Women's Hoops Season Preview
Oct. 29, 2007
When Tia Jackson was introduced as the eighth-head coach in the history of Washington women's basketball on April 6, 2007, the excitement was palpable. So was the feeling that a new era was about to begin for the Huskies on Montlake.
The job was a perfect fit for the Maryland native, who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with perennial powerhouse Duke, but also worked six years on the West Coast between assistant coaching tenures at UCLA and Stanford. And Jackson was a perfect fit for Washington. She had barely step foot in Seattle and already had a 29-page plan in place that outlined her goals for the program.
After a few months of familiarizing herself with her new team, her new staff, her new community and her new university, Jackson is ready to hit the floor running, literally. And so are her players.
An up-tempo offense and aggressive, smart defense will characterize the style of play for Jackson's Huskies, epitomized by UW's top two veteran returners in senior point guard Emily Florence and senior forward/center Andrea Plouffe. Florence and Plouffe, along with guard Dominique Banks, form a solid senior leadership trio ready to take the Huskies into their new era.
Also helping to usher in the new era for Jackson and her coaching staff - that includes Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Fred Applin and former Husky Loree Payne - will be seven new student-athletes who have yet to don purple and gold. Making up that group is a six-woman top-10 nationally-ranked recruiting class and junior guard Michelle Augustavo, a sharp-shooting transfer from the University of San Diego who sat out last year due to NCAA rules.
But whether a returning starter or an incoming freshman, according to Jackson all of her players will begin this season on an even-playing field.
"The good thing with me being a new coach is that everyone is really a rookie," Jackson said. "They are all trying to reinvent who they are, they're all trying to say `I want to be known as a shooter' or `I want to be known as a defensive stopper.' We have a lot of players who are just hungry to prove themselves. They get to prove themselves all over again and I love that about them. They're ready to do it and I'm ready to embrace it."
Even though Jackson and her players look to a new era, they can still draw from their past. The Huskies are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, including a trip to the second round when Banks, Florence and Plouffe were sophomores in 2005-06. The Huskies have also posted at least 18 wins the last two seasons - not a bad foundation from which to build a new era. In turning the Husky program into her own, Jackson has dubbed Washington as being the "P.R.I.D.E. of the West," a motto her new team has already adopted and an acronym that stands for persistence, respect, integrity, discipline and energy.
"What I've sold to the community and to our team is that we will be the `Pride of the West,'" Jackson said. "It stands for what we want to be about and that starts with PERSISTENCE. We will be hungry and aggressive players on the court. We will be relentless. By that style of play, we will demand RESPECT. We will represent our team and the University of Washington with INTEGRITY, style and class. And more than anything we will be a DISCIPLINED team - doing the little things we are supposed to be doing both on and off the court, making sure we're conducting ourselves the way we should. And basketball just isn't basketball without ENERGY. We will play with a fired-up attitude - diving for loose balls, creating havoc with our defensive tenacity, and putting forth the extra effort. That is Husky women's basketball."
In Jackson's short tenure at Washington, the Husky head coach has already been out in the community sharing what her new team is all about. Jackson has been busy with numerous speaking engagements and appearances from riding in the SeaFair Torchlight Parade, to throwing out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game, to rubbing elbows with Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and joining 2007 NBA first-round draft pick Kevin Durant at his signing day celebration with the Seattle Supersonics.
But now that the leaves are turning in Seattle and fall is here, it's time for Jackson to turn her focus to her first round of official practices with her new team. And as a first-year head coach she has a lot she wants to accomplish.
"Not only do I want to develop the players and watch them grow as young women, I'm getting them to tackle one game at a time," Jackson said. "We're going to grow from each game, win or lose. At the same time, our ultimate goal is to be in contention for a national championship. I told them this summer that we must eat, sleep and drink like champions, and that in order to become what we need, we cannot remain as we were. It's more important for me to get them believing and then we as coaches will lay out the blueprint so they can achieve it. We want to be Pac-10 champions, we want to approach every game as if it's the National Championship game - leaving everything on the court."
