Sunday, November 18, 2018
Page 3

Ionescu, McCowan lead list of top-performing DI returners

Teaira McCowan has been an efficient scorer for Mississippi State. SEC photo.
Teaira McCowan has been an efficient scorer for Mississippi State. SEC photo.
Teaira McCowan has been an efficient producer for Mississippi State. SEC photo.

The 2018-2019 college basketball season began this week, bringing some amazingly-productive players back to the court. Some of these athletes were highlighted last week when the Associated named their preseason All-American team.

Academic research indicates that media awards tend to be dominated by those who score the most points. But a player’s value is about much more than their offensive production. Teams in basketball win by taking the ball from the opponent, (i.e. grabbing defensive rebounds, forcing turnovers), keeping the ball away from the opponent (i.e. avoiding turnovers, grabbing offensive rebounds), and converting possessions into points (i.e. shooting efficiently from the field and the free throw line). In sum, players contribute to wins by rebounding, grabbing steals, avoiding turnovers, and shooting efficiently. Assists, blocked shots, and personal fouls also matter a great deal. But these statistics are not as important as the aforementioned factors that directly impact team wins.

Once we understand which factors impact wins we can measure how many wins each player produces. This had been done for every woman who played Division I basketball in 2017-18.  As noted last April, the most productive player entering the WNBA draft was Gabby Williams of Connecticut. Per 40 minutes, Williams produced 0.397 wins. Given that she played 964 minutes for the Huskies, Williams produced 9.6 wins for Connecticut.  Although such a total was impressive, two players were even more productive.

Sabrina Ionescu emerged as a scoring and triple-double expert in her sophomore season. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Sabrina Ionescu emerged as a scoring and triple-double expert in her sophomore season. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The most productive player in Division I college basketball last year (women or men’s) was Sabrina Ionescu, who produced 11.1 wins for Oregon (and produced 0.329 wins per 40 minutes, or WP40). Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State was a bit better per 40 ticks (0.338 WP40), but since she played fewer minutes she produced only 10.1 wins. Of course, this mark is greater than what Williams produced for UConn.

Ionescu and McCowan top the list of most productive returning player in Power Five conferences:

  1. Sabrina Ionescu (Oregon): 11.1 Wins Produced, 0.329 WP40
  2. Teaira McCowan (Miss. State): 10.1 Wins Produced, 0.338 WP40
  3. Napheesa Collier (UConn): 8.7 Wins Produced, 0.325 WP40
  4. Megan Gustafson (Iowa): 8.1 Wins Produced, 0.309 WP40
  5. Kalani Brown (Baylor): 7.5 Wins Produced, 0.291 WP40
  6. Lauren Cox (Baylor): 7.5 Wins Produced, 0.293 WP40
  7. Tiana Mangakahia (Syracuse): 7.4 Wins Produced, 0.282 WP40
  8. Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn): 7.2 Wins Produced, 0.304 WP40
  9. Kayla Goth (Kansas State): 7.2 Wins Produced, 0.237 WP40
  10. Jackie Young (Notre Dame): 7.0 Wins Produced, 0.215 WP40
  11. Ruthy Hebard (Oregon): 7.0 Wins Produced, 0.250 WP40
  12. Anriel Howard (Miss. State): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  13. Tyasha Harris (South Carolina): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  14. Marina Mabrey (Notre Dame): 6.6 Wins Produced, 0.201 WP40
  15. Taylor Emery (Virginia Tech): 6.3 Wins Produced, 0.210 WP40
  16. Arica Carter (Louisville): 6.3 Wins Produced, 0.215 WP40
  17. Kenisha Bell (Minnesota): 6.2 Wins Produced, 0.212 WP40
  18. Minyon Moore (USC): 6.2 Wins Produced, 0.204 WP40
  19. Maite Cazorla (Oregon): 5.7 Wins Produced, 0.190 WP40
  20. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah (Northwestern): 5.6 Wins Produced, 0.273 WP40
  21. Ae’Rianna Harris (Purdue): 5.6 Wins Produced, 0.205 WP40
  22. Mikayla Pivec (Oregon State): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.219 WP40
  23. Jessica Shepard (Notre Dame): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.194 WP40
  24. Kaila Ealey (NC State): 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.183 WP40
  25. Jaszmine Jones (Louisville): 5.3 Wins Produced, 0.203 WP40

