Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Previewing the 2016-17 Race

  
By Mike Siroky

Once you get there, it is how you preach from the pulpit.

When the Syracuse coach made the national finals, he referred to his conference as the best in women’s basketball.

He caused a pause.

Here he was in a Final Four with the undisputed best team in America and one with two teams from another conference.

We all know the best league in the land is the Southeastern Conference, then and now.

By any measure, the SEC is better. They had nine teams in the elimination draw. Their ninth-best team was judged better than the fifth-best of any other conference. 

The complex NCAA entry exam encompasses all the metrics of who you play, how you play, how you impress and how you end the marathon of a season.

While we suspect they blew the national seedings for a number of inbred reasons, we agree with the participant selections, historically and now.

One other metric is how well your own fans appreciate you, attendance. 

The SEC had the No. 1 draw (South Carolina) and No. 2 (Tennessee), both on the far side of 10,000 per. Syracuse drew an average of 1,000. Case closed.

As another season begins, there may not be much shuffling across America.

The Sweet 16 will be mostly determined in the regular season, with the winning teams earning home qualifying games.

 It is not a guarantee you will be in the Sweet 16 but it is true Louisville and Maryland lost at home. No. 7 seed Tennessee made a No. 2 seed, Arizona State, lose at home. 

Mississippi State, a No. 5, beat a No. 4 but the games were at StarkVegas because the lower seed had given away its home court to a high school tournament. Its best player, by the way, was so disgusted she went pro.

No. 5 seed Texas A&M suspended two players and lost its second game to the No. 4 seed, partially because the suspended players depleted the team. 
But the other 11 lower seeds made it through.

The SEC had four teams in the Sweet 16 as did the Big 12 and the Pac 10. The ACC had two.

 Tennessee reinforced the SEC legacy by moving from 8-8 in conference to the Elite Eight.

 At the start of the season we were the only writers to say Tennessee was the best team in the league and they backed us by playing further into the national tournament than anyone else.

Our beef with the national Seeding Committee remains they put three No, 1 seeds there in an attempt to weigh the tournament towards teams coach by women. 

All three lost to lower seeds – one a No. 7 and another a No. 4 – coached by men. If the seeds are uninformed, are the losses really upsets?

If you get it wrong and that proves out . . . 
Oh well, we start anew.

UConn will be Final Four good again. Compare it to any of the other three in the most-recent Final Four. 

They are at least that good and have a wonderful coach, starters who return and the usual reload with stellar recruits. They will be a Sweet 16 host with 20 wins and the Regional is at in-state Bridgeport because that town outbid others.

The best national team ought to be Ohio State, which lost no seniors of merit and have four transfers becoming eligible who each were at least all-conference at the teams from which they transferred. 

That’s two teams of starters. An SEC town hosts the South Regional again in Lexington (and a threepeat in 2018). 

The NCAA Seeding Committee can put the Buckeyes there, one season ahead of their hosting the Final Four.

No reasonable team wants to play at either of the Regionals with Ohio State or UConn, but the best ACC team might relish the chance to drop UConn.

After all, Nottre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has said the Muffeters feature the top player in America as well as the best point guard anywhere. That’s why they play the games; to see what is factual.

The Pac 12 is aiming at Stockton in the West. With two Final Four teams and another in the Elite Eight, it could be crowded out there.

The SEC will be a fight between Mississippi State and South Carolina. South Carolina has won all its home conference games for two straight seasons and therefore the title. Until proven wrong, let’s go with that again.

At the Final Four, State coach Vic Schaefer told us his team will be all right again. The ideal SEC Regional becomes Oklahoma City, behind a Big 12 powerhouse.

But here is a nice note for SEC: Of the four finalists for the major player of the year awards only A’ja Wilson returns. 

She swept right past the sophomore jinx as well. She may be the national player of the year.

If Ohio State is as good as expected, that means they are the elite team to beat, probably for two seasons. 

So there will be other fine teams – UConn and South Carolina once again – and everybody else in the bag of 16 numbered marbles, as ever.

Tennessee avoided not being ranked for the first time at the close of the season when the two organizations that do post-NCAA lists included them. The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association is the most important as it is contemporaries of coaches and not silly sports writers.

The WBCA ranked five teams from the greatest basketball league in America – the Southeastern Conference – with the Lady Vols No. 19 and Texas A&M No. 20. Mississippi State is18, Kentucky 15 and South Carolina No. 5, ahead of Final Four member Washington. 

The league once again led the nation in attendance – another metric of the best conference – with 1,108,511 fans. The SEC and Big 12 are  the only two conferences to host more than 1 million fans. 

The SEC outdrew the Big 12 by 75,6144. 
South Carolina led the nation in home attendance for the second straight season with 14,364 fans per. 
Tennessee was second in the nation at 10,412. 
Tennessee (1997-2002, 2004-2014) and South Carolina (2015 and 2016) have led the nation in attendance in 20 of the past 22 seasons.

Eleven SEC schools were ranked in the Top 50 for average home attendance with five listed in the Top 25: 1. South Carolina (14,364); 2. Tennessee (10,412); 8. Kentucky (6,454); 16. Mississippi State (5,162); 18. Texas A&M (4,867); 26. Missouri (3,990); 36. Georgia (2,932); 37. Vanderbilt (2,906); 40. LSU (2,858); 47. Alabama (2,651); 50. Auburn (2,562).

 A prevailing theme this off-season was everyone – the top schools – accepting junior college players.

 Replenishment with experience was the SEC summer theme

The conference will have also expand the series against the Big 12, which means four SEC teams will miss out as all 10 Big 12 teams compete, five home and five away. 

The best meeting will be the final one, Baylor at Tennessee through the Thursday-Sunday run to start December. Both are returning Elite Eight teams.

 This season is the first in which 10 games will be played. The format consists of five home games on campus sites for each conference. Two teams from each league participated in the past two years with the conferences splitting the games each season for an overall 2-2 series record.

 “The Southeastern Conference looks forward to the expansion of an enhanced competitive event with our Big 12 friends,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. 

“The SEC/Big 12 Challenge in women's basketball will showcase the strength and depth of our women’s basketball teams and provide fans from both conferences with exciting games.”

“We look forward to all 10 of our women’s basketball teams competing in the 2016 SEC/Big 12 Challenge,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “These marquee non-conference matchups should provide four-consecutive days of quality competition and excitement for fans across the country.”

 The first showdown had No. 3 Texas vs.  No. 4 Texas A&M. Oklahoma and Arkansas, who were both receiving national notice, played in the second game.  

The conferences split the Challenge with the two games decided by a total of nine points.


 The 2015 version was contested in Oklahoma City with the opponents reversed as No. 5 Texas played Arkansas while No. 17 Oklahoma competed against No. 18 Texas A&M. 

Each league again claimed a win. 

Arkansas and A&M do not get a shot this season and neither do national programs Vanderbilt or Missouri.

 Here’s this seasons schedule: December 1: Oklahoma at Kentucky and South Carolina at Texas. December 2: Auburn at Kansas State. December 3: Texas Tech at Arkansas, Georgia at Oklahoma State and Mississippi State at Iowa State. December 4: Kansas at Alabama, TCU at LSU, Ole Miss at West Virginia and Baylor at Tennessee.