When looking at her 2007-08 Husky team that includes seven returning letterwinners, Jackson sees the squad's strength is offense and defense being the aspect of its game where improvement can be made.
"We're a pretty solid group offensively," Jackson said. "Our biggest challenge right now is defense. I'm implementing that early. Our rebounds are huge but
the defense is a huge factor in creating those rebounding opportunities. They're all very good offensive players in their own right but we definitely have to get down and dirty with defense."
Another challenge Jackson will have to meet head on will be the health of her squad. The Huskies will already miss sophomore backup point guard Sara Mosiman for the first part of the season after undergoing surgery to repair stress fractures in her left leg. Sophomore forward/center Laura McLellan is working her way back from offseason knee surgery and incoming freshman point guard Sarah Morton is also still rehabbing from ACL surgery which she underwent during her senior year at Monroe High School. Not to mention Banks and Plouffe who have battled injuries through their careers.
"We must remain healthy," Jackson said. "If we stay healthy, will be a force to be reckoned with."
When looking at the 2007-08 Huskies, the place to start is the senior class of Banks, Florence and Plouffe. All three have been starters throughout their careers and would love to take their team deeper into the postseason than they've been before. Florence and Banks will be looked upon to anchor the backcourt, while Plouffe will power the Husky frontline.
As previously mentioned, seniors Florence and Banks will use their experience to lead the Huskies' guard corps this season.
Florence is the quintessential leader, having run the point for the Huskies her entire career. The 5-5 guard, who also excelled as a soccer player in high school, has started all but three games of her UW tenure and 80 straight dating back to her freshman campaign. Florence had a breakout year as a junior, tying for the team lead in rebounding as the smallest player on the team. She also led the Pac-10 in steals and was second in the conference in assist-turnover ratio. Florence enters her senior season needing 33 assists and 22 steals to crack the Top-10 on both UW all-time lists.
"Emily is a natural leader," Jackson said. "She's going to give you 110 percent all the time. One thing I've asked of her is to be more of a scorer for us. She has already begun thinking more offensively. She already penetrates defenses and passes the ball so well. Adding a little of an offensive mindset to her game simply completes her and makes us a better team. Defensively she's amazing - sacrificing her body and doing all of the little things I need her to do. I'm truly excited about that."
The sky is the limit for Banks, but unfortunately the 5-8 guard was slowed by injuries last year and she is still working back to being at 100 percent. Banks underwent surgery on both of her legs last September to have stress fractures repaired, a recovery during which she spent six weeks in a wheelchair. Amazingly enough, she only missed the first 11 games and earned her way back into the starting lineup for eight of the last nine contests. Banks averaged 4.4 points as a junior after averaging just over seven points in each of her first two seasons.
"The most important thing for Dominique is that she gets healthy," Jackson said. "I feel that once she is back out on the floor at 100 percent, her actions will be the example from which the underclassmen can learn."
In addition to Florence and Banks, the other returning guards on this year's squad are sophomores Sami Whitcomb and Mosiman. Augustavo isn't new to the team, just new to official playing time which she will look to do for the first time as a Husky since transferring from USD.
Whitcomb showed promise as a freshman and has the potential to quickly become an impact player according to Coach Jackson. Whitcomb played in 24 games last year, starting four, and averaged 4.3 points.
"From what I've seen in our postseason workouts, Sami has proven to be one of our most dominant players," Jackson said. "She should be one of those players competing for a starting role."
Mosiman appeared off the bench in 23 games as a freshman in a back-up point guard role and figures to do the same when she has recovered from surgery this season. "I'm very fortunate to have her as one of our more versatile guards," Jackson said of Mosiman. "She has the ability to play the point guard position as well as one of our wing positions. She's proven to be a good outside shooter with the ability to attack the basket when necessary."
Augustavo is a three-point shooting specialist, but has also taken on a bit of a leadership role with the team being one of two juniors on the roster. When she was at San Diego, the 6-0 guard set a school-record with 10 three-pointers in a single game.
