what make to say to make each other better and what makes each other tick.”
Sophomore Azura Stevens, who made her mark as a true freshman last season expects the feeling of camaraderie to only grow stronger.
“We just enjoy being around each other,” Stevens said. “That carries over when we get on the court and play together. And I have complete confidence in any of (the freshman) in any game. If their number is called, they will be ready to go.”
U-S-A! (4:00 p.m.)
With each passing year, Vanessa Panousis feels she has found a home at home at Virginia Tech. Now, with NCAA women’s basketball going to four quarters and other rule changes in place to speed up the game, the junior from Australia expects that to be even more the case.
“The rule changes have made the game more like the rules back home,” said Panousis, who has averaged 13.1 points over her first two collegiate seasons. “I think that will really help me, to be able to play a game that is more the international style.”
Panousis said she began aspiring to play college basketball in the United States at an early age, mainly after listening to some male athletes in her native country speak of it as a positive experience.
“You know from talking to them that college basketball here is a great experience the way they talked about it,” she said. “It was something I wanted to do since I was 12 years old. “
Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff said he’s found Panousis’ love of the U.S. college experience typical of his international signees.
“There is a freshness to their approach,” Wolff said . “There just seems to be an appreciation of having the better facilities and being on scholarship. It is something they don’t take for granted.
YOUTH AND MORE YOUTH (3:30 p.m.)
Like a number of their ACC counterparts, the Pitt Panthers will put a young women’s basketball team on the floor this season.
All-ACC selection and WNBA draftee Brianna Kiesel is one of just several players who will be missing from the 2014-15 squad that made a surprise run to the NCAA Tournament and made head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio a Naismith National Coach of the Year semifinalist. The Panthers have no seniors on this year’s roster, and eight of the 12 players are freshmen or sophomores.
“Last year was a magical year for us, and we overachieved in a lot of ways,” McConnell-Serio said. “But every day in practice (this fall) has been exciting and challenging. I think you look at each player individually. You look for which buttons you can and can’t push. I tell my players I will challenge them. My job is to get the best I can out of you, and to push you to perform at the highest level. It starts with us as coaches, but it also starts with our sophomore class – which is our most experienced class – to provide leadership.”
The Panthers were picked 10th in the ACC preseason poll, not an overly high ranking from the No. 15 spot they were placed each of the previous two seasons.
“If you don’t expect anything from us, you’re bound to be surprised,” freshman Brenna Wise said. “That is the way we look at it. We don’t mind the underdog role.”
THE PARTS ARE STILL THERE (3:10 p.m.)
With only eight scholarship players on this year’s roster, North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell chooses to look at the glass as half full. And, truth be told, she doesn’t have to look that hard.
“We have five experienced seniors, we have three freshman (McDonalds) All-Americans,’ Hatchell noted. “You look back at the national championships I’ve won, one of those teams (at Francis Marion) only had three scholarship players. You look at some other college basketball teams … the Duke men, UConn women, others have done it with eight scholarship players. We may play a little more zone, we may mix it up a little bit more, but I think we have what it takes.
“People think we are falling apart … We’re fine. We have talent, and I probably have the most experienced (coaching) staffs in the country with Andrew Calder, and now Sylvia Crawley is back with us. And in three weeks, we’re going to sign a class of terrific (incoming) freshmen players. The past is behind us. We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be better than OK.”
BIG SPLASH (2:50 p.m.)
The Boston College trio of Nicole Boudreau, Kelly Hughes and Emilee Daley combined to connect on 197 of the Eagles’ 250 successful 3-point shots last season. All return this season, and Bodreau is thinking big – particularly with rule changes promising a faster pace and more opportunities.
‘Something we have talked about is being BC’s version of the Splash Girls – consistently being a threat game-in and game-out,” Boudreau said. “But to be that, we can’t turn it on and off. We have to be making those shots every night.”
The Eagles set a school record for successful 3-point shots for the fourth consecutive season.
“The shooting part, we certainly work to develop, but you can’t turn someone into those kind of shooters,” head coach Erik Johnson said. “You have to recruit it, and then it is a matter of fine tuning it.
When they are open, you know that they are going to knock it down. I just have to get out of their way.”
TOUGHENING UP (2:30 p.m.)
Virginia has stood on the threshold of an NCAA bid in recent seasons. Sophomore Mikayla Venson sensed improvement over the summer as the Cavaliers seek to finally take that big step.