Six schools have multiple names on this list, including the Ducks, who have Ruthy Hebard at 11 and Maite Cazorla at 19. Reigning national champions Notre Dame have Jackie Young at the tenth spot, Marina Mabrey at 14 and Jessica Shepard, 23rd. Baylor, Louisville, Mississippi State, and Connecticut each have two players on the list. Perhaps not surprisingly, the six schools with multiple players on the list lead both the AP and USA Today preseason polls.

In basketball, wins tend to be primarily produced by just a few players. A general rule is that 80 percent of wins are produced by just 20 percent of the players. Given this reality, if a team happens to have more than one of the players who produce large quantities of wins, it is likely to be a very good team. So it follows that the best teams have multiple top performers.

Day 3

Today’s results:

#11 Texas 78, Duquesne 41

Boise State 74, CSUN 63

Central Michigan 104, Oakland 61

James Madison 50, George Washington 37

Penn State 74, Providence 72

Washington 83, Fullerton 74

All scores.

Tomorrow’s schedule.

College team news:

Maryland will ask Kaila Charles to do more while scoring less.

St. Louis is rebuilding with talented newcomers.

Arizona State is a family affair.

Everything you need to know about JMU.

Around the Rim: Baylor.

Five things to watch at Oklahoma.

Indiana will have a similar playing style as last season.

A point guard duel highlights Saturday’s Oregon-Syracuse game.

College player news:

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey feed off each other.

Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier are ready to write their own endings at UConn.

Teresa Veitenheimer’s six-sport background helped mold her for Oklahoma.

Tania Davis’ grueling trek back to Iowa from a second ACL tear.

Ali Patberg has returned to the court for Indiana.

From practice player to starting point guard for Washington, Jenna Moser’s path was unconventional.

Senior Makeda Nicholas’ return from injury is boosting Delaware.

Green Bay starter Karly Murphy is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Iowa State freshman Ashley Joens is expected to play a big role.

Kansas State freshman Christianna Carr is the real deal.

Ashanti Thomas’ eligibility is a boon for Butler.

Transfer guard Jade Thurmon is learning to harness her speed at Iowa.

College coach news:

Tina Thompson is bringing a new approach to the Cavaliers, as her era has begun.

UCLA coach Cori Close is coaching to the edge.

Q&A with Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell.

As the stress of coaching the Gophers builds, Cheryl Reeve is there for Lindsay Whalen.

A full house will welcome Whalen and the Gophers tomorrow night, their season opener.

Geno Auriemma breaks down the UConn roster.

General college news:

College sports’ newest need is psychologists.

Recruiting news:

No. 13 prospect Breanna Beal has committed to South Carolina.

WNBA news:

Full list of players overseas.

The WNBPA is headed to a labor war, but its leader is nowhere to be found.

Canadian stars explain what players want out of a new deal.

Why profitability is the enemy for the WNBPA and not gender bias.

What happens now after players opted out of the CBA?

Seimone Augustus and Danielle Robinson in conversation.

Author Serrano to be honorary coach for the Oregon Ducks

Shea Serrano
Shea Serrano

When No. 3 Oregon takes their home court for the first time Saturday, there will be an honorary coach on hand.

Author Shea Serrano, who is a relatively new Duck fan, will sit behind the Oregon bench when they host No. 18 Syracuse. But the “Basketball (and other things): A collection of questions asked, answered, illustrated” writer plans to keep a low profile.

“I have no idea what it will be like,  but my thought is that I’d be cheering,” Serrano said. “I want to stay out of the way.”

