Nov. 10, 2010
Itoro Coleman’s return to Clemson has rejuvenated the women’s basketball program in a way that only a two-time ACC Champion alum can. Since her hiring on March 29, Coleman has been non-stop, meeting students, fans, donors, and reconnecting with old friends and supporters.
While Coleman has breathed new life into the program on the recruiting trail, in the offices, and with those outside the program, it’s finally time to see how all of that translates on the court. And no one is more excited about that than Coach Coleman.
“Having an opportunity to get our team out on the floor has been great,” remarked Coleman. “The new NCAA rule permits us to officially start practicing 40 days prior to our first competition. Being a new staff, there is a lot to get in, in a short amount of time. In this time, our team has been able to adjust to our coaching style, as we have also had the opportunity to learn about them. Our girls are beginning to understand our expectations for the season and have responded to the call.”
In her first season, Coleman inherits a team that was 13-18 overall and 4-10 in the ACC last season. Two-time All-ACC player Lele Hardy is gone, as well as Christy Brown, April Parker. The four combined for 303 starts, more than 3,000 points, 1,700 rebounds, and almost 700 steals.
Despite the significant contributions of the 2009-10 seniors, this year’s group is ripe with experience. The Tigers return four of the top five scorers from last season, led by Junior Sthefany Thomas (8.4 ppg).
Add to that an athletic four-member freshman class, and the Tigers will be able to push tempo in Coleman’s preferred style. A four-year starter at point guard, Coleman was known for her bulldog competitive mentality, and never-say-die attitude. If her team takes on the personality of their coach, the Lady Tigers will be one to watch in the upcoming seasons.
“In my opinion, there’s only one way to get it done and that is by working hard,” Coleman insists. “I want my competitive nature to be reflected in my team on the court. Our team is going to compete for 40 minutes, night in and night out. When you do that, you give yourself an opportunity to win.”
In keeping with what she knows, Coleman has few requirements in year one. Among those expectations are that her team will play until the final horn and compete for every loose ball, rebound, and possession. That sense of urgency lends itself to Coleman’s style of play.
“In year one I expect our team to compete. I expect us to get better in each practice and each game,” said Coleman. “We’re rebuilding a program, but also laying a new foundation. But, it comes full circle back to working hard. That’s something we must do consistently. It’s a matter of breaking some old habits and adopting some new ones. We’re learning to compete, and how to play while we’re tired. Those are a few fundamental things you’ll see in this team through the season, and hopefully we’ll reap the harvest of our labor. “
Offensively, the Tigers will play an up-tempo, fast-break style of basketball, with emphasis on guards pushing the ball. Defensively, Clemson wants to play and efficient, in-your-face athletic style, while getting to the boards aggressively.
While Coleman is in her first season as head coach, she has assembled one of the most diverse and well-rounded staffs in the nation.
Karleen Thompson signed on as the defensive coordinator and wings coach. But Thompson’s resume is unlike any other at this level. Thompson has not coached at the college level, but she spent nine seasons with the LA Sparks as an assistant coach and co-head coach, and two seasons as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Houston Comets. The two-time WNBA Champion has helped develop some of the world’s most elite players, including the top two scorers in WNBA history, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie.
“Coach Thompson is my calming spirit,” says Coleman. “She’s been around the game for a long time. She calls it like she sees it. Her ability to effectively communicate with our players in helping them understand what it’s going to take to be successful has been irreplaceable. She has an immense knowledge of the game and has brought her love and passion for the game of basketball to our program. She’s been successful and our players respect that about her. “
Chris Long has four years of head coaching experience at Louisiana Tech. He was the 2006 WAC Coach of the Year, and was a part of four Sweet 16 teams and two Elite Eight runs in his ten total seasons with the Lady Techsters. He spent the 2009-10 season at UAB, where he was an assistant coach on the men’s staff under Mike Davis. The Blazers were 27-9 and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. Long is responsible for working with the post players as well as the offensive coordinator. During his time as an assistant working with the post, nine Lady Techsters were drafted into the WNBA.
“Chris Long forte is developing post players. Chris brings a lot of knowledge. He’s been a part of winning championships. He knows what winning looks like, and what you need to do to get there. He’s always thinking ahead.”
Yolett McPhee-McCuin is the recruiting coordinator and guards coach. “Coach Yo” is much like Coleman, in that she is relentless on the recruiting trail and on the court. Most recently, she spent two seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, where she helped coach the Panthers to the Sweet 16 in 2008-09. McPhee-McCuin played for two seasons at the University of Rhode Island, graduating in 2004.
“Coach Yo is a bulldog,” says Coleman. “She stops at nothing to get the job done. As much as she gets after it in recruiting, she’s like that in player development. She always has players in looking at film, going over to practice early to get extra work in, and thinking, `how can I make them better?'”
Coleman also added Brandon Miller as a Video Coordinator. Miller was on staff at Louisville in 2008-09 when the Cardinals advanced to the NCAA Championship game. He also has experience at the University of Florida as a Graduate Assistant.