“We have improved a lot on just finishing, being consistent and holding each other accountable,” Venson said. “We saw last year how that not paying attention to little things hurt us. We’ve definitely looked at that and tried to pay attention to it.”
A Navy Seal worked with the Cavaliers over the summer, and senior Faith Randolph believes it will pay off come game time.
“I like our grittiness this year,” Randolph said. “I think our fight and our passion is going to help us win games. We plan on getting to the NCAA Tournament this year and having a winning record in the ACC. We all have the idea of what it takes to win. One of our mottos is “Know What It Takes.” We want to attack and get stops. Last year we kind of faded away at the defensive end. This year we are taking the initiative of becoming a great defensive team.”
BATTLING BACK (2:15 p.m.)
After seeing her 2014-15 season limited to three games due to injury, Syracuse guard Brittney Sykes declared her rehab and recovery to be right on schedule. She plans to be on the floor when the Orange opens its season Nov. 16 at Rhode Island.
“I don’t think you can really put a percentage on it,” Sykes said when asked to assess the stage of her recovery. “I can tell you that I feel great. I am taking part in every practice, taking part in every rep. The coaches and trainers are staying on top of it, and I am doing my part. I am not thinking about (the injury) and I am playing without fear.”
Sykes’ return to form would be a welcome sight for the Orange, who still managed 22 wins and an 11-5 record last year in her absence. Sykes, who was granted a medical redshirt year of eligibility, averaged 16.6 points per game as a true sophomore in 2013-14, including a career-high 31 points versus Virginia Tech. She shot above 50 percent for the season, and is a 47.1 percent shooter for her career.
JOSEPH SAYS JACKETS HAVE ‘RETURNED’ (2:00 p.m.)
Veteran coach MaChelle Joseph says her Georgia Tech team this season will mark a return to “our core values.”
“We are back where we were my first 10 years here,” Joseph said. “We are going to defend, rebound, play hard, going to play smart and play together. We’ve gotten back to an atmosphere where we are all blue collar players who are going to outwork you every night. It has just been joy for me to be part of.”
Setting the tone will be Roddreka Rogers and Aaliyah Whiteside, who Joseph says are essentially “second-year seniors” after serving as team leaders on last year’s 19-15 squad that played with no seniors on the floor due to injuries. Rogers, the daughter of former Wake Forest men’s star Rodney Rogers, has added incentive – freshman sister DD will be suiting up for NC State.
“There’s been a lot of talk,” Rogers said, breaking into laughter. “My mother is caught in the middle and she is really torn. She said, ‘I am going to have to get a jacket that is half NC State and half Georgia Tech.’ “
Georgia Tech was picked 11th in the ACC preseason media poll released Monday morning, which suits Joseph just fine.
“I like where we have been picked in the ACC,” Joseph said. “We’re back in familiar territory. We’re back to being the hunter.”
LEARNING A NEW GAME (12:05 p.m.)
As a native of Las Palmas, Spain, Florida State point guard Leticia Romero can readily tell you that basketball is not entirely a universal game.
“In Europe we don’t work as hard in the weight room as much as we do here, and the game is faster,” Romero said. “Those were the things I had to adjust to the most, plus the language, especially as a point guard. That was really hard for me at first, but it was something I knew I had to do in order to communicate with my teammates.”
Center Adut Bulgak, a native of Sudan who arrived at Florida State by way of Canada and Trinity Valley Community College, also found the weight room to be a foreign concept.
“I had not lifted a single dumbbell, not even a two-pound one, until I went to Trinity Valley – and even then it was minimal,” Bulgak said. “It wasn’t until I got to Florida State that I learned about physicality. At first I was like, ‘Why are you hitting me? Stop that!’ ”
The whole game of football was also new to both international players, and it is one more thing they’ve had to learn on the fly in Tallahassee.
“I’ve loved learning about football, but I am glad I didn’t have to go to a football game on my recruiting visit,” Romero said. “I didn’t know the rules at first, and I didn’t enjoy it. When you go to a game and everyone around you is going crazy and loving it, it is really hard when you don’t know what is going on.”
MOVING NCAA TARGET (11:55 a.m.)
Conventional wisdom says a team must post at least a .500 record in conference play to merit a serious look from the NCAA selection committee. But Miami coach Katie Meier believes the ACC is so talented and so deep, at least one exception to that “rule” might be inevitable.