There were plenty of other activities and one and a half coaching changes this off-season . . . with assistant coaching moves. 

As usual, we concentrate on the Top 20 ranked teams in the Associated Press Poll. He best conference has a quarter of those teams.
No. 4 South Carolina
*The Gamecocks, will battle Mississippi State and Tennessee for the conference title. 

When last seen, they were losing in an upset at the Sweet 16. They thought they should have beaten Syracuse, but everybody except UConn fell prey to that trap.

Afterwards, coach Dawn Staley said, her backcourt (which graduated) needed an upgrade. They have two eligible transfers who were all-ACC and signed more.
They past their first national test of the new season, at Ohio State, Monday night.

Five new Gamecocks join the fold this season with the four freshmen ready to take the court right away. 

Junior forward Alexis Jennings will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, from Kentucky. 

Guard Tyasha Harris (Noblesville, Ind.) headlines the freshman class, coming off a summer spent helping the U.S. to its seventh straight Gold court vision, and Patrick comes in as a scorer to help stretch the floor. 

Forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan rounds out the class, bringing in the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. 
Araion Bradshaw (Hyde Park, Mass.) and Victoria Patrick (Orlando, Fla.) join her in the guard spot. 

Bradshaw is point guard with good athleticism, speed and perimeter shooting to the team.

 “We are so excited Victoria has decided to join our Gamecock family,” Staley said. “She has a very good basketball IQ, and her ability to stretch the floor fills an immediate need of ours.”

Patrick is a two-time state champion out of Edgewater High. Averaging a team-high 15.8 points as a senior, she scored 20 or more points in six games last season.

She joins previously announced guards  Araion Bradshaw of Hyde Park, Mass., Tyasha Harris of Noblesville, Ind,  and forward Mikiah Harrigan of Pembroke Pines, Fla. Harris made the USA’s Under-18 national team.

Besides the graduates, two other players left the program with eligibility remaining. But two transfers have served their year of being practice players while sitting out, which means they know the system. 

Allisha Gray was the backcourt mate of now-Tennessee leader Diamond DeShields at North Carolina and was all-ACC. Kaela Davis was also all-ACC at Georgia Tech as their leading scorer and point guard.

Staley spent a refreshing summer assisting at the Games. She coached an age-group team for USA basketball last summer so she has basically already been coaching two seasons without a break. 

Good thing she likes it. 

It worked for Geno Auriemma.

South Carolina senior forward Sarah Imovbioh was invited to participate on the Nigeria National Team in the Rio games. 

A graduate of Virginia, she still had a year of eligibility left and played in all 35 of the Gamecocks’ contests. In the short run of the NCAA playoffs, she averaged six rebounds per outing. 

UK transfer Alexis Jennings ended up at SC where she will sit out this season to come, on full scholarship. She has two seasons of eligibility. 

“It’s a great day to be a Gamecock,” Staley said. “Alexis joining our Gamecock family brings us a proven, versatile player. Her ability to score with her back to the basket and stretch the floor with her 3-point shot makes us instantly better.” 

A 6 -2 forward, Jennings averaged 7.1 boards and 10 points for the Wildcats last season, lifting her rebounding average to 7.5 in SEC play to rank 10th in the league. 

Among her six double-doubles was a 15-point, 16-rebound performance at Texas A&M in an upset of the No. 11 Aggies. 

She posted 19 of her 32 career double-digit scoring games in 2015-16, including three straight double-doubles to open SEC play. 

Starting 21 of her career 67 games at Kentucky, her career 8.9 points per game came on 47.4 percent field goal shooting in 21.3 minutes per game.

 SC also agreed to play nationally competitive Louisville in the Hall of Fame game Thanksgiving weekend.
Tiffany Mitchell was the first league player selected in the WNBA daft, No. 9 by Indiana, the first to be selected in the first round from SC in the Staley era. 

She made the team and led it in scoring off the bench. She also was a member of the US Select team, which provided opposition to the Olympic team in the runup to the Olympics 

Signees for next season: Bianca Jackson (Montgomery, Ala.), Elisia Grissett (Durham, N.C.), LaDazhia Williams (Bradenton, Fla.)  and Haley Troup (Gadsden, Ala..

 “As the daughter of two basketball coaches, her knowledge of the game is apparent every time Bianca steps out on the court,” Staley said. “She is a natural leader, and her skill set makes her a dangerous weapon on both ends of the floor. Bianca has a great feel for the game and is a true student of the game.”

 Jackson, a 5-foot-11 guard is a three-time Alabama Sports Writers Association First-Team All-State selection. She averaged 22 points, six rebounds and 4.2 assists last season. Her father, Lewis and mother, 
Freda -Jackson, are the men’s and women’s basketball coaches, respectively, at Alabama State.
“Haley was our first commitment from Alabama who loves the game,” Staley said. “She is going to help us right away with her basketball IQ alone. She is an excellent shooter, but her best asset is her ability to see the floor and deliver the ball. Haley is a gutsy competitor who will rise to competition of the SEC.”

“An athlete with speed, quickness and jumping ability, [Elisia] has the immediate versatility to play at forward and wing,” Staley said. “We anticipate moving her around to match her skill set and our needs . She’s one of the most unselfish players we’ve seen and can really pass the ball.”

 A 6-foot-1 guard, Grissett led Hillside to a 28-2 record and a spot in the Class 4A state semifinals. The hit 22.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 3.0 blocks per game as a junior. A late arrival on the basketball court, Grissett began playing in eighth grade and a year later averaged 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds while starting on a Hillside team that went 26-3 and sent six players to NCAA Division I programs.

  “LaDazhia is a skilled post player who can face up and also score at the rim,” Staley said. “We expect her to have an immediate impact within our post play. She is capable of dominating with her rebounding and demands to be guarded with her skill set. She’s a shot blocker, too.”

Before participating in the 2016 USA Basketball U18 National Team Trials, Williams earned Florida Association of Basketball Coaches 7A Player of the Year. She posted 15.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a junior in leading Lakewood Ranch High to the state championship game. In 84 career high school games going into her senior season, Williams has 1,445 points, 764 rebounds and 146 blocked shots.

 A 5-foot-9 guard, Troup was the Co-Player of the Year and a finalist for Alabama Sports Writers Association (ASWA) Class 7A Player of the Year in 2016. Already a 1,000-point scorer after her sophomore season, she reached the 1,000-rebound plateau last season as a junior. Averaging 17.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 2015-16, Troup played in the North/South All-Star game in July 2016.
*No. 10 Mississippi State
State has a good feel to it, a step further in each of Vic Schaefer’s recent seasons in StarkVegas.

 When we ran into him at the Final Four, he flashed the familiar easy smile and said, “We’ll be alright.” 

His team was fed to the UConn machine to end the season. “We’re not as good as they are, but we’re not that many points bad,” he said of the blowout margin.

The Bulldogs are easily co-favorites to take the conference. 

They have a scorer not afraid to shoot backed by a coach who said he expects her to get so many points no matter the number of shots.

A conference junior class all-star team could beat pretty much any team in America. But Schaefer also has a rising sophomore center, a determined defender unafraid of anyone and, once again, commitments from top-flight in-state recruits.