Serrano will be in town to speak to University of Oregon students, as a guest of the English Department. His friendship with Professor Deb Morrison preceded his Duck fandom, as they first made contact on social media. Serrano did a video question and answer session with one of her classes, and he and Morrison stayed in touch.

Last winter the Texas resident took notice of Oregon women’s basketball when he caught a video of Aina Ayuso.

“I saw a clip of her on Twitter crossing over her defender, and as her shot fell, the defender fell down,” Serrano said. “It stuck in my head, and I started following the team. When the NCAA Tournament started, she did it again.”

Morrison took note of his social media cheering for the Ducks, and she asked if he wanted to come and speak. She suggested the title of his talk: “Be a writer who cares.” Serrano said that it would be funnier if the event was titled, “Be a writer, who cares.” Morrison agreed.

“It’s an excuse to see a game,” Serrano said.

The season continues to start for many teams

Today’s results:

Purdue 80, Ball State 38

#7 Stanford 71, UC Davis 43

#20 Texas A&M 65, Rice 54

South Dakota 77, Creighton 65

Dreake 83, Nebraska 77

All scores.

Tomorrow’s game schedule.

College team news:

Who will challenge Louisville, Notre Dame, Baylor and Oregon in their conferences?

The time is right for Oregon and Sabrina Ionescu.

Drake looks to be back-to-back MVC champs.

Oregon State’s versatility should lead to plenty of success.

Questions for Georgia before the start of the season.

Touted freshmen aim to lead Texas to the next level.

With Kelsey Mitchell and others gone, newcomers will dominate Ohio State’s rotation.

Arizona State isn’t satisfied with their season-opening win.

Princeton is as good as usual, and maybe better.

Boise State has big goals, but they know a fast start is key.

Stanford season preview.

Marquette is attacking a new mental approach.

Gonzaga will lean on a senior trio this year.

TCU’s hype train starts the right way.

Boston College is ready to compete.

JMU is ready to go after last year’s CAA Tournament loss.

Seniors are ready to lead Seton Hall.

Virginia Tech seeks their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006.

Washington Huskies season outlook.

Penn State enters a crossroads year.

UConn may not have a clear star, but they have the best trio in the nation.

College player news:

Former UConn Husky Andra Espinoza-Hunter’s NCAA waiver has been approved, and she will suit up for Mississippi State Friday.

Stanford’s Alanna Smith brings World Cup lessons to her final season.

Destiny Slocum is ready to lead national power Oregon State.

Junior guard Kamiah Smalls prepares to lead JMU.

Kadaja Bailey has found her groove at St. John’s.

The Velasco sisters reflect on their LMU careers.

Soft-spoken senior Taylor Murray is ready to lead Kentucky.

Kelly Karlis is eager to make her mark with Wisconsin after transferring from Ohio.

College coach news:

Motivated for another great season coaching at her alma mater, Amy Williams begins year three at Nebraska.

Podcast with Washington coach Jody Wynn.

WNBA news:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he’s not disappointed that WNBA players opted out of the CBA.

Silver is committed to working with players in new negotiations.

Carolyn Swords explains the decision of the players.

The Chicago Sky don’t have a new coach, but they have a new logo.

Game on!!!!!

Interesting opening day…..

Today’s game results:

#3 Oregon 115, Alaska-Fairbanks 36

#4 Baylor 100, Nicholls 39

#5 Louisville 102, Western Kentucky 80

#6 Mississippi State 88, Southeastern Missouri 53

#18 Syracuse 85, North Dakota 49

#19 Marquette 91, North Dakota 52

#22 South Florida 71, Ohio State 47

#24 Cal 80, Houston 79

Gardner-Webb 60, Florida 58

TCU 61, Duquesne 48

Auburn 97, Grambling State 48

Ole Miss 60, Norfolk State 42

North Alabama 74, Vanderbilt 71

North Carolina 100, Elon 69

Michigan State 99, Bowling Green 69

Northwestern 57, Green Bay 55

Idaho 88, CSUN 73

Colorado 77, Northern Colorado 69

Loyola Marymount 69, UCLA 63

All scores.