“If someone goes 7-9 (in the ACC), those seven wins could be so incredibly impressive that you can’t keep them out,” Meier said. “We were 8-8 last year, and our Notre Dame win last year helped get us in. I think we are going to have three or four teams this season that have that (type of) win. And then we played really well in the NCAA Tournament, so we gave the ACC even more credibility.
“But I think the real discussion this year is not how many ACC teams are going to the NCAAs, but how many are going to reach the Final Four. Because you are going to see multiple ACC teams in the Final Four.”
COOL UNDER FIRE (11:20 a.m.)
Wake Forest guard Amber Campbell made her presence felt in a big way as a freshman last season, delivering two game-winning shots with less than a second remaining on the clock. Campbell score the game-winner against Clemson with just 0.3 remaining in regulation, and her winning shot against Miami came at the buzzer.
“A lot went through my mind (as the clock wound down),” Campbell said. “Those were great moments for me and my teammates and the coaches. In the moment, you know you have to get up a shot and let whatever happens happen. Hopefully we can have more moments like that this season.”
Maybe the end result, but with a little less stress, third year head coach Jen Hoover suggested.
“We don’t necessarily want it to come down to needing game-winners,” Hoover said. “But do we want Amber be assertive this year and play up to her capabilities.”
Wake Forest will be missing All-America forward Dearica Hamby, a first-round WNBA Draft choice who re-wrote the school and part of the ACC record book. But Hoover is confident that Campbell, who averaged 10.7 points per game as a freshman and was the only Demon Deacon to start all 33 contests, can join her returning teammates to collectively fill the gap. The Demon Deacons should also carry a bit of confidence after winning two ACC Tournament games last March and playing 16th-ranked Duke competitively in the quarterfinals despite a 2-14 regular-season conference record.
“We can’t wait until the end this season to play smart and show everyone what are capable of doing,” senior forward Kandice Ball said. “We were playing hard all of last season, but we could have played smarter. This season, we don’t want to wait until the end to play smart. We want to play that way in December, and carry that through all season long.”
THIRD YEAR A CHARM? (10:50)
Third-year head coach Audra Smith inherited a difficult rebuilding task when she took over the reins at Clemson, but she believes a breakthrough is in sight.
“I feel like this is the year,” Smith said. “We are finally at the point where all of the players on our roster are players who were recruited by our staff, and they are a great group of young women.”
Clemson has no seniors on its roster, and just two juniors join seven sophomores and five freshmen as it continues its quest for the program’s first ACC championship since 1999.
“It’s a process, and that process begins with players,” Smith said. “And it begins with winning, and that comes with this group. Our sophomore now know what it is like to play at Georgia Tech, how hostile it is at Notre Dame and how hostile it is at Duke – but how exciting it is because those are great environments. They know now about all that is involved with being a Division I student-athlete in a conference of this level.
“It will take time, but it is not impossible. This is a phenomenal league, but there is a lot of room for movement up the ladder.”
SKILL OF THE IRISH (10:25 a.m.)
Talent won’t be an issue for two-time defending ACC champion Notre Dame, despite the loss of conference Player of the Year Jewell Loyd to the WNBA Draft. But veteran head coach Muffet McGraw said the Fighting Irish must do more than merely plug a hole in the lineup to earn a third straight ACC title and yet another return to the Final Four.
“It is going to be difficult for us to replace Jewell because she had such a go-to presence on our team,” McGraw said. “That is what we will be looking to establish on this year’s team. It is easy to replace points, it is easy to replace stats.”
Notre Dame returns four starters, including 2015 ACC Freshman of the Year and 2016 ACC Preseason Player of the Year Brianna Turner. Sprinkle in a recruiting class that includes three McDonalds All-Americans, and it is easy to understand why expectations remain high.
“It’s really been phenomenal the way we’ve been able to attract players,” said McGraw, whose team has won 37 of 38 games against ACC opposition since joining the conference prior to the 2013-14 season. But she cautioned that talent alone won’t ensure continued dominance for the Irish in the season ahead.
“I think everybody in the league is good,” McGraw said. “This is such a good conference from top to bottom. Florida State is going to be a big player on the national stage. Louisville had some young players who really came into their own at the end of last season.”