Moreover, eight of his players made the school academic honor roll, an SEC record. They are only carrying one freshman.

Victoria Vivians is the very embodiment of a “shooter must shoot.”

Every opposing game plan has to start with her.
She opened with 26 road points playing only the first half at Maine, stifling a 20-game win streak for the  home team, 87-43.

Redshirt junior Roshunda Johnson added 14 points.

 The Bulldogs won the two games they played in the tournament by a combined 90 points.
“Maine is going to be really good,” Schaefer said. “They are a young team but they are going to win some games. Our speed and athleticism can wear some teams down in the press. We really pushed them out on the floor with their offense. We try to make you uncomfortable. Tonight, we did a really great job of that.

 “This team has some weapons. We can score some 
points. We have players who can come off the bench and score, too.”

 “Since I didn’t play much yesterday (10 minutes), coming out fresh and playing a good team had me energized and ready to play,” Vivians said.

The Bulldogs hit 32 of 61 shots from the field (52.5 percent), 11 of 21 shots from 3-point range (52.4 percent) and 12 of 15 shots from the foul line (80.0 percent). 

The Black Bears hit 17 of 45 shots from the field (37.8 percent), 2 of 12 shots from 3-point range (16.7 percent) and 7 of 10 shots from the foul line (70.0 percent).
State took a 36-23 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 21 assists and 15 turnovers, while the Black Bears had nine assists and 26 turnovers.

 They had opened by exceeding 100, in a 108-62 route of Villanova. The Bulldogs put seven players in double figures, led by 21 from Johnson. “That’s the kid I thought we were getting when we signed her,” Schaefer said of Johnson. 

“I thought she came in and really did a nice job for us. She ran the point for us in the second half and played some 2 in the second half.”

Schaefer also added to his coaching staff
Carly Thibault, the daughter of WNBA Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault, is his latest  assistant coach, most recently completing two seasons at Eastern Michigan. 

She previously was ` Director of Recruiting Operations at Florida State.

 "I'm so grateful and excited to join one of the best programs in the country,” Thibault said. “I'm ready to hit the ground running to help us take the next step in becoming a national championship contender."

 "We have hit another home run with the addition of Carly Thibault to our Hail State Hoops Family,” Schaefer said. “I love her passion and energy for the game. 

"Not only does she come from a great basketball family, but she played for two great coaches at Monmouth before going on to work for two great ones in Sue Semrau at Florida State and Tory Verdi at Eastern Michigan. 

"Mississippi State athletics has a long history of great assistant coaches, and there is no doubt in my mind Carly Thibault will be another one to add to the list."

Thibault comes from a basketball family, as her father, Mike, was a longtime coach in the NBA before making the move to the WNBA, where he coaches the Washington Mystics alongside his son, Eric.

 “She’s been around the game all her life and seen what hard work is like,” Schaefer said of her coaching family. “At her young age, she knows what it takes to win at this level. That’s really a unique quality that I was looking for. I’m looking forward to having her as part of our Bulldog family.”

Gulfport native Ameshya Williams Has signed up for the future. The 6-2 forward line player steadily added to her averages, finishing he senior season leading a 25-3 team  with 24.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 3.6 blocks per game.

“I am excited to be going to play at Mississippi State for coach Schaefer,” Williams said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to play for Mississippi State in one of the country’s top conferences, the SEC. When I went on my visit I really liked the environment. It felt like family there. I also like that I will be a Bulldog because I am a bulldog when I’m on the court.”

“We are excited to add Ameshya to our Mississippi State family. We are very happy for both Ameshya and her family because she has worked so hard for this moment,” Schaefer said. 

“She is the best senior player in the state of Mississippi. Our focus when we came here four years ago was to keep the state’s best players at home, and we are so excited to continue that with the signing of Ameshya.”

Williams eight times scored 30-plus points, including a pair of 30-point, 20-rebound games. Obviously first team All-State, she also represented in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game.

The other early signees are Mississippi’s top player, Olive Branch guard Myah Taylor, Florida forward Jonika Garvin and another in-state prize, Nyah Tate.
“This is very exciting to be able to finally sign with Mississippi State,” Tate said. “It really is a dream come true for me because Mississippi State has been my favorite school. I’m very excited to be making Mississippi State my home for the next four years.”
“When I first stepped foot on campus for an unofficial visit, I realized it felt like home. The team and coaches really care about each other, and everywhere I went on campus it felt like a family environment. To have the opportunity to play for Mississippi State and compete in the SEC is something I’m very proud of.”
“Nyah is someone who, along with Myah, we have had on our radar for many years,” Schaefer said. “She’s a big, long guard who has a high release point that is hard to get to. 

"She reminds me of another great player Johnnie and I signed before who went on to have a great college career. Nyah is another player our staff has worked hard recruiting, and we are excited about having her and her family be part of our Mississippi State family. 

"Nyah is someone we knew we had to sign when we got to Mississippi State, and we are so proud to have her becoming a Bulldog.”

"I'm very excited. I've been waiting for this since last year when I committed," Taylor said. "I'm very eager and ready to be at Mississippi State."

 "The school is great, hands down one of the best schools in the country. They have the best coaching staff anyone could ask for. I feel like it's a family environment, and I have a great relationship with all the coaches, especially with Coach Schaefer. "Being a point guard, it's great to have a good relationship with the head coach, and I have that with him."

Taylor was invited to the United States Women's U17 Olympic Trials following a second-straight Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year honor.

 "We are so proud of Nyah, and we are proud to have her become part of our Mississippi State family,” Schaefer said. “My staff and I have been working hard recruiting Myah for many years, and it's an honor for us to have the two-time Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year becoming a Bulldog. She has been a tremendous high school player, and she is going to be a great college player.

"Nyah comes from a great family, and we are thrilled to have them joining our family here in Starkville."
 

She averaged 26.1 points, 6.9 assists, 5.8 steals and 4.1 rebounds during her junior season, helping the Conquistadors to a 25-3 record and the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

Taylor shot nearly 50 percent from the field, including 39 percent from 3-point range.

She played AAU basketball for Doug Bush's Alabama Southern Starz, helping lead her team to a Division I national championship.

 Garvin, joined Palm Beach State College this season after starting her career at Auburn a year ago.

 "We are really happy to have the opportunity to re-recruit Jonika after losing her to Auburn the first time," Schaefer said. "We are very excited to have the opportunity to have her back in the Bulldog family."

 As a freshman with the Tigers, she averaged 10 minutes in 20 games, averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. She also hit eight blocks with an average seven steals.

 "Mississippi State is truly my home. I knew that from the beginning," Garvin said. "The team itself is very welcoming and normally that would be enough for me, but the whole school itself is also welcoming. The other sports, the academic professors and the students that go there, they're all very welcoming. 

 "It's a great feeling because I know I'm going where I'm supposed to go. I know once I get there I'll be taken care of. I already know a couple girls on the team, and they've known how I play since my junior year of high school. Not only the coaches, but also the players will try to bring out the 'Bulldog' in me."

 Garvin led her team to the regional finals in 2014, averaging 18.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.7 steals in her junior season.


