Noting ACC Women's Basketball Media Day

Steve Phillips of the ACC Communications staff is in Charlotte, North Carolina, and will provide updates from the Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual Women’s Basketball Media Day throughout Wednesday’s session.


SIZING UP AIYEOTAN (4:15 pm)

Virginia boasts the tallest player in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season as 6-foot-9 freshman Felicia Aiyeotan is expected to log significant minutes for the Cavaliers. The Nigeria native, who played prep basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey, figures into head coach Joanne Boyle’s overall plan of becoming a better rebounding team and sharing the basketball more this season.

“She will make an impact,” Boyle said. “I don’t know how much at first, but the one thing I do know is that she is very coachable and very driven. She wants to get better. She got (to Virginia) in July and hasn’t missed one day of practice.”

Aiyeotan’s goals include adding weight and strength in addition to honing her overall basketball skills.

“Where she is now and where she will be in a year is totally different.” Boyle said. “But she will contribute (this season) – how much will be determined moving forward.”


BACK IN REYNOLDS (4:00 pm)

Reynolds Coliseum has long stood as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s iconic basketball venues. Now that the building has undergone $35 million in renovations, NC State head coach Wes Moore can’t wait to put his team on the floor for its first regular-season game – and for Wolfpack Nation to share in the experience.

“It is unbelievable,” Moore said. “It is better than I ever dreamed it could be. It is going to be great for our players to compete in that atmosphere in such a beautiful building.
“We have something to sell now. Reynolds has always had a lot of tradition and lot of history, but for a 15- or 16-yeard old girl it’s all about ‘Show us the bling.’ Now we have history and tradition – and we have the bling.”

For Wolfpack senior Miah Spencer, it is about something much more basic. 

“Air conditioning,” she said. “We’re all so happy to be back in Reynolds.”

NC State, like several ACC teams will be traveling a bit further next March for the ACC Tournament. But head coach Wes Moore likes the idea of playing in Myrtle Beach area.

“Myrtle Beach has a history of supporting women’s college basketball through Beach Ball Classic and other tournaments,” Moore said. “It is a great place for our fans, and it is still a very easy place to get to. Hopefully, we will play well enough for everyone will go home with a sunburn. That will mean we won enough to stay there awhile.”


BUILDING A WINNER (3:45 pm)

Kenny Brooks’ record in 14 seasons as James Madison’s head coach spoke for itself.

In 14 seasons as head coach at his alma mater, Brooks posted a 337-122 record that included 11 straight postseason appearances and no fewer than 24 wins in each of those seasons. Now, in his first season at Virginia Tech, Brooks seeks to bring that same success to Blacksburg.

He is prepared to be patient.

“We’ve had more balls hitting walls than each others’ hands right now, but that is OK for the first week of practice,” Brooks said. “The one thing we have been stressing is to play as a family and to play for each other. We had great players at James Madison, players who went on to play in the pros. but the main thing was that we played for each other.” 

Brooks senses some of his current players may be pushing themselves a bit hard in practice, seeking to make that “big play” to impress their new coaching staff. But the Hokies should settle into a rhythm soon.

“One thing I am stressing is I that see the little things,” Brooks said. “You might make three 3-pointers in a row, but that isn’t really a good thing if you don’t take good shots. If we just learn to do the little things and play for each other, we can take that step that leads to the next level.”

Brooks led his James Madison teams to several big wins over ACC teams. “But now it’s a little bit different,” he said. 

“At James Madison, we circled those games on our calendars. They were our Super Bowl so to speak. But now, it’s like my 11-year old daughter told me the day we had the press conference when I got the job (at Virginia Tech): ‘You’re in the ACC now. You’re going to play Duke. And Virginia. And North Carolina. And Notre Dame …’ By now I’m telling her, “That’s enough.’ And it really is a gauntlet.”

