Friday, May 29, 2015

Breaking: ODU hires Va. Tech assistant Jermaine Woods

ODU coach Karen Barefoot's new assistant coach is Jermaine Woods.

Woods had been an assistant to Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff since 2013 and recently helped sign the Hokies most recent recruiting class ranked No. 20 by ESPN HoopGurlz. He previously coached at Maury High where he led the Commodores to the regional final in back-to-back season.

"I am beyond excited," Barefoot said.

The former Christopher Newport University standout graduated from Norfolk State in 2011.

Woods replaces Richard Fortune, who left ODU earlier this month to be an assistant at VCU.

The Hokies announced the hiring of assistant coach Heather Vulin on Thursday. Vulin had been an assistant at Villanova.




Saturday, May 9, 2015

JMU's Okafor: graduation today, WNBA tomorrow

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when the morning dawns. 
Psalms 46: 5 -- the message on Lady's cap

Today she celebrated. Tomorrow the next chapter begins. And for James Madison's Lauren Okafor, who graduated on Saturday with her bachelor's of science in premed/psychology, that next step is WNBA training camp.

To her surprise, Okafor was drafted in the third round, the 34th pick overall, by the Atlanta Dream.

"When everything happened, I was in shock," said Okafor, who attended two combines in Tampa after JMU (29-4) ended its season in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "I wasn't really jumping up and down. I was taking it all in."

Okafor had just returned from the end-of-year JMU banquet with her teammates when she learned she had been drafted. She began getting texts and seeing the news on Twitter before she got the call from the Dream. Even coach Kenny Brooks was taken aback, though he thinks she can make an impact.

"She understands their needs," he said. "They're looking for someone who can defend, rebound, run the floor. She can do that."

Since the draft, the 6-3 Okafor has worked with JMU's strength and conditioning coach to improve her physical conditioning. She's aware of this, noting, "You can get drafted, but the process doesn't end there."

In a league where first-rounders can get cut early, a third-round draft pick can be dispensable. Okafor will be fighting to earn a spot on a roster that includes Rutgers forward Monique Oliver and Mississippi State forward/center Martha Aiwei.

Okafor's long-range goals include graduate school in the health sciences. "I want to be a psychiatrist," she said. "I also want to own a medical spa. And I want to have a nonprofit for young, underprivileged girls who are trying to make an impact on their communities."

Her future, with all its promise, starts today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Point guard Kemp looking to make immediate impact at Old Dominion



















Rhaven Kemp credits two years of playing ball at Eastern Florida State College with teaching her patience, but don't expect her to be sitting around waiting her turn at Old Dominion, "I'm ready to make an immediate impact," she said. "Being that I'm a junior, I want to play right away."

The 5-7 point guard from Jackson, Tenn., should get her chance on a Lady Monarchs team that needs experience at the point given the decision by Ashley Betz-White not to return for her final season of eligibility (Betz-White has graduated and taken a job with a pharmaceutical company). ODU has added 5-6 point guard Carolina Bernardeco from Lisbon, Portugal, who played point for her country's U-16 and U-18 national teams, but she will likely need time to adjust to the collegiate game.

Kemp is the all-time leading assist leader from Liberty Tech High School, averaging 5.2 apg her senior year when she was also name team MVP and all-state. She started for Eastern Florida State College as a freshman, averaging 9.4 ppg and leading the team in steals but didn't play the second half of the semester due to academics. That cooled the interest Auburn had in her.

During her sophomore season, the Titans reached the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, and though Kemp came off the bench, she was a utility player who did whatever she was asked, said coach Jim Grimes.

Kemp was named to the all-tournament team in the 2015 NJCAA Region 8 Tournament. The Titans advanced to the quarterfinals and finished 22-8, winning 15 of their final 18. Kemp scored 18 with seven assists in her final game.

"She's unbelievably athletic," Grimes said. "She's very unselfish and a great passer. She was unreal in the tournament."

 Kemp had interest from Tennessee Tech, Jacksonville and Troy before deciding on ODU. She will be one of three players from Tennessee on ODU's roster along with Ridgeway High School teammates Ashley Jackson and Oigbokie Odegua from Memphis.