All of this is a perfect complement to Coleman, a 2000 Clemson graduate. Coleman’s career represented one of the golden ages of Lady Tiger basketball, as she led the school to its only two ACC basketball titles in 1996 and 1999. She has spent the past ten seasons as an assistant coach at Liberty, Butler, Clemson and Penn State, where she has honed her philosophy. When the Clemson job opened up, it was a perfect match.
Now it’s up to Coleman to restore the program to its former heights, which include a trip to the Elite Eight and several Sweet 16 appearances.
The Tigers have a solid group of returning guards and wing players to help navigate a difficult slate. Add to that a pair of top freshman point guards, and Clemson has a deep group of game-ready players.
“Our 1, 2 and 3 guard positions will be interchangeable. It’s important that they understand everyone’s position on the court. With the amount of returning players we have in the backcourt, I’m expecting them to step up to the plate and lead this team.”
Sthefany Thomas is the leading returning scorer from the guard position, as she scored 8.4 points per game last season, and has averaged more than eight points per game in each of her three seasons. The sharpshooter from Wesley Chapel, FL ranks in the top ten in Clemson history in three-point field goals made.
Kirstyn Wright is an explosive threat that will see time everywhere from the point guard through small forward positions. Wright has played all three years, and has shown the propensity to be an offensive threat. Last season, she hit six three-pointers at Northwestern on her way to 22 points and nailed a three with 2.6 seconds remaining to sink the Wildcats.
Bryelle Smith is in her third season, and has shown a lot of potential handling the ball and stretching a defense. She led the Tigers in three-point accuracy as a redshirt freshman, and has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in both of her full collegiate seasons.
Kelia Shelton are both athletic options at point or shooting guards. Dunn, a Tucker, GA native,won a state championship in each of her four seasons in high school , and was regarded as the 60th-best point guard in the 2010 freshman class by HoopGurlz.
Shelton was a two-time All-State selection as a junior and senior at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, SC. She was the Region-3 Player of the Year and ranked as the #44 point guard in the nation by HoopGurlz.
The group of guards is versatile, and will be called upon to play relentless defense and help to stretch the defense to open up opportunities for the post.
Clemson’s post returns a lot of experience from last season. The returning group is well-balanced offensively and defensively, and should be athletic enough to compete for every rebound and take advantage of and create mismatches inside. The back line of defense and shot-blocking should be a strength, as the Tigers return their two leading swatters.
“Lele Hardy was a large part of Clemson’s offensive attack last season. This year, I want to establish our offense in the post. That means our post players will have to mature in a hurry. They are going to be called upon to score and rebound to on a more consistent basis. Shaniqua Pauldo is our leading returning scorer, but I need more from her. Our post player’s roles will be different. Everyone that plays will be expected to contribute. We need the post to score around the basket and rebound.”
Junior Shaniqua Pauldo is looking to improve upon her 11.4 points per game scoring average from a season ago, and is the team’s leading returning scorer. She scored 20 or more points five times in 2009-10, but struggled with consistency. Pauldo has excellent hands and a great touch around the basket. With improved consistency on the glass, Pauldo could be a darkhorse All-ACC candidate.
Jasmine Tate has gained significant experience so far in her three seasons. She is one of the most explosive athletes on the roster, and plays strong, aggressive defense, and is able to collect many of her points on the offensive glass. Tate is fierce defensively, and ranks eighth in Clemson history in blocked shots.
Lindsey Mason, a 6-4 junior from Woodstock, GA returns after leading the Tigers and ranking in the top ten in the ACC in shot-blocking a season ago. Mason is a shot-changer in the lane, and showed an improved offensive game during the ACC portion of the season. She posted five games in double-figure scoring in league play, and had a breakout performance of 19 points earlier in the season at Ohio.
Lindsay Welker was a solid contributor as a sophomore, appearing in 19 games, and starting six of them. She had a career day at #1 UConn, when she scored 11 points. She will be able to help defensively guarding opponents’ guards and power forwards.
The Tigers welcome two freshmen to the mix in Serena Clark. Clark was an All-County selection in DeKalb county, GA, and led the region in field goal percentage, averaging 17 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
Pettaway is an active player, who was the high school conference’s player of the year in both volleyball and basketball as a senior. Pettaway is very active, and will be called upon to defend and rebound right away.
The name of the game for the Tigers in 2010-11 is consistency. Clemson returns enough contributors from previous seasons to be able to create some mismatches, but it will be important for Coleman’s attitude to show through early and often.
The Tigers need to show tenacity, aggression, and effort on every play and then they can start executing Coleman’s vision and goal to be the hardest working team in the country. With that should come heightened expectations, and, if all goes to plan, a foundation for Clemson’s return to national prominence.
“I want opposing coaches to say, `I can’t stand playing against Clemson because it’s going to be a fight every tick of the clock”.
“This year, I’m depending on some of the momentum plays,” says Coleman. “We’re going to be a team that takes charges, dives after loose balls, and really gets after it for 40 minutes. Four years from now when teams talk about Clemson, I want them to know that they are going to have a huge fight on their hands. They need to know that when they come into Littlejohn Coliseum, it’s not going to be easy.”
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