It’s going to be a season like no other, where big dog shrink and smaller dogs become big. Buckle up.

Tomorrow’s game schedule.

College team news:

The loaded Irish look to defend their title.

Mississippi State remains the SEC favorite despite lineup losses.

Iowa is looking for Megan Gustafson’s Robin.

NC State aims to repeat their success.

Get to know Michigan State.

Is the new Kentucky like the old Kentucky? The Wildcats want to make the NCAA Tournament after last year’s down season.

Creighton could lean on newcomers to keep their offense clicking.

Experience and depth is pushing Purdue forward.

Grambling State enters the season in a new light, as SWAC favorites.

Ohio State faces a tough early schedule.

Syracuse also has a rough calendar.

Fresh faces and high expectations for Ball State.

UMaine prepares to defend their conference title.

A new coach and plenty of uncertainty greet UAlbany.

College player news:

UConn freshman Olivia Nelson-Ododa is adjusting to college.

USC has a sister act.

Offseason changes have Jenna Allen ready to roll for the Spartans.

Nebraska welcomes a challenging schedule.

Northwestern faces tough competition early.

Nine players to watch in DII action.

College coach news:

A bevy of guards has caused West Virginia coach Mike Carey to change his approach.

Q&A with Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks.

Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen is back where she always wanted to be.

New coach Lance White is rebuilding Pitt.

The game:

College hoops is starting earlier than ever before.

Preseason watch list:

The Wooden Award 30.

The night before college basketball starts, and the news is flowing

College team news:

Defending champs Notre Dame are ready for a new season and a new puzzle.

Four returning starters could lead Oregon to the Final Four.

Five keys to Missouri’s season.

Boise State was the best in the Mountain West last year, and this season they could be even better.

George Washington is struggling with lack of point guard depth, but they are maintaining defensive intensity while redefining the offense.

South Dakota strives to build on last year’s success.

Indiana looks to build on their WNIT momentum.

Florida State season preview.

USC is motivated by last year’s NCAA Tournament snub.

Defense and rebounding are the focus for height-challenged BYU.

TCU looks to build on last year’s strong postseason run.

Miami: what you need to know.

The Hurricanes have several players returning from injury.

Iowa State is making the arc an ally.

Grambling is carrying high expectations.

Virginia Tech has high hopes for the season.

Washington State season outlook.

Pitt is lead by an experienced core.

Utah tries to continue their climb in coach Lynne Roberts’ fourth season.

Finding the ceiling and floor for Vanderbilt.

Rider is looking for great guard depth.

Preview for teams in the Maryland area.

College player news:

Kentucky natives make up Louisville’s all-star freshman class.

One goal remains as Sophie Cunningham begins her final season at Missouri.

A lot is being asked of Alexa Middleton this year at Iowa State.

Pitt’s Danielle Garven is a constant amidst change.

Chassidy Omogrosso has grown into a leader for Duquesne.

Clemson grad transfer Victoria Cardaci will help Seton Hall.

Emily Engstler’s battle with uncertainty made her one of the biggest recruits in Syracuse history.

Chattanooga’s Lakelyn Bouldstill is still adapting to the death of her dad.

Digna Strautmane’s indecisiveness keeps her from being the player the Orange think she could be.

UConn’s Megan Walker looks to take on a starting role.

The young Rams are growing up at VCU.

College coach news:

How Atlantic-10 coaches size up the game of basketball.

Georgetown coach James Howard has clear eyes and a full bench for his second year.

First-year coach Kamie Ethridge is determined to turn things around for Washington State.

First-year head coach Alex Simmons, who won two natty’s with Tennessee, looks to improve Gardner-Webb.

Syracuse assistant coach Adeniyi Amadou’s connections make him the best international recruiter in the country.

Edniesha Curry is making her mark as the only female assistant coach in DI men’s basketball.

Polls:

WomensHoopsWorld’s preseason top 25.

ESPNW’s preseason top 25.