She enjoys the role of floor general, "I like keeping my teammates happy; I want them to feed off me," she said. Though she grew up a Lady Volunteers fan, noting, "If you live here, you eat, sleep, breath Tennessee," her allegiance is now ODU.

Kemp, who enjoy bowling in her spare time, plans to enter ODU as an undecided major but is leaning toward sports management.






Sunday, April 26, 2015

Peeking in at Tech, JMU, Radford, Liberty, etc. at the BooPlex


OK, we're back at bloggin' after taking a needed rest, and what better way to get back into the swing then seeking out some of our favorite coaches at the BooPlex this weekend in Hampton, home of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Anybody and everybody is there (didn't see Geno but spotted associate head coach Chris Dailey and Tennessee's Holly Warlick) to see recruits from the Diana Taurasi Division, the Maya Moore Division, the Brittney Griner Division and the Sky Diggins Division.

The great news for the coaches this year is all the action is split between two venues (the BooPlex and Hampton Roads Convention Center) instead of a dozen (the bad news is parking at Woodstock might be easier than finding a conventional spot at the BooPlex). Noted James Madison's Kenny Brooks, "Anything that saves me time is good."

"It's way more effective," added Virginia Tech assistant Jermaine Woods. "I can watch one game at 1:20 and catch another at 2:30 and be on time."

Woods said the Tech staff is mighty excited after pulling off two upsets in the ACC Tournament -- the Hokies upended NC State and Pitt en route to the quarterfinals. That taste of winning has made the Hokies hungry and eager beavers in the weight room.

"It's good to be a coach and come to work at 8 in the morning and see a full gym," he said.

Tech has a top 20 recruiting class by ESPN's count, and is also excited about the return of Regan Magarity, the 6-3 forward from Sweden. The freshman had become Tech's best post player, averaging 14 ppg and 10.6 rpg before calf surgery ended her season in December.

"She'll be a freshman again," said Woods, who is also high on Sidney Cook, who shot .429 from behind the arc last year. "She's having an amazing offseason," he said. "She's going to be key."

Speaking of keys, good to see Brooks and assistant Sean O'Regan showing off the purple. No doubt Dukes fans were relieved when Joni Crenshaw was named the new head coach at Georgia, as Brooks was rumored to be interviewing for the job. Shaking his head, he says, "Twitter rumor. I never even got a call," (and though frankly, we don't know why, we're glad he's sticking around the 'burg).

"Congratulations on another 5,000-win season," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb joked as she passed Brooks, whose Dukes completed their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Look for the 2015-16 version of the Dukes to be "the best shooting team I've ever had," says Brooks, adding that Muff Mickens will be much improved in that department.

"I don't know our record for 3-pointers ... " he said -- so we'll help him out -- Dukes' best accuracy from 3 was 43.4 percent in 1990-91; JMU attempted a school-record 215 3-pointers in 2013-14. Look for those to fall, says Brooks, whose team will return point guard savant Mickens, CAA Player of the Year Precious Hall and two-time CAA Tournament MVP Jazmon Gwathmey. "(Gwathmey) will have a more prominent role," Brooks promised, noting the same will be true for Ashley Perez, eligible for the second half of the season last year.

A few paces away from Brooks we found Liberty Coach Carey Green, pleased with the depth Big South champion Liberty will return. "With three solid post players coming back and our starting point guard, that's pretty good," he said.

For the last five years, Liberty has had at least 10 players averaging double minutes -- one reason the Lady Flames are reliable contenders in March. Look for Jaymee Fisher-Davis (who, incidentally hasn't missed any of her 19 free throws in the last two years) to play a bigger role.

Among the newbies, Green expects Molly Reagan, a 6-2 post from Braintree, Mass., to make an early impact along with 6-0 forward KK Barbour. Liberty, by the way, will have a date with JMU during non-conference play.

Former Old Dominion and VCU assistant Niki Dawkins, now assisting Marlene Stollings at Minnesota, was also in town showing off pics of the kids, 3-year-old twins, Amani and Isiah. As for being a mom and a coach, "I don't know how to do it, we just do it."

Dawkins is hopeful former Lady Monarch Shae Kelley will earn a spot on the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. Kelley, who played her final year at Minnesota, was the 35th pick in the 36-player draft held April 17.