STAYING CLOSE TO HOME (3:20 pm)

Pitt will begin the season with 10 consecutive home games. The Panthers will not leave the state until Dec 19-20, when they are slated to play in the Patrick Harrington Tournament at Niceville, Florida. That might help in the growing process for a young team that returns four starters from last season but still features eight underclassmen on its 12-woman roster.

“It just worked out – we had been on the road in ACC/Big Ten Challenge the last few years and finally got a home game there (versus Purdue on Dec. 6),” head coach Suzie McConnell Serio said.  “It was really about capitalizing on when we could get crowds scheduling home and away games. It helps with a young team. We know that need to have a strong non-conference record.”

The Panthers’ early skirmishes include an exhibition game against IPU, which is coaches by McConnell-Serio’s brother, Tom. 

“We played them in an exhibition game last year, too,” McConnell-Serio said. “My sister, Kathy, is our associate head coach, and as soon as we sat down and tip went up, she said, ‘Who thought this was a good idea?’

“It helps us both out. He has a lot of local kids and brings a lot of people to watch the game. It brings a lot of our family together. But it’s a tough situation. If we lose, I am probably on the hot seat, and you don’t want to beat him too bad because he’s your brother.”

STILL YOUNG, BUT IMPROVED (3:05 pm)

North Carolina put a young team on the floor last season and will do so again in 2016-17. But the Tar Heels won’t be lacking in experience.

UNC’s returning cast includes 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year Stephanie Watts and fellow All-Freshman team member Destinee Walker. The pair led UNC in scoring last season, combining to average 28.6 points per game. 

Watts, Walker and junior Jamie Cherry join sophomore transfer Paris Kea to bring a veteran presence to a incoming seven-member freshman class
“I think it is the best freshman class in the country,” Hatchell said “It’s definitely one of the largest, but there are some good players too.”

The Tar Heels traveled to Scotland and Ireland during the summer, giving her young group a chance blend with the “veterans:”

“The team bonding was tremendous,” Hatchell said. “It was really a great, great trip. Every game got better and better.”

One freshman hard to miss will be center Naomi Van Ness, who is listed at 6-foot-6 but is at least an inch taller, according to Hatchell.

“There was an article that came out a while back about her family being one of the tallest in the world,” Hatchell said. “She has three brothers who are over 7-feet tall. Her mom is the short one. She is 6-2 or 6-3.”



OUTSIDE INFLUENCE (2:40 pm)

Seven players who hail from outside of the United States can be found on Georgia Tech’s roster, but the Yellow Jackets aren’t alone when it comes to attracting foreign talent. It’s become a definite trend, not only in basketball but in other college sports as well.

“I think that all the computers, Facebook, Face time and those kinds of things has made the world smaller,” Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. “International players feel more comfortable coming to the United States to play.”

That often shows in the way they handle themselves on the court. Not every foreign player becomes an immediate star, but few seem intimidated when thrown into competition at the collegiate level.

“Many of these players have left their homes at 14, 15 years of age,” Joseph noted. “They have attended high school away from home. They have played in been in locker rooms and played on club teams with 30 year old pros. They have developed extremely strong core values, and they are willing to accept whatever role they are given.”

HUGHES STEPS UP (2:30 pm)

Boston College’s Kelly Hughes enters this season needing just seven 3-pointers to becoming the school’s all-time leader in that category.

Hughes – who led the Eagles in scoring last season with 14.2 points per game, could see her role expanding in other ways. Backcourt mate, team leader and fellow outside shooting threat Nicole Boudreau – who holds the current school 3-point shooting record – graduated last spring.

“I looked up to Nicole in so many ways, and I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps the best that I can,” Hughes said. “Nicole was the glue of our team last year. Someone needs to step up and fill that role this year. I am trying to do that, but I also have a great group of teammates supporting me that are going to make it easier.”

Fifth-year head coach Erik Johnson is confident Hughes can provide the leadership the Eagles need as they attempt to better last season’s 15-16 overall record that included a 12-1 mark in nonconference play.