WNBA player news:

A’ja Wilson statue plans continue to develop at South Carolina.

Recruiting news:

Top 10 point guard Zia Cooke has committed to South Carolina.

NCAA Division I top 25 poll: week one

The defending National Champion Notre Dame Irish claim top spot in the WomensHoopsWorld top 25 to begin the season. The Irish return a majority of their scoring and rebounding personnel from last year, and add redshirt senior All-American Brianna Turner to the mix, as well as highly-touted freshmen Katlyn Gilbert and Jordan Nixon. Notre Dame is followed by the 11-time National Champion Connecticut Huskies. Oregon, Baylor, and Louisville round out the top five, while Mississippi State, Stanford, Oregon State, Maryland, and Texas are ranked 6-10, respectively. The SEC and Pac-12 both see six teams in the poll, to lead all conferences. 

  1. Notre Dame – 149 (5)
  2. UConn – 145 (1)
  3. Oregon – 139
  4. Baylor – 131
  5. Louisville – 127
  6. Mississippi State – 121
  7. Stanford – 112
  8. Oregon State – 106
  9. Maryland – 101
  10. Texas – 94
  11. Tennessee – 91
  12. South Carolina – 86
  13. Georgia – 74
  14. Iowa – 70
  15. Missouri – 61
  16. DePaul – 51
  17. Marquette – 50
  18. North Carolina State – 49
  19. Syracuse – 44
  20. Duke – 41
  21. Texas A&M – 30
  22. South Florida – 19
  23. Arizona State – 18
  24. California – 14
  25. Miami – 13

Receiving votes: Arizona (5), UCLA (2), Minnesota (2), North Carolina (1), West Virginia (1)

Coach’s Chair: Stephanie Gaitley, Fordham University

Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley cuts down the next after her team's A-10 Tournament win in 2014. Photo courtesy of Fordham Athletics.
Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley cuts down the next after her team's A-10 Tournament win in 2014. Photo courtesy of Fordham Athletics.
Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley cuts down the next after her team’s A-10 Tournament win in 2014. Photo courtesy of Fordham Athletics.

Stephanie Gaitley enters her eighth year as Fordham’s head coach, and her 33rd year in coaching overall. She has guided the Rams to five 20-win seasons that have earned them an Atlantic-10 Championship, four trips to the WNIT and one to the NCAA Tournament. Gaitley became the program’s most winning coach in February, 2017. She is the second-most winning coach in A-10 history.

A New Jersey native, Gaitley was an All-American at Villanova, where she also played with her sister Courtney. She was head coach at Richmond, St. Joseph’s University, Long Island University and Monmouth University over a 25-year span before coming to Fordham.

On the court, Gaitley emphasizes defense with her teams. Off of the court, she helps them to achieve great academic heights. She and her husband have three sons, all of whom are involved in basketball: one is an assistant coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets; the second is an intern with the Miami Heat; and the third, a sophomore player at the University of Richmond.

At what point did you know you wanted to coach?

I grew up in a big family – I was one of eight – and my mom and dad were both athletes. I followed my dad to baseball games, and watched my brothers and sisters play sports. Basketball came into play when my sister was a sophomore in high school, and she helped start a winning tradition. By the time I was a senior, we had won 100 games, so I helped complete what she started.’

I had a really good high school coach who I still stay in tough with who motivated me. She was ahead of her time, very much the disciplinarian and very tough. She made you the best you could be. So I knew I wanted to coach at a pretty early age.

How has goal-setting for you changed from when you first began your career until now?

When you’re a young coach you see everything defined by wins and losses, but as you get older – and me being a mom – you get a different perspective. About 21 years ago when I was at St. Joseph’s we were up 16 at the half, and our kids were thinking, “this game is over.” But that was one of the years that Pat’s (Summitt) team won the Championship, and we ended up losing that day. I was driving home and one of my kids is 11 and the other is five, and they wanted to stop at McDonald’s and get a happy meal. I said, “what about this is happy right now?” My youngest popped up over the back of the seat and said, “mom, it’s just a game, get over it.” He had a point.