Garvin comes from a basketball family, as her mother, Melissa, played at Edison Community College while her father, Jonathan, competed at Bethune-Cookman. 
  
*No. 13 Tennessee

Coach Holly Warlick set the national record for making four Elite Eights in her first four seasons. Let’s repeat: No one has ever done that nor is anyone suspected of doing it soon.

It shut up the naysayers and online anonymous critics in chat rooms. We suggested she change up the coaching staff to get back to quality recruiting.

The dismissal of friend Kyra Elzy was a move in that direction. You can remain friends, but this is big business.

The replacement and new recruiting coordinator is Sharrona Reaves, a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. She had been  at West Virginia University the past three seasons, an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator. 

“I love Coach Reaves’ energy and have always been impressed with her ability to recruit players at every level of basketball and at every stop along the way,” Warlick said. “She’s a native Tennessean and she played in our league at Alabama, so she is quite aware and understands the magnitude and history of this program.” 

With Reaves directing the recruiting efforts, WVU signed the 2016 WBCA Junior/Community College Player of the Year. Her abilities in that area have enabled the Mountaineers to land strong recruiting classes in not only her current stint with the team but also in a previous stop at the school.

“Being born and raised in the state of Tennessee and having the opportunity to come back home and coach for the Lady Vols and coach with Holly, it’s honestly hard to put into words just how amazing that is,” Reaves said. “I’m honored, extremely blessed, and it just means everything to me.

“My career has prepared me for this opportunity. I’ve been fortunate to be at West Virginia University twice, and I’m grateful to Coach Carey for giving me those opportunities to help build the program and help make it known out on the recruiting trail. Same thing at Mississippi State; these schools helped me learn how to work hard and grind as recruiter and develop players as a coach to compete in the SEC, BIG EAST and Big 12.

“The recruiting piece, I am ready for. Knoxville is a great city. University of Tennessee women’s basketball stands alone. The respect that it carries and the opportunity to go out and recruit the caliber of players that can put Tennessee back where I know Holly wants it to be, I’m so ready. I know we’re going to do some really special things.”

From 2008-10, Reaves was assistant coach and recruiting coordinator on the Mississippi State women’s basketball staff, helping the 2009 Lady Bulldogs to the NCAA Second Round and the 2010 squad to their first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.

As Sharrona Alexander, she was a forward at Alabama and helped key the Crimson Tide to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, including the Sweet 16 in 1992-93 and the Final Four in 1993-94. She was a team captain as a senior.

The mercurial Diamond DeShields is a lynchpin. When she is focused, she is all-world. When not . . . well, UT lost and fell out of the final AP Top 25 before the NCAA tournament.

She is but a junior. Her classmates are a middle difference-maker, 6-6 Mercedes Ruseell -- the tallest Lady Vol --  and Alex Middleton.

The only rookie is is Kamera Harris, a 6-3 shot-blocker from Hampton, Ga. She makes four Georgia players on the roster. Her 7.8 blocks per game average reflects a skill that earned her the nickname “Block Party.” She owns the national high school record of 28 in one game and 22 in another.

“We’re very excited that Kamera has made the decision to become a Lady Vol,” Warlick said. “She’s a fantastic pick-up for us in the late signing period.


“Kamera is a strong defensive player, as evidenced by her ability to block so many shots. That love for defense is what initially got me excited about the possibility of her joining our program. I like her energy and have enjoyed hearing about her love for the Lady Vols. We have signed an outstanding player who is going to help us, and we look forward to having her wear the Orange.” 

Then Warlick got more immediate help by picking up graduate transfer Schaquilla Nunn from Winthrop University. She had sat out a season with a broken foot She is A 6-3 center, brought in to work alongside Mercedes Russell. She set program records for rebounds (910) and blocks (279), starting 86 of her 88 games in three seasons, with 49 double/doubles.

“We are really pleased to welcome Schaquilla to our program,” Warlick said. “She’s a very talented and highly-motivated player and one who has a great deal of experience at the college level. I am extremely impressed with her maturity and focus as well, and all of those attributes are going to help our team in the coming season.

“Schaquilla is very excited about becoming a Lady Vol, and certainly we are looking forward to blending her and Kamera with our returning players. They provide us good size and depth in an area we needed to address and we are equally pleased to add two quality young ladies to our group.” 

Then came junior-college transfer Cheridene Green She will rehab a knee injury this season and follow the trail of UT center who sat out a year and came back dominant.

At 6-3,  Green averaged 20.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 2.5 steals in 15 games for ASA College in Brooklyn. She has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Green is from London. the Lady Vols' first international player.
Warlick said, ''I think sitting out in 2016-17 is going to allow her the ability to get 100 percent healthy'' while learning the Lady Vols' system.

But they also lost oft-injured guard Adraya Carter. "She had a hard time last year," Warlick said. "I don't see her making it through another year."

Carter underwent a surgical procedure on her left knee after the 2014-15 season. It was the same knee in which the redshirt senior had a torn anterior cruciate ligament during her senior season at Buford (Ga.) High School.

She played in all 36 games last season with 25 starts. She averaged 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and was second on the team in steals with 54. She often served as the postgame player spokesperson
UT starts the season 2-0.

They have 1,300 wins, the most of any programs. Russell scored 17 with 11 rebounds in the 81-69 win over James Madison.

The Dukes had won 16 straight at home.

Juniors Jaimie Nared and Alex Middleton led the effort.

Nared had 19 points and eight rebounds, including connecting on a career-high 3-of-6 shots from behind the arc. Middleton's 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting was the most she has scored since her first game as a Lady Vol.

 UT then beat Navy, 85-55, as Middleton was 7-of-11 from the field for 21 points and Russell had her 13th career double/double, 18 points and 10 rebounds. DeShields is the next-best at a dozen points per game

Warlick has already started her tradition of amping up the crowd with her jacket throw before she starts yelling.

"I guess when the jacket comes off I'm just glad I kept my pants on,” she said.

“ My expectation for them is high and these kids understand it. I saw things I haven't seen in practice for whatever reason. I'm just not going to tolerate no effort. If I have to threaten them if I have to do whatever I need to do, they just under-achieved. 

“Navy is a good basketball team, they made us do things. They made our 4 come out, they made our 5 come out and play away from the basket. 

“It's hard, it's difficult, it's things we don't see. That doesn't have anything to do with how hard you play. I thought we just settled, we started feeling sorry for ourselves as well.

"It's not going to work I was trying to do whatever I needed to do to get this team up."
"
We're getting Mercedes Russell the basketball and she's demanding the basketball. So she is drawing a lot of attention and two we're not forcing shots the way we did last year. We're taking shots that were set, we're taking really good looks. I'm going to go to three, we've gotten into the gym and worked on it. 

"Alexa Middleton, six for seven, that's a result of her getting into the gym and putting in the hours and putting in the reps. That's the result of especially Alexa working at it and that's the result of it."

Off campus, Bashaara Graves made the opening day roster at Minnesota as a bench player, where she weighed in at 200, one of two rookies to top the weight watch which is still unlisted in the women’s college game for some archaic reason.
*No. 19 Kentucky

The basketball-mad state will once again host the Lexington Regional. UK got into it last season but stumbled in the Sweet 16 after having played just well enough to earn an opening round hosting assignment again.

