2008 Blue White Game
Greensboro -- ACC Women's Basketball Media Day has come and gone. You will be shocked to hear that every coach is upbeat, excited and enthusiastic for the season to come, and is so far very pleased with the first few days of practice. Amidst the sunshine, smoke and other things being blown in various directions, there were actually a few nuggets of interest to report. First, a word on the media's preseason voting. That word is "lazy". The preseason vote of UNC, Maryland, Duke and Virginia reflects the order in which those teams finished a season ago. The voters seemed to have paid little attention to the actual losses that UNC and Maryland have had to endure, as well as the wealth of talent that Duke and Virginia return. Picking Kristi Toliver over Monica Wright for preseason player of the year also ignores what Wright is becoming as a player and glosses over Toliver's shoot-first, ask questions later mentality. The 42 voters (including my representation of DWHoops on the ACC's "Blue Ribbon Panel") at least were not unanimous in their picks; in fact, this was the first time that four teams received multiple first-place votes in the preseason poll and only the second time that three teams received double-digit first-place votes (the first being 1996). That reflects the reality that this is the most wide-open ACC race in many years, with as many as five different teams having a legitimate chance at the league title.
It is important to commend the ACC for holding this event in the first place. In the last couple of years, the league has taken a number of steps to prove their commitment to women's basketball. Media Day was discontinued for a couple of seasons, replaced instead by a DVD containing little more than platitudinous interviews with coaches and precious little real information. The ACC office has made a real effort to seek out and recruit those writers who cover the league on a regular basis and reaffirm their commitment to activities like voting for player of the week. To that end, Media Day has become a much leaner and tighter event, broadcast live over the web with all sorts of TV and internet material recorded during the day as well. ACC commissioner John Swofford has taken time out to address the media each year as well. While the showing from print media was decent, it's unfortunate that the state of the newspaper business makes it more and more difficult for more members of the press to attend.
With Brevard and Ward in place, Semrau was happy to note that Mara Freshour and Tanae Davis-Cain would finally get to settle into their natural roles as guards on the wing. She was frank in assessing the talent of frosh wing Chasity Clayton, calling her a "freak of an athlete" whose basketball skills would have to catch up, and said that it wasn't likely that she'd play much given her experienced starting lineup. After starting 18 different lineups last season, Semrau seems to be looking forward to a degree of stability this year. When asked if she sensed that this year would be a changing of the guard in the ACC, she simply said "I hope so."
Other coaches who were happy to discuss specifics were MaChelle Joseph of Georgia Tech and Cristy McKinney of Clemson. The former talked about feeling like she finally had the post players to help her team become effective in the half court, noting that frosh Sasha Goodlet has the ability to dominate and finish inside, but must get in better shape. McKinney noted that sophs Whitney Hood and Kirstyn Wright had great summers and have been the most aggressive players in practice thus far. She's hoping that Hood will help give them a scoring presence in the post and that bigs Lindsey Mason & Shaniqua Pauldo can help with defense & rebounding if they can raise their intensity level to what is needed in the ACC.
Perhaps the most powerful moment of the day came when I asked guard Shayla Fields about the cover of NC State's media guide. The players on State's team were all wearing pink jerseys that had their number but Yow's name on the back. They were spread out on the court to form the shape of the breast cancer awareness ribbon, facing away from the camera, with Yow sitting in a chair inside the ribbon. The player forming the "knot" in the ribbon was Fields, and Yow noted that this was not a coincidence--Fields will have to hold the team together this year. It's a powerful image that makes Fields simply think "We're a team" and behind Yow.
Unfortunately, the Wolfpack have suffered a ridiculous amount of unexpected injury and attrition, coming into practice with only eight healthy players. Yow actually had to hold open tryouts for the last two spots. This will include two starters who were bit players last year, a freshman as the top reserve, and not much behind them. Despite this series of difficulties, Yow said that "I always feel good when I'm at practice", her adrenaline pushing through her fatigue. She dabbed away tears more than once at the power of the gestures being made on her behalf.
Swofford introduced Nora Lynn Finch as the league's new associate commissioner for women's basketball, replacing Bernadette McGlade. McGlade just became commissioner of the Atlantic-10. Finch was a longtime administrator at NC State and is an exceedingly sharp leader. She addressed the oddity of UNC scheduling a regular-season game on March 15th (against South Dakota), noting that Hatchell wanted to spread out the number of regular season games her team played so as not to play three games in a week. Finch said the league will observe how this works out and possibly encourage other teams to do the same, especially since playing a game during the long wait between the ACC & NCAA tournaments often dulls teams gearing up for postseason.
Swofford also introduced former Wake coach and media presence Charlene Curtis as the new supervisor of women's officials, a new post that was folded out of the women's commissioner position. Curtis then went over some rule changes and points of emphasis for this season, and made the unusual move of inviting the press to contact her whenever they had a question about officiating.
No Media Day would be complete without a list of players who mysteriously disappeared off of rosters after being previously announced as members of their teams: Adrianne Bradshaw & Moreemi Davis of Clemson (both of whom had one more year of eligibility), Britany Miller of FSU (not invited back after being suspended for the majority of last season), Jackie Nared of Maryland (a late recruit from Portland), Jazmond Stringer of Miami (a post player that Miami really needed), Christina DeWitt of UNC (suspended for most of last year, came back late in the season, and not coming back this year), Gloria Brown, Chanita Jordan, Michelle Davis & Megan Zullo of NC State (all three left the team, didn't qualify or were suspended), Andrea Barbour of Virginia Tech ("left the team" for good) and Patrice Johnson & Margaret Harvey of Wake (two frosh who did not make it to school this fall).
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2008 Blue White Game