As I’ve become older, a great part of coaching is being a role model to kids. Winning becomes a driving force, and the more time you put into individuals, the more success you have. There are so many good coaches out there, and it’s  not about any special offense or defense. The number one thing is how you treat people. If you give them your heart, they’ll give it back.

So much has changed in 30 years. How has the game changed? How have young people changed?

The game has expanded because there is so much more exposure on TV and social media, and because there’s more money in it. People see coaching as an opportunity when that wasn’t always the case. Now that there’s more money in it, we have more men coaching than women.

I still think my best teams over all my coaching years then would hang with some of the better teams now. The difference is depth. Now, for us, we do a lot of overseas recruiting. We used to steal kids before we had the Internet, but now everyone knows about them.

My dad has always said it’s important to be a good listening, but the problem sometimes today can be the (athlete’s) parents. Many think their kids walk on water, and when I have a kid visit officially, I want to meet the parents.

Not all longtime coaches are able to keep up with the changes to the game and remain relevant. Many of my friends who are high school coaches are getting out of coaching.

When you came to Fordham, you were tasked with rebuilding the program. What were the steps you took to accomplish that?

After I went through our first practice, I said “wow.” In this job I knew we were getting great people; I just knew we needed to bring in more talent. So we picked up (some transfers) here and there and began building from there.

Your teams are known for their passionate defense. Does offense flow from defense, or the other way around?

We are known for our position defense – not a press-and-cause turnovers defense. It’s more of a positional, “make you earn it” type of thing. What we’ve been able to drum into the kids’ heads is that the bread and butter comes form defense, and letting them know that the offense is going to catch up at some point. Defense dictates the flow of the game, and though the players change, our defense doesn’t.

What are the keys to motivating athletes?

The main thing is to let them know you care about them. They have to know you care and that you believe in them, and that you have their best interests at heart. That you’re fair. The kids of this era do want discipline, even though they don’t act like it.

Academics is very important to you. How do you help your athletes balance classroom work and basketball?

You get what you demand, and if you dictate that academics are important, they are. Every year we split them up and put athlete groups with each coach, and we have challenges. It’s hard not to do well when there is such a structure in place. We make it competitive, with the team earning the highest collective GPA winning T-shirts, and the team with the lowest having to make dinner. The more you create a competitive atmosphere and let them know it matters, the better the results.

I also remain flexible. One kid a couple years ago took a class, and I would let her leave practice early for it. I believe the more you give, the more you get, and anything that is going to improve their personal situation, I am willing to work with them on it. I tell them, if I can make it work, I will make it work.

What is the best thing about coaching?

Seeing them grow as individuals and laughing with them later when we remember certain stories. Sometimes I get notes 10 years down the line: “I didn’t get it then, but I get it now.” Those are the best. Players come to visit, and that is also the best.

On those infrequent occasions when you do get free time, how do you like to spend it?

We’re a movie family, and we love to go to or watch the movies. I love the Hallmark movies, and I’m so glad they started early this year. I don’t know if my husband is, though.

Duke prepares to dig deeply this season

Leaonna Odom. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.
Leaonna Odom. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.
Leaonna Odom. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

The Duke Blue Devils have encountered road blocks and obstacles before, but not many have been higher than those they will face this season.

For 23 years, the program has made runs into the NCAA Tournament like clockwork. Picking up right where her predecessor Gail Goestenkors left off, head coach Joanne P. McCallie has overseen 10 Blue Devil trips to the Big Dance in 11 seasons, including four straight Elite Eight runs from 2010-2013 and three Sweet Sixteen appearances.

Last season, fueled primarily by the electric play of seniors Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, Duke went 24-9 (11-5 in conference) and saw the Tournament’s round of 16 before bowing out to UConn. Sustaining success, though, is never easy, and this season may be McCallie’s toughest test yet.