With five players leaving the program along with graduates, this looms as another challenging season for Matthew Mitchell. His best rookie, 14-game starter Batouly Camara, decided near the end of the school year to join those climbing the ladder over the wall to new freedom.

She landed as part of the restocking at UConn, which had originally recruited her.  Then a major commitment, 6-4 Madison Reece, decided to reopen her decision. The Indiana native settled at UCLA.

Sophomore Alexis Jennnings developed as a starter in 18 games, also successfully got her release as the school year ended and went to SC. She had considered Alabama in her native state, as well as Georgia and lesser programs when signing up. Camara, from New York state had a dalliance in recruiting with UConn, Louisiville and Oklahoma and lesser programs.

She had played for USA Basketball on the 2014 under-18 national team. She was accepted by UConn   Ivana Jakubcova,at 6-6, another of the previously announced transfers out, ended up at Southern Cal, where she will have the 2017-18 season left

What Mitchell has left is what most good teams have in this league, a serviceable center with a full year of the grind done in Evelyn Akhator. He has the cornerstone player in Makayla Epps. Like SC.

It will be up to whomever wins point guard to determine the receding fate of the Kats. But bench depth is at situation critical.

Mitchell staged a weird press conference in late April in which he addressed the heartache of all the players leaving. He talked of the stress on the seven remaining players. He talked of the “quest” he is on.

Strangely, he rehired Kyra Elzy as associate head coach after she was let go at Tennessee. She had been with him for four years then fled for the Lady Vols, with whom she had been a player.

Then again, all his other assistants quit. 

We had suggested a coaching watch was on and, in a parallel universe, that Holly Warlick needed badly to change up her staff.

He then continued the rebuild of Knoxville North by hiring another former four-year Lady Vol, Niya Butts.

She had twice been an assistant at UK, first for former Kats coach and very close friend of Pat Head Summitt, then as a Mitchell assistant.

She had an arc as the Arizona coach. She was then a top-flight recruiter. It is a good position to accept if Mitchell would step aside, due to her former associations in Lexington.

There’s more.

He added former Ole Miss and Purdue coach Linn Dunn out of her WNBA retirement gig. With Stephanie White and Micki DeMoss back in the league and now Dunn and Stephanie White off the WNBA championship team at Indy and even White as a player for  Carolyn Peck . . . who replaced Dunn at Purdue. It is all one interrelated all-star family.

“I could not be more excited to get the chance to work every day with one of my greatest mentors and dearest friends in Lin Dunn,” Mitchell said. “When you think about those that helped paved the way for women’s sports, Lin Dunn is one of those names that comes to your mind. She has helped me become the coach and person that I am today and I am forever grateful. With our staff now complete, it’s time for us to turn the page and take this program to new heights.”

“I’ve known Matthew for 20 years. He’s a great person, a good father and an excellent coach,” Dunn said. “You don't accidentally win 25 games every season in the SEC without being a great basketball coach. I’m really excited about helping him maintain this level of success. He has put together such a great staff and I know working with Kyra, Niya and Amber will be a wonderful opportunity for me and one that I couldn't pass up.

"I am confident that Matthew and I share similar core values and I'm excited to get back on the court.”

So there is a Kentucky Kollege of Koaches.

They are also 2-0.

Akhator has gotten it from the beginning.

She scored 18 points with 10 rebounds in an 82-66 win over visiting Miami.

In the second win, she hit a career-high 28 in beating Albany 70-46. She had a game-high 13 rebounds. No teammate hit double figures, though Makenzie McCann, Makayla Epps, Maci Morris and Alyssa Rice each had eight.

“ We haven’t spent a lot of time on zone offense and I was really proud of our players staying the course and grinding out a really tough game,” said Mitchell. “It’s been a tough 24 hours after that tough, hard-fought victory over a good Miami team.

"To come back and be able to earn a victory was just awesome. I am so proud of our team for how we performed this weekend and we will do nothing but get better from here. Great couple of days and really looking forward to what we can become as a team.”
Akhator was angry at the limited playing time, 24 minutes, in the opener.

“It is just feeling. I told them that my fouls really got me last night and when they took me out I was devastated and I said ‘They don’t want me to be great” Just kidding. 

“But it fit with my teammates feeding me the ball. Last night Epps told me she doesn’t care how many times I get the ball or if I shoot the ball 30 times. She just wants me to go and so I just have to be there for my teammate when things aren’t going well.”

 She is 10-of-10 from the foul line through two games. She knows familiar foes will put her there.

“Well, it is something I have been working on. I had a bad free throw season last season. I think I was fifty percent and I needed to do much better and so I just need to go. My coaches keep telling me I just need to be calm and love the ball. That is what I did. I just fell in love with the ball.”


UK did sign Jaida Roper, a 5-foot-7 guard from Memphis.

“We are so excited for Jaida to become a Wildcat. She is a high-character person, an exciting basketball player and a very hard worker,” Mitchell said. 

Roper was selected to play in the Basketball Coach Association of Tennessee East-West All-Star game, She led shined the 15-AAA championship game, scoring 22 to earn the tournament Most Valuable Player award.

She scored more than 1,500 career points in high school, averaging 13.2 points, 5.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds  and 2.8 steals per game her senior season. Roper was named the district most valuable player and was one of 17 Class AAA players to be named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State Team.
Mitchell took fiove in the early signing period, including one from Tennessee’s hometown,
They are  Dorie Harrison (Nashville, Tenn.), Keke McKinney (Knoxville, Tenn.), Amanda Paschal (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Kameron Roach (Hopkins, S.C.) and Tatyana Wyatt (Columbus, Ga.). 
“We are so excited to welcome these five outstanding people to our family,” Mitchell said. “This class really fills all of our needs on the court, but most importantly, they are the type of people we look for at Kentucky.

"Each of them approach every day with great attitude and effort, which is very important to me and our staff. I cannot wait for these five to get to Lexington and be a part of this program.”

McKinney is 6-1, wing from Fulton High School in Knoxville who also said UT recruited her.

She averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocks per game last season. “Keke is one of those players that checks all of our boxes and really stood out to us as a player we had to have here at Kentucky because of her competitiveness and toughness,” said Mitchell. 

Paschall is a 5-6 guard who plays at Gulf Coast State College. 
She started all 33 games last season at GCSC, which went 32-1 overall. “Amanda comes from one of the best junior college programs in the country, “ Mitchell said, “where she won a national championship last season under Roonie Scovel, who is known for producing tough players with strong work ethic.

Amanda is one of those players and we are thrilled she decided to be a Wildcat. The leadership skills she developed last season in junior college are going to pay dividends for her and for us.

She is an athletic guard that creates for her teammates, but can also create for herself through her tough, hard-nosed play on both ends of the court.” 

Roach is another 5-6 point guard. She was invited to the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team Trial. She said South Carolina also recruited her.

“Kameron is a special player and person that showed great loyalty to our program,” Mitcvell said. “ She will enter our program with a high level of maturity and confidence, which is very important and will help her succeed on and off the court. Kameron is a physical guard.”