“Kelly been playing 30 games a season since the day she walked on campus,” Johnson noted. “There’s nothing she hasn’t seen. It’s a fact of life in coaching you are going to lose players. The key to replacing them is how your other players continue to grow and develop.”

FULL DECK OF CARDS (12:15 pm)

Louisville returns all five starters from its 2015-16 team that finished 26-8, posted a 15-1 record in ACC play and won 25 of its last 29 games. Sounds like the ultimate in stability, but …

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we had two new starters (this season),” head coach Jeff Walz said Wednesday. “Practices have been spirited, and competition is great. It’s going to take more than five players, and what really matters is who is on the floor at the end of the game.”

Walz felt members of his squad grew closer in August, when the Cardinals became the first NCAA women’s basketball program to visit and play in Cuba. The team played three games against the Cuban Nationals, took a guided tour of two cities and spent time in Cuban markets and other places of business.

“To get to Cuba before it has totally been Westernized … you got truly soak in their culture, and that is what it is really all about,”Walz said. “I’ve been on four or five foreign team trips, and this was by far the best one.

“And our players learned that you can survive without a cellphone for six days.”

DEEPER AND MORE TALENTED (11:45 am)

Florida State’s already talented team grew potentially even better on September 23, when the NCAA governing body granted junior center and Illinois transfer Chatrice White immediate eligibility for the 2016-17 season. The 6-foot-3 White averaged 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors last season.

White adds yet another dimension to an FSU squad that returns three starters and two-time Sixth Player of the Year Shakayla Thomas from last season’s squad, which finished 25-8 overall and 13-3 in the ACC.

“We’ve got a lot of depth and lot of people who can do different things,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “The thing I like about this team is that they don’t care who gets the credit. Chatrice came here to be a part of that, to be part of a team where she didn’t have to carry the whole load. This is a selfless team. If we were a selfish team, we wouldn’t have been able to have had the success we’ve had.”

This year’s squad will feature a second transfer newcomer in guard Imani Wright (Baylor) but the Seminoles also boast a freshman recruiting class that ranks among the nation’s best. 

“Let me be really clear – we don’t take many transfers,” Semrau said. “We are very selective. We look for players who have a certain character. They are joining a group that is pretty well established, and they understand that. I think that is why they are able to come in and contribute right away.”

BROWN WEARS BLUE (11:20 am)

After leading Maryland to consecutive Final Four appearances, 2015 Associated Press All-American Lexie Brown hopes to do the same wearing deep shade of blue. After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Brown will suit up for Duke this season and figures to be a prominent part of head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s uptempo offense.

“My basketball IQ has gotten even higher, being on the sidelines, Brown said. “I feel like I have gotten to know my teammates, and the better you know your teammates off the court, the better you will know them on the court.”

Brown started 66 of 70 games in two seasons at Maryland, where she scored 825 points while knocking down 120 shots from 3-point range, dishing out 310 assists and making 127 steals.

“I wouldn’t say there have been any real surprises (since coming at Duke), but the thing that has impressed me most has been the stress that is placed on academics,” Brown said. “Our most recent team GPA (3.77) was phenomenal, and I was happy to say that I was able to contribute to that.”

PENDING MILESTONES, PAINFUL MEMORIES (11:00 am)

Miami is the midst of an exciting women’s basketball era, and the Hurricanes have the numbers to prove it.

Miami has two players nearing 1,000 points for their careers and another within striking distance of 2,000. Jessica Thomas has 852 points as she enters her senior year, and classmate Keyona Hayes has 802. With 1,419 career points, Adrienne Motley is just 43 points shy of cracking the school’s all-time top 10 scoring list.

But for Motley, this season won’t be defined by how many points she scores, but where Miami stands at the end of the season. Last year’s 24-9 season came to an abrupt end when the 19th-ranked Hurricanes suffered a 74-71 loss to South Dakota State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. 