“I think this is the best basketball league in country,” added Notre Dame junior guard Lindsay Allen. “And the playing field is leveling out even more.”
PICTURE COULD BE PRETTY (10:02 a.m.)
NC State head coach Wes Moore had one request as he took the stage in the press conference room with Wolfpack juniors Miah Spencer and Dominique Wilson.
“Let’s keep the cameras on our student-athletes as much as possible,” Moore said. “We are trying to increase viewership and attendance.”
ACC media didn’t predict an outright ugly season for Moore’s squad, picking NC State to finish around the middle of the pack of the competitive conference. But with seven returning lettermen (two starters) and a solid recruiting class in the fold, the Wolfpack could offer some surprises.
“We were picked 10th in the ACC a couple of years ago, and we won 25 games and at one time were ranked 10th in country,” Moore recalled. “So I hope we do something similar this year. I think we have a lot more depth and size inside, and I hope that is something we can take advantage of. I am really excited about the season.”
YOUNG BUT TALENTED (9:45 a.m.)
Louisville returns its two leading scorers in sophomores Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen, but they aren’t alone among Cardinal underclassmen of whom head coach Jeff Walz has high expectations.
Nine of Louisville’s 12 top players are freshmen or sophomores, and Walz has no hesitation about throwing them into the immediate heat of battle.
“If they are good players, it doesn’t matter what year they are,” said Walz, who noted that experience is sometimes overrated. “You can play five seniors, and if they’re bad, it doesn’t matter.”
Media members have confidence in Walz’s kiddie corps. Louisville was picked third in the ACC’s preseason poll and is as high as sixth in one national preseason ranking.
“I feel good offensively, but I am really concerned right now about getting our freshmen along defensively,” Walz said. “All five are going to play. We are honored to be picked third, but we know we have a lot of work to do before we open November 15, and even more before we open conference play (which happens to be against Florida State, which was picked second).”
CHANGES FOR THE BETTER (9:05 a.m.)
A sense of newness abounds at Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Basketball Media Day as players and coaches look ahead to next month’s start of the 2015-16 season.
New faces: ACC teams boast a collective nine 2015 McDonalds All-Americans – more than any other conference and one-third of the 27-member class.
New rules: The women’s game will see four 10-minute quarters this season instead of two 20-minute halves. Also, say goodbye to the one-and-one free throw. Two shots will be awarded for each common foul committed by a team, beginning with the fifth foul in each period. Team foul counts will start over following the end of each period.
A new look: Fans at the Greensboro Coliseum next March will see an ACC Tournament played on a fresh, new court specifically built and designed for the women’s event.
Some things aren’t expected to change however, as ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Nora Lynn made clear before addressing media in attendance on Wednesday morning.
“We led all conferences with eight teams selected for the NCAA Tournament last year,” Finch said. “I fully expect to have that many selected again this year, and hopefully more.”
And as Finch scans the preseason national polls – three ACC teams are ranked among the nation’s top eight by one publication, and four are among the top 12 – the sky seems to be the limit.
“I honestly believe we have four teams that are capable of being ranked among the nation’s top 10, and we could conceivably see all four of those teams seeded No. 1 and No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament – definitely among the top 16 (overall),” she said. “And I don’t believe it is a stretch my any means to say that we will have eight teams – maybe more – that have the potential to be seeded fairly high.”
Finch pointed out that the move to four 10-minute quarters is actually not a radical rule change, but one of conformation.
“Every form of basketball with the exception of the college game has traditionally played four quarters,” Finch noted. “The NBA, the WNBA, international play, right down to the high school level. Some of those quarters last longer than others, but whether it is 12 minutes, eight minutes or whatever, it is the same structure. The women’s college game is simply following suit.”
And in Finch’s opinion, the women’s game now has a chance to become “twice as much fun.”
“Think about it,” she said. “You have four periods now instead of two where you have the clock winding down, where last-second shots and strategy have the potential to come into play. That is good for the game, and exciting for the fans. Anything that makes the game more exciting is a good thing.”
INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR (8:55 a.m.)
Eleven of the ACC’s 15 women’s teams have at least one international player of their rosters, which Finch says should not come as a surprise.
“ACC coaches are among the nation’s best – and they have coached national teams in international competition and have international contacts,” Finch said.
Georgia Tech leads all ACC schools with six international players, and Florida State and Virginia Tech have five apiece.