Oct. 9, 2007
Although she is now entering her third season as the head coach of the Clemson women’s basketball team, Cristy McKinney’s goals have remained quite basic. She simply wants her squad to win more games and to continue to rise in the conference standings. While the team must now compete without the expected services of its most experienced veteran, four starters still return and a top-25 signing class is still ready to contribute.
The preseason injury to senior guard Tasha Taylor will certainly affect McKinney’s game plan, but she has a much deeper and more talented bench this year to help fill the void.
Last season, the Lady Tigers doubled their ACC win total from the previous two years and won their first league road game in nearly three years. McKinney expects her team to build upon both feats in 2007-08, and she is hoping her mix of experience and youth will combine for a winning season.
With the talented group of newcomers, transfer April Parker and seven returning letterwinners, McKinney will have a full squad for the first time since taking over the reins to the Clemson program in 2005. As a result, she will have a roster that features competition for playing time at each position and much more depth.
“Having 14 or 15 players will make practice more competitive, and it also means more players will be battling for playing time,” she stressed. “We return four starters, but they know that they’ll be challenged.”
A larger roster filled with athletic, intelligent players will also allow McKinney to fully implement her style of play. Expect to see more man-to-man defense with the same fast-paced tempo offensively. McKinney encourages her guards to push the ball up the court and penetrate in the paint. They can create opportunities for teammates or take the shot themselves.
The Lady Tigers will be a more balanced inside-out team in 2007-08, as post play is expected to improve significantly this year with the additions of Parker and rookies Whitney Hood and Jasmine Tate.
Clemson will face seven non-conference opponents that earned post-season invitations in 2006-07, including four that made the NCAA Tournament. Highlighting the preseason is the inaugural Big 10/ACC Challenge, which pits the Lady Tigers against Michigan State in East Lansing, MI in late November.
“The Big 10/ACC Challenge is a high profile event for us and for the conference,” McKinney commented. “We are excited about our draw against one of the top teams in that league and the opportunity to represent the ACC.”
The non-conference schedule also features an interesting match-up in the first round of the Coors Classic in Boulder, CO over the Thanksgiving weekend, as McKinney’s current squad will face a Rice program that she guided for the 12 seasons prior to her arrival in Tigertown.
“I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Rice,” McKinney said, “but, we’ll go into this game thinking of one thing – `Get a win.'”
Clemson will kick-off the ACC season with a tough contest at 2006 NCAA Champion Maryland on Jan. 6 before the Lady Tigers play host to Miami on Jan. 10 for their home league opener. Along with their home-and-home slates with Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State, Clemson will face Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia on the road this year. The Lady Tigers will then welcome Boston College, Duke and NC State to Littlejohn Coliseum for the 2007-08 season. The annual ACC Tournament will again be held in Greensboro, NC with first-round match-ups scheduled for Mar. 6.
On The Perimeter Red-shirt sophomore Christy Brown returns in the backcourt and is joined by Lele Hardy on the wing, giving Clemson one of the most athletic perimeter games it has had in years. The injury to Taylor is significant but presents an opportunity for several underclassmen, as McKinney and her staff brought in rookie guards Bryelle Smith, Sthefany Thomas and Kirstyn Wright. Sophomore Emily Spray’s shooting touch may earn her minutes.
Taylor had effectively switched to the two-guard position last year, increasing both her scoring and shooting accuracy. She appeared poised for an exciting senior campaign, one that will likely now be put on hold for the 2008-09 season.
“I was extremely disappointed for Tasha and our team,” McKinney said. “Tasha worked extremely hard over the summer and had shown us she was dedicated to leading this team. We expect she will continue to be a presence on the sidelines and a role model for our young backcourt as she goes through rehab.”
Brown looks to build upon her ACC All-Freshman status from a year ago and drive McKinney’s fast-paced offense for a second season. She led all conference rookies and was fourth overall in assists per game (4.73) while also ranking fourth in steals and fifth in scoring for a freshman. The Atlanta, GA native tallied 142 assists in her first season and started 29 of the Lady Tigers’ 30 games, missing the one game due to an illness.
After averaging 7.8 points per game last year, she is expected to increase her point production in 2007-08. McKinney also anticipates better decision-making from her point guard as Brown is now in her third year with the program.
“Christy gained great experience last year as a freshman,” she commented. “She is very talented and we think she is primed for a great season.”
Fellow sophomore and ACC All-Freshman honoree Lele Hardy returns at the three position for McKinney after leading the conference in steals per game in 2006-07. She set school freshman records for the statistic in a single game and season, and her 98 steals for the year ranked fourth among freshmen in ACC history. Hardy trailed an elite group of league legends in Marion Jones, Alana Beard and Dawn Staley for the category.
She led the Lady Tigers in rebounding a season ago with 206 boards and ranked third on the team with 11.6 points per game. Hardy was also the only Clemson player to start all 30 games, averaging 27.0 minutes per game.
“Lele had a great freshman year,” said McKinney. “She worked hard over the summer to be more effective on the offensive end and is just ready to play.”
The coaching staff is hoping a year of experience and a summer to fully recover will prove beneficial for Campbell. The 5-8 sophomore suffered a bout of mono last December that effected her strength and hindered her play for, essentially, the remainder of the season. Her dedication and heart were never questioned, however, as Campbell received the Coaches’ Award and the Strength and Conditioning Award at the end of the season.
Campbell spent her summer in the gym and hopes to increase her 4.5 scoring average.
“Morganne provides us with depth at the guard position and pushes the other players,” McKinney said. “We just need her to stay healthy!”