Wyatt is a  6-3 post. “Tatyana is an explosive athlete that can make plays all over the floor,” said Mitchell. “She embodies everything that it means to be a Kentucky women’s basketball player and lives her life by our winning tools of honesty, hard work and discipline. We are thrilled she is a Wildcat.” 

Harrison is a 6-2 post from Hillsboro High School. Did not play last season due to injury. She is the younger sister of Izzy Harrison, former star at Tennessee who plays in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury. She said Tennessee did recruit her. 

Still, Mitchell may be on double-secret probation for the proud Kats. The administration will not allow the heritage to be tarnished. 


 Graduated senior Janee Thompson signed to play pro ball in Germany, not the WNBA.
 *No. 20 Florida

Amanda Butler, the longest-serving SEC coach, has her team in top 20 to start the season after not being ranked for the majority last season and losing to Albany in the first round.


She has four freshmen and has signed five for next season. The most exotic freshman is Elif Portakal, an experienced point guard from Turkey. 

The Gators open the season with 12 games away from home, the first a win at Jacksonville vs. South Alabama, 85-33.

The top three scorers from last season all return; senior Ronni Williams, junior Haley Lorenzen and exciting sophomore Eleanna Christinaki led the attack with 16 each.

 “I really enjoy this team,” Butler said I love the way they love each other, how hard they work for each other. I think that they take themselves very seriously.

"There is a great deal of pride in the amount of work that's been invested going back from the summer all the way into the preseason, and it's showing up in the way that we practice and in the strength of our culture.
“So I think we've got some great things on the horizon.
We play in the best league in the country, and I think we have one of the best overall schedules in the country this year. Our strength of schedule, I think, is going to be ridiculous. So we have to find unique ways to create an edge. Everybody's in the gym working hard this week.

"Everyone spent their summers lifting and getting shots up and trying to perfect their game.

We really want to try to find every way that we can to expand and enhance our mental skills. “And as physical as boxing sounds, it's something that puts us completely at a discomfort disadvantage. It's something no one on our team has ever done. So you have to embrace being uncomfortable.

Signed for next year are Mikayla Hayes (6-2, Forward, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota); Tameria Johnson (5-6, point guard, Ocala, Florida/); Karissa McLaughlin (5-8, guard, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Priscilla Smeenge (6-0, forward, Celebration, Florida) and Jalaysha Thomas (6-2, forward, Ocala).

"This is a very complete group on and off the floor,” Butler said. “They all bring something special that is going to give them a chance to make an immediate impact on our team. Each individual meets a need and reinforces our team culture in her own unique way. “

Hayes is the first Gator from the state of Minnesota in program history.

"I really liked the family feel of the program both, with the players and staff. I think Coach Butler is doing great things with the program and truly works to get the best out of her players,” Hayes said.

 "Mikayla Hayes will add a tremendous amount of size and improve our post presence,” said Butler. “She's a great shot blocker and has surprising face-the-basket skills for her size."

 Johnson and Thomas are classmates in high school., the first from the schook to sign Division 1 papers. 

They are cousins.

"Tameria is a dynamic and spirited point guard. I don't think there is another point guard like her in the 2017 class,” said Butler. “She has a fearless spirit, very aggressive with the ball in her hands and very excited to be a Gator. I love her competitiveness."

 Thomas committed on the sidelines of the football game against Ole Miss.

"Jalaysha is one of those players that every team needs,” said Butler.  “ solid, catches every pass. She can impact the game a lot of ways. She is going to be a player who will contribute in a lot of different lineups, and will also fortify our post play. I'm excited about all the ways she makes us better."
McLaughlin had a school record 1,808 career points entering her senior season and the school record for free throw Percentage, 92.

“Florida's team culture instantly stood out to me,” she said:


It is one of the biggest things that defines them from anyone else.  I loved how much they love and play for each other.  They play for something bigger than themselves.  Butler said, “Karissa is the best shooter in the 2017 class. She's also used to competing for championships. She's very well-rounded and will being a winner's mentality to every day."

  Smeenge is originally from Texas; her family moved to Florida this year, when her dad took over the high school program as coach. Joel was an 11-year NFL defense end, who played with the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars. He played college football at Western Michigan University 

 A cousin, Isaac Nauta, is a freshman tight end at the University of Georgia.

I am confident in my decision to commit to The University of Florida because I truly believe I will be held to a standard of excellence as a student-athlete. It has become evident that whenever great things are expected, great things can happen in life,” she said.

“I desire to glorify God in all that I do moving forward."

“ She is going to fit perfectly into our style or running, pressing and playing tone-setting basketball,” Butler said. “ She's a tremendous young lady, on and off the court and I'm thrilled to coach her."
THE OTHERS

* Texas A&M graduated five and added six, four freshmen. It suspended one of its better seniors for the final two games of her career and plunked out at home in the Sweet 16. So a massive rebuild is under way, the biggest of Gary Blair’s time in the league. 

He has 14 seasons at the school, but Amanda Butler at Florida and Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky have nine seasons each in the league.

The incoming freshmen are all guards; the junior college additions are not. The trend of JC signees was replicated at other top conference programs.

The freshmen are 5-11 Aahliyah Jackson,  5-10 ArLeighshya McElroy, 5-10 Jasmine Williams and 5-11 Rakell Spencer.

“They are all outstanding young people,” Blair said “All of these players are similar in their strengths, and are diversified in how they can play more than one position. I am ecstatic.

“They will challenge for starting positions and playing time as freshmen, just like this season’s senior class did in 2012-13. “These signees are every bit as athletic as the seniors graduating and all are extremely well-coached players.

“Rakell fits right into what we want to do at Texas A&M, which is to play pressure basketball defensively and offensively for 40 minutes,” he said.

“She comes from a small New Orleans Catholic school, Cabrini, which is steeped in traditions and core values, just like Texas A&M.

“She was extremely well-coached in high school by Nancy Walsh and her summer coaches were very good as well,” said Blair. “She is particularly interested in the Huffines Institute’s Coaching Academy at Texas A&M that Dr. John Thornton directs, and the benefits that come with that certificate.”

She is twice all-state, has scored more than 1,700 points in high school. Additionally, Spencer was a middle blocker for the state runner-up volleyball team, all-state in that sport for the past two seasons.
 

”We have been recruiting Aahliyah for three years, and are very happy that she has chosen to attend Texas A&M,” said Blair. “She immediately became the best player in the state of Arkansas when she moved there a junior.

“She can play on the block, or can play on the wing,” added Blair. “She is very good inside and can shoot 3-pointers very well. She’s going to fit into our program well.”
Jackson ran track in high school before focusing solely on basketball. She played AAU Basketball for Texas Elite, the winners of two adidas National Championships. She is a member of National Honor Society.


McElroy is a 5-10 combo guard and a two-time Texas all-state selection.

“ArLeighshya is just tenacious on the defensive end, and is an energy player all over the court, who is just going to get after her opponents,” said Blair. “I like what she brings to the table on offense and defense—she is very similar to Chelsea Jennings who can play a variety of positions on both sides of the basketball. 