"Michelle is taking on a motherly role," Jackson said. "She's looking after all of the freshmen and they love knowing she's there for them. In addition to expending herself in that way, Michelle has also found time to prove herself as a phenomenal outside threat. She has the capability of knocking down a three from anywhere on the floor."
With Mosiman missing the first part of the season due to injuries and incoming freshman Morton's return somewhat unknown, an early challenge for Jackson will be to find a back-up point guard for Florence.
"This will be an opportunity for some of our younger players to show what they are made of," Jackson said. "When an opportunity to expand your game comes your way, it's interesting to see who wants to accept that challenge. The big question is 'Who will step up and prove they deserve that responsibility?'"
Katelan Redmon, Candice Nichols and Morton make up half of UW's nationally recognized recruiting class that is eager to make their mark on the new era of Husky basketball. Redmon, a guard/forward, and Nichols could potentially make an immediate impact and possibly serve as candidates for playing the point as well. Morton's start will be slowed by her return from surgery, but all three freshmen are extremely talented and come from top-notch basketball backgrounds.
But leading the way from an experience standout will be Plouffe. The 6-2 forward/center, will once again be looked upon to carry the Huskies' front line after averaging double-figures in scoring the last two seasons. Despite battling patellar tendonitis in both knees in 2006-07, Plouffe remained a steady force, tallying 12 double-figure scoring efforts and notching two 20-point games.
"Dre is just a bigger version of Emily minus the ball handling," Jackson said. "She is by far the strongest, most physical player we have on our team. We're going to rely on her a lot defensively, rely on her a lot down on the block and rely even more on her leadership. She is a versatile post player who is able to step out and knock down those outside shots. She's ready to set that example and get the other posts following her lead."
The other returning post players include junior forward Heidi McNeill and sophomore forward/center Laura McLellan, both of whom have had some injury issues during the off-season, but will be looked upon to challenge for starting positions once they're healthy.
McNeill is hungry for a breakout year after seeing limited playing time as a freshman and sophomore. But Jackson thinks her versatility will make an impact in 2007-08. "Heidi is one of our most versatile and skilled players," she said. "Her skill set is on another level. When she adds physical play to that, she will be nearly impossible to defend."
Jackson's hope is for McLellan to be ready for the start of the season in November. McLellan showed some signs of promise as a freshman last year, tying for second on the team in blocked shots despite averaging just seven minutes of playing time per contest. "I'm really looking forward to seeing Laura back on the floor 100 percent," Jackson said. "We're missing another physical presence inside and that, along with her perimeter skill set, is what we need."
The Huskies' youth movement could have the most impact on the front line with Bennett, McCormack and 6-3 forward/center Mackenzie Argens set to challenge the upperclassmen. The 6-1 Redmon should also see some time at the forward position. McCormack as the potential to be the star of the group, having played on the New Zealand Senior National Team since she was 15.
The new era of Husky women's basketball will be tested right off the bat with a challenging schedule that features seven teams that went to the NCAA Tournament last year. For good measure, UW will have five nationally televised games and six overall counting a regional broadcast of its rivalry game at Washington State (Jan. 4).
Highlighting non-conference play will be the season opener at Kansas State (Nov. 10), a road contest at Gonzaga (Nov. 12), traveling to Hawaii for the Waikiki Beach Marriott Classic (Nov. 16-18), making their home debut hosting the Husky Classic (Nov. 23-25) and facing perennial powers Ohio State (Dec. 16) and Purdue (Dec. 21) at home. And the Pac-10 schedule is always competitive, led by 2007 NCAA Elite Eight team Arizona State.
"Our schedule for the upcoming season is competitive, exciting and challenging," Jackson said. "We are energized about the wonderful opportunities we will face early on - opportunities that will help us learn about who we are as a team."
Those early games can't come soon enough for Jackson and her Huskies. They are ready to set their new era into motion.