"Minnesota Lynx coaches were at the majority of our home games," Dawkins said. "She has a lot in her favor. She can rebound, play defense, do those energy things that will help me make the team."

Around another corner we found George Mason's Nyla Milleson, excited that her five transfers who sat the bench last year will be eligible to join Atlantic 10 leading scorer Taylor Brown. While she's high on all of them, redshirt sophomore guard Mikala McGhee might be a nose ahead given her familiarity with Milleson. McGhee comes to Fairfax from Missouri State, where Milleson coached prior to George Mason.

"She's a very, very good leader," Milleson said.

Sitting in the stands a few feet from Louisiana Tech coach Tyler Summitt was Amanda Levens, a Lady Monarch oh-so-long ago, who transferred to Arizona State after two years at ODU. A former head coach at Southern Illinois Edwardsville, Levens is now associate head coach alongside Charli Turner Thorne at ASU. Levens had nothing but good things to say about ODU and still keeps in touch with her former teammates, including Jessica Williams and Bettina Love.

Levens said she thinks of ODU as "a place in my life that shaped who I am today. I still talk to Cindy Fisher and Allison Greene."

Before we made our exit, we finally got to say an in-person hello to Radford assistant Britney Anderson, happy about the effort the eight returning Highlanders are making in the weight room. Anderson played AAU ball herself prior to starring for Virginia Tech. She noted the difference between these days and her days.

"We played for a trophy," she said. "Today everybody's playing for a scholarship."

Our last stop was a visit with Hampton graduate Kenia Cole, bound for graduate school at Georgetown where she'll major in sports industry management. Cole is a sports junkie whose opinion we share about NBA MVP. "I think James Harden should get it," she said. "Steph Curry is great, but Harden doesn't have as much help. I think Curry will get it, though."


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jazzmin vs. Trey - Who ya got?



Maybe it's something about the date.

On March 25, 2008, Jazzmin Walters buried a 3-pointer that lifted Old Dominion's Lady Monarchs to an 88-85 overtime victory over Virginia and into the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

Seven years later to the day - March 25, 2015 - Trey Freeman played hero for the ODU men, nailing a one-legged 30-foot runner (!) as time expired to lift the Monarchs past Murray State 72-69 and into the NIT semifinals.

We don't think we're going out on a limb by calling these the two biggest, most impactful shots from the home team in the history of Old Dominion's Ted Constant Convocation Center (opened in 2002).

But which one's No. 1?

Let's check the tale of the tape:

Degree of difficulty - Upon receiving Jordan Baker's inbounds pass some 60 feet from the hoop, Freeman snaked past Murray State's T.J. Sapp along the baseline and kissed a parabolic 30-foot runner off glass and through as the buzzer sounded.
   Now, given the circumstances, the 5-foot-2-inch Walters' "onions" were every bit as big as Freeman's. But let's face it, she essentially hit a spot-up 3-pointer.
Advantage - Freeman.

Opponent factor: What's in a name? Well, quite a bit for those who don't follow college basketball (and much to our dismay, the world is full of such creatures). Don't believe us? Well, Old Dominion fans, try this exercise. Call up a friend who doesn't follow sports and, without even telling them what event or even sport you're talking about, simply say, Hey, we beat Virginia!" We're betting just that fact alone will leave them impressed.
   Then call up another non-sports friend and repeat the routine, only this time replace "Virginia" with the words "Murray State." See how much explaining you have to do before they understand why you're so excited.
Advantage: Walters, big (No disrespect intended, Murray State)

Protect our house factor: Jazzmin's jumper capped a season in which the Lady Monarchs went undefeated at home (16-0). Trey's trey capped a season in which the Monarchs went undefeated at home (20-0).
Advantage: Even

Fantastic finish?: While both shots broke ties and accounted for the winning margins, only Freeman's was actually a buzzer-beater that ended the game. Nearly five seconds remained after Walters came through, and ODU's victory wasn't secure until Lady Monarchs center Tiffany Green blocked Lyndra Littles' 3-point attempt and a second try went way off target.
Advantage: Freeman