“Every day, I walk into the gym – and I don’t forget that game,” Motley said. “I can’t forget the feeling, can’t forget the mistakes. But I don’t want to forget that feeling. I still think about the sick feeling I had in my stomach walking to the press conference, and how happy (the South Dakota State players were).

“We can’t go back and get two more minute, five more minutes. We have to go to the gym every day remembering, and stay hungry.”

THE POINT IS WINNING (10:45 am)

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw believes that success starts with an experienced point guard, and that is not particularly comforting to opposing teams looking to prevent the Fighting Irish from grabbing a fourth straight ACC championship this season.

The Irish are led by arguably college basketball’s best point guard in rising senior Lindsey Allen, who enters the 2016-17 season ranked second nationally among active players with 559 career assists and will seek to lead the ACC in that category for a third consecutive season.

“Lindsay continues to get better in every way,” McGraw said. “I think her assist-to-turnover ratio will be even better this year, probably 3-to-1.”

Allen has started each of her 112 collegiate games, 106 of which have seen the Fighting Irish come out on the winning end.

“I think in we come in every day with a sense of urgency and a sense of intensity in practice,” Allen said. “I think that transfers over into games.”

The winning surge by Notre Dame’s recent classes helped McGraw reach two milestones last season, which saw her register both her 800th overall career win and her 700th with the Fighting Irish. On Tuesday of this week, McGraw became only the third women’s coach to be honored as a Wooden Legend. 

“It is really humbling,” McGraw said. “I have so many people to thank. You never do anything by yourself, and that is definitely a team award.”


WAKE TASTES POSTSEASON (10:30 am)

Wake Forest has won at least one game in the ACC Tournament each of the past eight years, the longest current active streak in the league. But the Demon Deacons took that success one step forward last season, earning a big to the WNIT and winning a first-round game versus Charlotte on the road.

“I think it was a huge step for our program,” sixth-year head coach Jen Hoover said. “I came in with a plan with specific goals --- playing in postseason, the NCAAs. We’ve been able check off a few things off, but we haven’t reached all of the goals we wanted.

“Having this group buy in, and to not be happy just to be in the tournament but to actually win a game in it, was huge. We beat a very good team in Charlotte. Now our goal is to build off that and take that next big step.” 

ROYAL ORANGE (10:15 am)

With four starters returning from last season, there is a sense of familiarity as Syracuse gets set for preseason practice. But following last spring’s historic national runner-up finish and 30-8 record, things aren’t entirely the same as they have been in Octobers past.

“I think the feeling is definitely different, I can’t deny that,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “It’s hard for it not to be when every time you turn the corner someone mentions it, or you see the articles … but we have been talking about doin this for nine years or more: ‘Let’s win the national championship, let’s win every game.’ “

Hillsman felt the Orange team of last season took a big step toward one of its major goals – emulating the success of other Syracuse programs and maintaining that high level of excellence.

“Men’s basketball, cross country, ice hockey – all of those Syracuse teams have earned recognition by winning national championships,” Hillsman said. “Those are the same things we’ve wanted and what we are trying to do.” 

RETURNING TO (A NEW) HOME (9:50 am)

After a season playing home games in Jervey Gymnasium, Clemson returns to a newly renovated and rebuilt Littlejohn Coliseum this season. The arena features a completely new interior layout and updated playing arena. The seating bowl area holds 9,000, and fans will have a feeling of being close to the action in addition to the new amenities.

The facility also includes new locker rooms, office space, weight rooms and theatre space housed in a separate practice facility addition.

“It’s like a new beginning, a fresh start,” said junior Kelly Perry. “The coolest part is the practice room areas – you can listen to music, work in the weight room and still overlook the court. It’s a fun place.”

The upgrades were made possible in large part by a $3.3 million cornerstone donation by the Swann family, for whom the practice facility is named.