“She will come in and challenge for playing time immediately,” said Blair. “She has got the mindset of a player who wants to play for a championship. 
“Jasmine is a kid who fits into what we want to do,” said Blair. “She is similar to the kids who built our program, a player who will do whatever it takes to win and help define a championship team.

“She is a good student who will transition well to Texas A&M. She plays on a high school team that has a lot of similarities to a college team, a program that competes for and wins championships. She would average 20 points a game had she played on a different team.” 

For immediate help, the Aggies now have two quality frontline Junior College All-Americans from Texas.

 Walnatia Wright is from Midland Junior College. At 6-2 she is a native of Georgia. She averaged 17.6 points and 9.7 rebounds and was the Western Junior College Athletic Conference MVP. 


“Walnatia is another junior college player who will fit into our team very well,” said Blair. “She is an inside scoring threat who will help us out at not only the 5 position, but also at the 4.”

The second junior college All-American is Caylinne Martin of McLennan.

“Caylinne has explosive athleticism, strength and a face-up game that will allow us to comp
ete at the post position in the SEC,” said Blair. “She is a quiet kid who lets her game do the talking.

“We have followed Caylinne since her days at Langham Creek, and she has continued to improve while at McLennan,” added Blair. “We have had success with junior college players both on and off the court, which made adding the experience and skill of Caylinne a no-brainer for both our young team and for Caylinne.”

A 6-3 forward, Martin averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in her JC All-American season.

Courtney Walker  was selected as the No. 16 pick in the WNBA by the Atlanta Dream, and Jordan Jones was the No. 34 pick by the Chicago Sky Jones was cut May 6 but picked up by Atlanta. She and Walker were the last cuts there Courtney Williams was undrafted but signed as free agent with Minnesota.

She was released May 9.  
*Vanderbilt has missed the NCAA playoffs for two consecutive seasons. If nine teams in your conference make the show, it would seem difficult to lead the pack of five non-qualifiers.

With the strongest academic traditions in the league the Commodores still attract quality players. Chassity “LeaLea” Carter made a commitment to Melanie Balcomb, which shows Balcomb was trying to save her job.

Then she was allowed to resign. Balcomb ended up joining the South Carolina staff.

We had questioned her shelf life as early as February.

They were 5-11 in the past two SEC seasons and attendance had fallen to less than 3,000.

The Commodores did not mess around, hiring Stephanie White and her college coach, Carolyn Peck as the top assistant before May was out.

It is the fourth conference stop for Peck, a native of Tennessee and a former Vanderbilt all-SEC player, a grad assistant for Pat Head Summitt at UT, the head coach at Florida.

White was the Wade Trophy winner for Peck at Purdue
It makes Vandy relevant again though no one will roll over and there are nine teams ahead of the to star
But it is not unfathomable Vandy could soon knock a Missouri back into anonymity and get some marquee wins even this season with Tennessee a great fan game (and they play twice) and Kentucky wounded.

A good barometer the season after this one would be Georgia, a revived program not yet caught up to the top conference teams.

White obviously had a short list of tradition and conference for which she’d jump back to campus.

Vanderbilt’s academic requirements were also a draw.  

“To go to a place (like Vanderbilt) that has such high standards, athletically and academically, is intriguing,” White said. “There are a handful of schools that I sort of have on my radar that I think would be tremendous opportunities that if they ever called I at least needed to give myself an opportunity to inquire. Vanderbilt was one of them.”
*Georgia had a rollercoaster ride of a season by starting 13-0, winning 20 but never earning a national footprint. The ’Dawgs made the NCAA tournament but did not win a game after their senior leading scorer ended her career with an injury. 

Coach Joni Taylor earned national Rookie Coach-of-the-Year honors from the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association after being overlooked by her own conference. Sje delivered the most important addition to Lady Dawgs basketball when her daughter was born.

At the Final Four, her predecessor, Andy Landers was very happy with the person continuing the traditions he started. This is a Top 25 team, just waiting validation from the poll participants.

The summer addition was Simone Costa, a 5-10 native of Lisbon, Portugal, who spent the past two seasons at Independence Community College in Kansas.

“We are so excited to welcome Simone to our family,” Taylor said. “I have really enjoyed getting to know her throughout the recruiting process, and I look forward to welcoming her to Athens.

Simone is a versatile player who looks to push the ball and will fit well into our system. She has a lot of experience going back to her playing days in Portugal and her time at the junior college level. Simone can contribute immediately to our team, and I think Lady Bulldog fans will be excited to watch her for the next few years.”

Costa played in multiple FIBA (International Basketball Federation) events, including the 2011 and 2012 U12 European Championships, the 2012, 2013 and 2014 U18 European Championships and the 2015 U20 European Championships.

Her two best seasons were in 2012 and 2014. She averaged 14.1 ppg in the U16 European Championship in 2012, before averaging 11.9 points per game in the U18 European Championships in 2014. 

Costa is the third member of the signing class. 

Georgia also accepted a transfer from Washington State 6-5 Bianca Blanaru, a native of Romania. She has two years of eligibility.

Taylor said the transfer year to year the system is a good thing, Her career started at home where she played on both the under-18 and under-20 national teams in the European Championships and the 2012 FIA 3x3 championships in Spain.

She also accepted the transfer of a whiz-bang point guard, Taja Cole, a McDonald’s All-American and Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year. She played one season at highly respected Louisville.

“We are excited to have Taja joining our program,” Taylor said. “She is someone who has the ability to make an immediate impact on our team. She was one of the best players in the nation coming out of high school last year, and I look forward to seeing great things from her.

Taja is a dynamic player who has tremendous athletic ability. Once again, we wanted players in this class who would come in and fit well into our system, and Taja does just that.”

Taylor next signed Malury Bates of Roanoke, Virginia.
“Malury is an outstanding interior player who has the ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor,” Taylor said. “She is an athletic scorer, she’s very active on the glass and is a great shot-blocking presence on the defensive end. Most of all, Malury is a phenomenal role-model both on and off the court, and I’m thrilled that she has chosen to make Georgia her home for the next four years.”
Georgia  also got one of the top high school players in the state of Georgia, Quanniecia “Que” Morrison. 
Morrison led Powder Springs, Georgia powerhouse McEachern High School to a state championship her junior year. 
“With Que we are getting one of the most explosive and athletic players in the country,” Taylor said. “She’s a great defender with a tremendous all-around offensive game that will fit our up-tempo style. Most of all, Que is a winner and a high-character person who comes from a very successful program at McEachern. I’m excited she gets to stay close to home and play in front of her friends and family, and I know Lady Bulldog fans are going to enjoy watching her play over the next several years.”
Taylor’s first WNBA player drafted was New York’s  choice at No. 36 (the final draftee), Shacobia Barbee; her first three years were with Landers. She was released before the season began, but joined classmate Merritt Hempe in the German pro league.
*Mississippi got some good news for a program simply rocked the past few seasons. Coach Matt Insell has done what he could to hold together a floundering group still awaiting NCAA penalties from the previous regime.

It is tough leading one of five programs in the best conference in America to seldom make the playoffs.

It says here he will be a great hire anywhere else.

In August, he gained 10 extra days of needed practice then a three-game trip in 10 days to  Costa Rica. 

