Pac-10 preview: The Washington schools

Prior to the commencement of the 2008-2009 college basketball season, I will profile teams in two conferences, as well as various other teams around the country. This evening, the spotlight shines on the Washington universities.

Washington state Pac-10 schools have taken recycling to a whole other level.

June Daugherty was fired from the University of Washington in March, 2007, and was promptly hired by rival Washington State University. Besides retaining her husband as assistant coach, Daugherty also hired two Seattle-area coaches to help her work with players.

Tia Jackson, former assistant to Gail Goestenkors at Duke, was hired by the UW in April, 2007. She has brought aboard former Husky player Loree Payne (2003) as an assistant coach, as well as former Oregon State University head coach Judy Spoelstra (fired by that school in 2005).

The first year for both coaches was rough.

A month after being hired, Daugherty went into cardiac arrest in front of a hospital. It took doctors 14 attempts to revive her. That year, she coached her sometimes struggling team to a 5-25 record, finishing last in the Pac-10.

Jackson, in her first head coaching gig, was left with a freshmen class that had been recruited by Daugherty. Four out of six of them didn’t want to stay and work with the new coach; one tried to rescind her letter of intent right away, but the UW refused.

So there was an undercurrent of discontent from the get-go. That, combined with what UW fans called Jackson’s heavy-handed tactics in her first year, resulted in what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called a “stormy” season for the Huskies. And when the year was over, all four discontented freshmen had left the school. The team finished sixth in the conference, with a 13-18 record.

“I thought I was extremely patient last year,” Jackson told the P-I. “I really have to exercise that patience this year……Last year we had 14 players and they were all new, but so was I and so was the system, so everyone was kind of like deer in headlights.” (1)

One thing the two coaches do have in common this year is they both have rosters stacked with newcomers: five freshmen and two junior college transfers for Jackson, and seven freshmen for Daugherty, to be exact. Both coaches are getting their feet underneath them, and Daugherty, in particular, has a big goal.

“I intend to turn WSU into a powerhouse for women’s basketball,” she told parents and coaches at the team banquet of one of her LA recruits last spring.

It would be cool if she does indeed do that. I want Oregon schools to rise up, and I feel the same way about Washington schools. It would be nice to see the Northwest on the Pac-10 map for a change.

Jackson is left with one returning starter in junior Sami Whitcomb, as two seniors and two of the freshmen that left comprised the rest of the lineup. Five bench players return, as does Seattle’s own Mackenzie Argens, whose freshmen season ended early last year with injury.

The new players hail from all over the U.S. and include one Australian guard, freshmen Nicole Romeo. The JC transfers are Christina Rozier, from Miama, FL and Lydia Young of Detroit. Another Seattle player, Regina Rogers, will sit out this season after transferring from UCLA after her freshman season.

Daugherty, with the help of assistant coach Brian Holsinger, recruited the 16th best class in the nation last year. The group features a trio of California guards who were playing well past the end of the regular season last year, if you know what I mean.

April Cook, 5-8, helped her Long Beach Poly team win its third straight state championship in March, capping off a brilliant career. Cook’s Jackrabbits beat 5-10 Jazmine Perkins and her Berkeley High School team, which was state runner-up for the second year in a row. In the semi-finals, Poly almost lost to Narbonne High School in a dramatic game that featured dynamic Gauchos point guard Danielle LeNoir, 5-6. LeNoir’s sister, Camille, is the starting point guard for USC.

The other freshmen are Katie Grad of Auburn, Washington; Jessica Oestreicher of Shasta Lake, CA; Rosie Tarnowski of Philadelphia, PA; and Lexie Pettersen of Spokane, WA. Three seniors, one junior and three sophomores return.

UW fans who long complained that Daugherty let local talent leave the state will be pleased at the eight Washington players on this year’s roster. Long-suffering WSU fans will be happy at the infusion of talent on the Cougars’ roster, and at their new coach’s enthusiasm.

I look forward to seeing both teams, because of the great potential of each. But I anticipate one showdown in particular: the one between the LeNoir sisters on Jan. 24, 2009, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. I am already planning to give away my UCLA ticket for that night so I can go to that game instead. You don’t usually see that much basketball talent in one family, so it should be interesting, to say the least.