Besides losing high-scoring Brown and Greenwell, Erin Mathias departed and is now playing professionally in Italy. McCallie needs answers for their absences, as well as for point guard Kyra Lambert, who was lost last week to a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. The Blue Devils will have to dig deep, both metaphorically and in a literal roster sense, if they want to maintain their accustomed level of excellence. The answer may lie in one young trio.

“You never replace, you’ve just got to evolve,” McCallie said. “We’ll evolve. We’ll be a more balanced team across the board. Look to (Leaonna) Odom and Haley Gorecki and Jade Williams to step up.”

That’s not a bad place to start.

Odom is a junior forward who averaged 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year, while racking up 55 assists and 38 blocks. She’s athletic enough to fill multiple positions in a given lineup, with a diverse skill set and a great feel for where she needs to be on the court.

Haley Gorecki. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.
Haley Gorecki. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

Gorecki, a redshirt junior, put up 11 points per game despite only 13 starts in 2017-18. A lot of that production came from outstanding shooting: .423 from behind the arc, which she’ll need to continue while bearing a larger share of the offensive burden this season.

Williams is a talented sophomore who will assume full-time duties as Duke’s starting center this season. An All-ACC Freshman Team selection last year and tabbed to the Lisa Leslie Award watch list ahead of this season, her presence in the paint will be a critical component of McCallie’s evolutionary plan.

The Blue Devils are also eager to have Mikayla Boykin back in the mix. The redshirt freshman saw her debut campaign cut short by an ACL tear last year, but she lived up to her long list of high school accolades (Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year, North Carolina Miss Basketball, American Family Insurance ALL-USA North Carolina Girls Basketball First Team) while starting eight of ten games prior to the injury. Clocking 4.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and some steals and assists here and there, AND apg, along with 1.2 steals, Boykin flashed serious potential as a versatile perimeter player.

If this year’s theme is evolution, it stands to reason the incoming freshmen will have a chance to make their bones early on, and Duke has every reason to be optimistic on that front.

“We’ve got a class of five freshmen that are really making progress,” McCallie said. “Rayah Craig, a point guard for us coming off the bench, has been very strong. She’s giving us depth at point guard – especially losing Kyra. Miela Goodchild, the Australian, has really stepped up and shown good things.”

A note on Goodchild: The guard from Queensland, AU just led her U18 national squad to a bronze medal in the FIBA Asian Championship by tossing up multiple 20+ point games, including a 21-point, nine-rebound performance to secure Australia’s third-place finish.

Other freshmen are also in the mix.

Jade Williams. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.
Jade Williams. Photo courtesy of Duke Athletics.

“Onome Akinbode-James is starting as a freshman for us,” McCallie said. “Uchenna (Nwoke) is doing well for us. … We’re not going to be too concerned about age. Whoever is ready to go, is ready to go.”

It’s not just a next-player-up situation, though, as McCallie said she will reconfigure her lineup for maximum efficiency.

“We’re always going to evolve offensively, change things according to the personnel,” she said. “This year it’s working a flow offense more effectively, maybe not doing as much static stuff. You definitely evolve offensively, and that’s what we’ve done. We have new wrinkles, new things to highlight different things about this team.”

On the other end of the floor, the Blue Devils held opponents to 56.3 points per game last year – a defensive performance which was no small part of their +12.5 scoring margin.

“We’ve been a very, very sound defensive team over the years. I see that continuing,” McCallie said. “I see us being multiple, playing match-ups as well as man. I see us being a very diverse defensive team.”

“Onome is so athletic as a freshman, she helps us a lot. Raya, as well, has got a wingspan. She’s only 5-8, but she’s got a six-foot wingspan. We’re the tallest team in the ACC. Hopefully our length will help us, if we can allow it to.”

In spite of the losses of talent and depth, Duke looks ready to lean on their mix of young talent bolstered with some veteran experience to roll deep into March once again. McCallie is aware of what her team is facing, but by no means daunted by it.

“There is no ceiling. I think that this team is a dagger team, a dangerous team.,” she said.

If history is any indication, she is probably right about that.

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