Women's Basketball Season Preview: Guards
Oct. 25, 2011
SEATTLE - There are few certainties in college basketball, but the need to have quality guards on the roster is widely accepted as a fact.
In the third and final installment of GoHuskies.com women's basketball position previews, we take a look at the players who will ignite Coach Kevin McGuff's offense this season. Once again, we talk with assistant coach Mike Neighbors, who's responsible for the group's development. Although the Huskies have to absorb the loss of Sarah Morton, who posted 100-plus assists last season, the talent on hand has Neighbors feeling confident going forward, judging by the incoming talent the Huskies have brought in.
Freshman Jazmine Davis has been so impressive during preseason workouts the team is mulling over the idea of handing her the keys to the offense. The 5-8 point guard has all the physical skills needed for the position: vision, ball-handling ability and range from deep. Davis put it all on display during the team's foreign tour of Europe, stabilizing the Huskies offensively against talented club competition.
As talented as Davis is on the court, her attitude with the staff has also been exemplary.
"You can really coach the kid. She wants to learn, she understands you need constructive criticism in this sport; she doesn't take it personally," Neighbors said. "It's a rare quality these days. Wherever she got that we need to thank that person. She's always better the next play."
As a junior high school player, Davis was lightly recruited out of Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif. It wasn't until an impressive senior season that other Pac-12 Conference schools saw what the Huskies did early - that Davis was quite capable of making an impact in the league.
"Probably as much as any freshman we've had (at Xavier), Jaz has come in ready to play," said Neighbors. "It's not something that's easy to do in college basketball. But in Europe she was the most prepared to step out at that speed, at that pace, and make good decisions."
One key returner for the Huskies is sophomore Mercedes Wetmore, who is likely to move from the point to off-guard. Neighbors called Wetmore the type of player programs need to be successful. A three-time state champion at Auburn-Riverside, Wetmore has made gains not only on the court but in terms of her leadership. Look for her to improve on her 3.5 ppg average, solely judging by the work she's put in this offseason to improve.
"She's going to make more shots in the first two weeks of the season than she did all year," Neighbors said. "She's worked really hard at that, doing as much on her own as anyone we have on this roster."
At first, the Huskies thought they would need to wait a year for Kellie McCann-Smith to play. But the transfer from Nebraska was granted an NCAA waiver to suit up right away, adding valuable depth to the guard position. The 5-9 McCann-Smith was recruited by the Huskies coming out of high school in Asotin, Wash., lauded for her ability to space the floor and knock down shots. This was the type of game she showcased in Europe. How well she's able to embrace McGuff's defensive style will ultimately determine her number of minutes.
Two additional names new to Washington include Beatrice Carta and Deborah Meeks, who were recent signees by McGuff. In terms of resume material, Husky fans should keep an eye on Carta, a native of Cagliari, Italy. The Sardinian was the captain of the Italian U-18 team, leading the group to a Gold Medal at the European Championships. On the court, the smooth lefty has outstanding range from 3 and the handle to weave through pressure defenses.
"Beatrice gives you a perimeter threat, plus she just has that moxie about her," Neighbors said. "She's played against some of the best in the world. The thing that stuck out to us is that she was the captain. You don't get that title without earning respect."
For Meeks, the coaching staff has applauded her toughness. There's no doubting her intelligence or work ethic (Meeks was awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship), but the Michigan native is expected to make the biggest impact with her physical presence on the court. She was a player McGuff and Neighbors kept tabs on while at Xavier, and wanted to bring her in when they took over the program at Washington. More of a scorer than a pure shooter, Meeks is someone who can get to the rim and fill up a stat sheet.
"We've had Deborah on our radar in the past," Neighbors said. "She's explosive, hard to guard, and you always want a spot like that for those kids."
Another returner is Kassia Fortier, the daughter of the men's basketball assistant coach Paul Fortier. The 5-8 sophomore is dealing with a shoulder injury, but has made an impact with the coaching staff based on her effort and attention to detail in practice. Neighbors said he could tell right away that Fortier was the daughter of a coach, judging by her ability to always be in the right place during drills.
"She just gets it. Those are valuable kids on your roster," Neighbors said. "That's an important role to have and hopefully she can fill it for us."