Walk-on and South Carolina native Spray is now in her second year with the Lady Tiger program. She played in just five games in 2006-07, but the Eastside High School product sparked an early first-half run for Clemson against Kennesaw State by scoring seven points in five minutes to give the Lady Tigers the lead.
“Emily has a great work ethic,” McKinney said. “She understands her role and is great for team chemistry.”
Meanwhile, the addition of Smith gives the Clemson coaching staff a true point guard to challenge Brown and provide depth at the position.
“Bryelle sees the floor very well,” McKinney said. “She will push Christy for playing time and give us another option at the point.”
Smith comes to Clemson after a stellar career at Cary Academy in Cary, NC. The 5-8 guard was an all-state honoree in North Carolina in 2006-07 and was named her league’s player-of-the-year. She led her team to conference titles as both a junior and senior and will hopefully bring that winning attitude to the Lady Tiger program.
Thomas and Wright are also products of successful high school programs and are versatile players who may earn the starting assignment as the two guard or back up Hardy at the three position.
Wright led Stephenson High School to four state semifinal appearances, four 5-A regional titles and a Georgia state championship in 2004. Individually, she earned first-team all-state honors and a McDonald’s All-American nomination in 2007. McKinney will look for Wright to provide an accurate and offensive spark off the bench as the Stone Mountain, GA native concluded her high school career ranked in the top 25 in the Dekalb county single-season record book for three-point shooting percentage, scoring and field goal percentage. With her 5-11 frame, the coaching staff also expects Wright to be effective on the defensive end.
“Kirstyn is extremely athletic with good fundamental skills,” said McKinney. “We think she has the potential to be a great defender because she has such a long arm-span.”
Meanwhile, Thomas is an intelligent student-athlete who gained invaluable experience during the last two summers as a member of the U19 Argentinean national team. The team participated in the 2007 FIBA World Championships in Slovakia this past July, where Thomas averaged 19.4 points per game to tie for the second-best scoring average in the tournament.
In high school competition, she was a first-team all-state honoree in 2007 at Wesley Chapel High School in the Tampa Bay area. Thomas’ list of accolades also includes a McDonald’s All-America honorable mention and an AAU All-America selection, and the 5-9 swing player concluded her high school career as the Pasco County all-time leading scorer.
The coaching staff hopes that her international playing experience will ease Thomas’ adjustment to the fast-paced collegiate game and the talent of the ACC.
“Sthefany is a very talented shooter and has good basketball instincts,” McKinney said.
In The Post McKinney also returns starters at both post positions, in April Parker and rookies Whitney Hood and Jasmine Tate. Senior Adrianne Bradshaw is also back for her fourth season with the Lady Tigers.
Lloyd’s breakout year came in 2006-07 as the 6-0 senior led the squad with 14.4 points per game. She exploded with 24 double-figure scoring games and doubled her previous career scoring average. Lloyd also bettered her prior career rebounding average by 3.0 per game to rank second on the team with a 6.5 figure.
She improved her numbers in nearly every aspect of the game last season, recording higher marks in field goals made, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, assists, blocks and steals, as well as scoring and rebounding.
“D’Lesha is very talented with still untapped potential,” said McKinney. “We hope to see her step up her game even more because she has the ability to do great things for us.”
Davis solidified the starting center role just six games into the 2006-07 season after red-shirting in 2005-06 and now enters her junior year. She averaged 5.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while owning a team-best 36 blocked shots.
“Moreemi will have an opportunity to be a factor on this year’s team,” McKinney said. “She could be a real presence in the post.”
Bradshaw is then the only other returning letterwinner in the post as she is a veteran of 85 career games. She averaged 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season in a back-up role. The Greensboro, NC native earned valuable minutes in 2006-07 providing depth in the paint for McKinney. The coaching staff hopes that her work ethic in practice and experience with the program will set an example for the younger players.
“Adrianne works very hard in practice,” said McKinney. “She has three years of experience and we are optimistic that she can continue to give us quality minutes.”
After sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, sophomore April Parker is ready to contribute on the court. The 6-2 post spent her freshman season at Western Carolina where she averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. Parker benefited immensely from working with the Clemson staff last year, earning the team’s Most Improved Award. She has a year of experience under McKinney’s system and is anxious to make a difference on the boards, an area where the Lady Tigers struggled last season.
“April adds a different dimension for us because she can hit the 15-foot shot,” McKinney said. “She can certainly help us with rebounding, and if she can be effective in the low block, April will earn significant minutes.”
McKinney and her staff are also expecting stellar recruit Hood to challenge for playing time. The 6-2 Mississippi native was rated as the 70th player in the nation by the All Star Girls Report and was a top-five candidate for the Gatorade female basketball player-of-the-year award. She accumulated an impressive list of accolades at Meridian High School in Meridian, MS and led the Lady Wildcats to the state finals three times, winning the title in 2007.
“Whitney is a true four, but can play the five spot as well,” said McKinney. “She has a soft touch and has good post moves down low.”
The staff has also been praising rookie Tate’s talent and athleticism. The Wenonah High School alumna ranked fifth in Alabama as a Super Senior and collected over 1,000 rebounds over her career. Tate was a member of the 2004 Wenonah State Championship team and was named to the All-Alabama second-team in 2007.
“Jasmine provides us with quality depth in the post,” McKinney said. “She is capable of being a good rebounder and defender and has a nice touch within 15 feet.”
If they can adapt to the heightened intensity and competition levels of the ACC, the coaching staff expects the six newcomers to complement the veterans and to contribute significantly. The result would then be more wins, a chance for post-season play and another step forward in McKinney’s plan to bring the Clemson program back to elite status.
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