“It’s been phenomenal,” head coach Audra Smith said. “Our Jumbotron is one of biggest in the country, but everything is just fantastic and state of the art. We’ve had quite a few prospects come in for recruiting visits during football weekends. They have been amazed and tremendously impressed.” 

TIPPING IT OFF (9:30 am)

The start of every new basketball season brings a sense of anticipation, but there is a touch of added excitement among Atlantic Coast Conference women’s teams with less than a month remaining before the opening tip.

The league announced earlier this week that it will honor the 40th anniversary of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament with a season-long celebration that will highlight the great moments in league history and will include each of the conference’s 15 member schools.

On Wednesday morning, the conference announced that the 2017 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament will be played March 1-5 at the HTC Center in Conway, South Carolina, marking the event’s seventh trip to the Palmetto State and its first to its coastal region.

“It’s been a blur – finding a site that we can have a week exclusively available to us, within our footprint, within a state  with one of our member schools and a place that people want to go,” said Nora Lynn Finch, the ACC’s Senior Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball. “We did not want to go to one of our member institutions. The competitive advantage of playing on your home floor is just too great.”

So Finch said that the HTC Center, located on the campus of Coastal Carolina University, “felt like, ‘Yes! This is going to be a good fit.’ 

“Everybody in the world knows Myrtle Beach – we are right in Clemson’s footprint, an easy drive for our North Carolina schools, from Georgia Tech,” Finch noted. “Sports tourism is the Myrtle Beach area’s second-biggest industry, and it is going to be a great event. The university (Coastal Carolina) has opened its arms up to us. We are really looking forward to being there.”

All signs point to another banner ACC season on the court. The league returns 19 All-ACC performers from a season ago, including Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen, the 2016 Blue Ribbon Panel ACC Player of the Year, and Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner, who was voted 2016 ACC Player of the Year by the league’s head coaches.

“We are laden with experience,” Finch said. “Last year I talked about how young we were. This year, those players are sophomores and juniors. I am just so excited about what I am seeing and feeling.”

ACC teams are well represented in national preseason polls. The league has five teams ranked in the Athlon Sports Preseason Top 25 (No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 6 Louisville, No. 12 Florida State, No. 16 Syracuse and No. 22 Miami) and Lindy’s Preseason Top 25 (No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Louisville, No. 11 Florida State, No. 15 Miami and No. 19 Syracuse) and in the Sporting News Top 20 (No. 3 Louisville, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 12 Miami, No. 16 Syracuse and No. 17 Florida State). 

And while ACC teams return a combined 52 starters, incoming talent abounds. The ACC boasts three of the top seven recruiting classes and six in the top 20 as ranked by ESPN Hoopgurlz coming in this season – No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 Louisville, No. 7 Florida State, No. 13 North Carolina, No. 19 Virginia and No. 20 NC State. The ACC’s six ranked classes are the most from any conference.

Five McDonalds All-Americans will join the league for the 2016-17 season: Leaonna Odom (Duke), Ciera Johnson (Louisville), Kylee Shook (Louisville), Erin Boley (Notre Dame) and Jackie Young (Notre Dame).

SYRACUSE MAKES SEVEN (9:20 am)
Syracuse’s run to the 2016 NCAA title game surprised many observers, but Finch was not among them.

“Quentin Hillsman has such a great philosophy,” Finch said of the Orange’s 11th-year head coach. “He played both South Carolina and Tennessee during the regular season. So when the time came to play them in the NCAA Tournament, he and his team were prepared.”

Syracuse advanced to it first-ever Women’s Final Four following NCAA Tournament wins over Army, Albany, South Carolina and Tennessee. Syracuse is the seventh different school to represent the ACC in the Women’s Final Four (actual membership). The ACC has now had a team in the women’s Final Four three straight years.

“What a tremendous statement by Syracuse for what strong scheduling can do for a team,” Finch said. “And they were coming off a strong run in the ACC Tournament (a runner-up finish to three-time champion Notre Dame). It was another testament to what our tournament does to prepare our teams for the NCAAs.”