“There is not a more exciting time to be apart of our program as we move into a new year and being able to take our team to Costa Rica speaks volumes of the commitment our great university has towards women’s basketball,” said Insell. ”It gives us a early start in meshing our returners and new players together on and off the court for what is going to be a special season for our basketball program.”

Ole Miss will bring its entire 2016-17 team including incoming freshmen Shelby Gibson (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Kaitlyn Rodgers (Birmingham, Ala.) and Bree Glover (Glasgow, Ky.) as well as Chrishae Rowe. Rowe bottomed out at Oregon, ricocheted to Kentucky where she also did not quite fit in and is now eligible at Oxford.

It is worth noting Insell was at UK before this so perhaps the map to Ole Miss was discovered there.

The incoming players had to pass at least three credi
during summer school to qualify for the trip. 

It is Ole Miss’ first international trip since taking a trip to Canada in 2011 where they played four games and explored Vancouver. The Rebels also went on an international trip when they traveled to the Bahamas in 2007.
*LSU followed the familiar shaming of assistant coaches when the head coach fails.

Tony Perrrotti had been an assistant to the current LSU coach for three seasons at UCLA then all five in Baton Rouge, but was wished well in his future endeavors soon as the season plunked to an ignominious end.


Whatever happens this season will revolve around former superstar Raigyne Moncrief, lost for the season three games in with a knee injury. She should have two seasons left. It is  a truly frail program right now, 3-13 in the league and under .500 at home.

It was a successive non-20 win season. The coach watch is under way.

Strangely, they added the well-traveled Micki DeMoss as an assistant. They called her a “champion at every level” except she failed as a head coach at Florida, Kentucky and as an assistant at other programs. She was the associate head coach at the disastrous Louisiana Tech experiment with Tyler Summitt.

She was the interim head coach there but not considered as a replacement. She is a long-time associate of Tyler’s  mom, Pat Head Summitt. 
*Alabama is also vying for attention to turn around  a sub-.500 year into a successful one. The last time the Tide finished above .500 was with another coach half a decade ago.

They have joined the trend of finding Junior College All-Americans to the roster as well as welcoming a Division 1 transfer.

Tcheneavia “Coco” Knight and LaKyesha Stennis are the JC players.

“We are excited to add Coco and LaKyesha,” said coach Kristy Curry. “Both will provide depth and experience to the perimeter and will provide quality minutes for our team to be successful.

"These young ladies have had success at their previous institutions and we are looking for that to continue at a high level.”

Knight, in 36 games, averaged 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists with 98 steals, 11th nationally.

The 5-7 guard and native of Bay Minette, Ala., started after the first five games and scored in double figures 29 times, 20 or more seven times, with four double-doubles.


“We are excited to keep Coco at home,” added Curry.

“She is a dynamic guard that can create her own shot and has a great mid-range game and explosiveness when getting to the rim. She will be able to impact the game defensively with her athleticism. Coco played for Alabama alum Madonna Thompson, so she will be prepared physically and mentally for the SEC.”

Stennis, another guard, is 5-9. She started all 29 games last season, averaging 20.3 points, good for 10th in the nation, and 4.5 rebounds per game. Stennis scored double figures in all but two games and had 20 or more points 16 times.

She scored a season-best 39 points, hitting 11-of-19 shots from the floor and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.

Her hometown is another SEC site, Lexington, Ky.
“LaKyesha is a long, athletic guard that will provide a sharp shooter on the perimeter for us,” Curry obeserves. “She will be able to keep defenses honest and aware of where she is. She is also a great defender and rebounder at her position. She is coachable and humble and truly loves the game.”
Three-time Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week DaiJia Ruffin  is transferring from UT-Martin.

She will sit out a season. She averaged 14 points per game with 10 starts in 17 games of the 22-10 season. She was the leading scorer against Iowa, Illinois, Southern Illinois, UT-Chattanooga, Vanderbilt, Eastern Kentucky and in a win over her new team.
*Auburn took three transfers in.

Two from junior college are Emari Jones, a 6-2 rising sophomore from Shawnee Community College, and Ekiya Gray, a 6-1 rising junior from Blinn College.

Jones, a native of Wheaton, Ill., played one season at Shawnee, leading the team to a 30-3 record and a conference title as a freshman. She was named the Great Rivers Athletic Conference player of the year, the NJCAA Region 24 player of the year, and a second-team NJCAA All-American. She averaged 22.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

Her scoring average was third-best in the NJCAA, and her 746 total points led the nation. 

 She scored 20-plus points 24 times on the season and topped the 30-point mark six times.

“Emari gives us yet another versatile player that we covet for our system,” coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said.

“She has great size (6-2) for a wing, which will allow us the flexibility to play her at many different positions. She was one of the top junior-college scorers in the country who also shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line, and she’s extremely competitive and has the potential to be a great defender in our system.”

Gray, a native of Houston, played one season at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. She led the team to a 26-9 overall record and a berth in the NJCAA Championship, where they advanced to the second round.

She led the team in rebounds (7.5/game), assists (3.9/game) and steals (1.7/game) while averaging 13.9 points/game, second-best on the team. She posted nine double-doubles during the season.

“Ekiya is another versatile, highly competitive player that was made to play at Auburn,” Williams-Flournoy said. “Ekiya started as a freshman at Nicholls State, so we are getting an experienced player that will contribute right away. She is an extremely athletic forward that can score inside and out, a relentless rebounder, and a defender that can guard multiple positions.”

Jones will have three years of eligibility remaining, and Gray will have two years starting with the 2016-17 season. 

Straight transfer is from Clemson is 6-4 center Justice Wright from Clemson. She will sit out the coming season and have two left. She started 17 games for those Tigers.

She is the daughter of former NBA player and Clemson great Sharone Wright.


The April signee was Daisa Alexander, a 5-8 guard from Decatur, Ga. She led her team to the Georgia class AAAAA state title in 2016 and was all-state first team. 

“When you think about the way we play and our style of play, Daisa is a perfect prototype for that,” Williams-Flournoy said.

“She’s athletic and she’s quick. It was really amazing the first time I watched her, and I knew right then that we needed her, that she fit us. She reminds you a lot of Erica Sanders, just with her athleticism.

"And she can score, too. She can attack the basket, she's got a good pull-up, and she can shoot the 3.”

As a senior, she averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 steals, including a 22-point average in the postseason. She was named to the All-Metro Atlanta team, the all-region team, and selected to the 2015 Nike Tournament of Champions all-tournament team.

Her AAU team was the Douglasville Lady Tigers. She also competes on her high school's cross country and lacrosse teams.

“I chose Auburn because it gave me a family-oriented feeling,” Alexander said. “I believe that my coaches care enough to help me reach the next level in my basketball career. I know they’re not only concerned about my athletic success but also my academic success.”
*Arkansas became what it was suspected to become after a first year of a new coach depending on the previous administration’s players; 30-32 for two seasons. They finished 1-3 down the stretch.

The school may someday take the program seriously.

Top assistant Christy Smith fled to take over a startup Division 1 program.

The Razorbacks were six games under .500 and have enough back to do that again and again and again.
*Missouri closed with three straight losses leading into the big tournament. They have chosen to not participate in our reporting.
  

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