Surprise, surprise: Freeman admitted his shot was one he can't even count on making in practice (with Jeff Jones quickly adding that Freeman's attempts come after practice, lest anyone think the the coach earmarks valuable workout time to honing such a low-percentage heave). On the other hand, Walters drilled a shot she'd spent years perfecting. So this one has to go to Freeman, right?
   Not so fast. Because you see, before Walters could make the shot, guard Shadasia Green had to pass her the ball. Now, Green would develop into a quite willing passer, but in 2008, the fact that the then-freshman Green averaged less than one assist per game indicates that early on, she pretty much had eyes only for the rim. Or so we thought, especially with so few ticks remaining. So while most people remember this as the night Jazz made that shot, we often think of it as the night a young Shay Green actually gave up the rock.
Advantage: Walters, in an upset

Defining post-game image: Freeman wound up at the bottom of a classic dogpile of jubilant Monarchs, and naturally, ESPN's cameras ate this up. But hey, guys, the man has a bum ankle, remember? How 'bout carrying him off the court? (In fact, Wood Selig, can we get a scooter for this guy to tool around campus on for the next few days? This NIT ride ain't over yet.) Also, the joy of the moment was mitigated somewhat by the sight of two policemen subduing one overly aggressive civilian.
   By contrast, the joy of the Lady Monarchs' triumph was best captured in the sight of guard T.J. Jordan celebrating atop the scorer's table with her right index finger pointed toward the heavens - a (Michael) Jordan-esque pose, if you will. It was powerful, iconic - and certainly a lot safer
Advantage: Walters

By the way, loved it that ODU students didn't feel the need to storm the court after Freeman's big shot. Judging from the way folks were going nuts in the stands, it certainly didn't seem as though anyone felt they were being deprived of anything. Hope students at a host of other schools picked up on this.

Men vs. women: Ah, the elephant in the room. Yes, men's basketball is a whole lot more popular than women's basketball, and yes, there were a near-capacity 8,161 fans at the Constant Center Wednesday night and "only" 5,989 in the building in 2008 when the Lady Monarchs outlasted Virginia. But as someone who was in the house both nights can attest, the euphoria and electricity generated by a big-time shot in a big-time spot isn't gender specific. The roof nearly came off the place both times.
Advantage: Even

National impact: Both shots were replayed on a seemingly endless loop via the national airwaves, but Freeman's reached the gold standard in sports buzz by ranking No. 1 in ESPN Sportscenter's "Play of the Day" countdown. Walters peaked at No. 2, and it wasn't even for her heroic shot. The self-professed Worldwide Leader was even more mesmerized when, earlier in the game, Walters threaded a pass through the legs of Virginia center Aisha Mohammed to a wide-open Jessica Canady for a layup.
Advantage: Freeman

Tournament status: For some, the fact that Walters delivered in the prestigious NCAA tournament and Freeman's heroics came in the off-broadway NIT will trump all. But as a lot of ODU fans now realize, there's quite a bit of magic in personally witnessing your team win three games, two dramatically and one of those spectacularly, for $11 a pop without missing a day's work.
   Ultimately, though, Walters' shot left Old Dominion in contention for the title of best Division I team in America. For all of the winning that's followed, Freeman's team's bid for that distinction died the night they were denied entry into the 68-team NCAA field.
Advantage: Walters, but closer than the experts think

Destination desirability: Freeman's shot earned the Monarchs a trip to New York, New York, and if you can make it there, you're gonna make it anywhere.
   Walters shot earned the Lady Monarchs a trip to Greensboro, N.C. to play UConn, and if you can make it there, you're probably gonna lose by 30.
Advantage: Freeman, big

Note: On March 30, 2008 - in Karen Barefoot's final game as an ODU assistant - the Lady Monarchs fell 78-63 to UConn. This actually qualifies as a competitive showing against the mighty Huskies, then and now.

OK, this was fun, but clearly we're settling nothing. Obviously fans of each individual team are free to see it any way they want. But why does everything have to come down to an "either/or" situation? Who do we look like, Skip and Stephen A.?

Besides, all this data-crunching has merely confirmed what we believed all along:

Two great shots

No wrong choice.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Two-minute drill: Liberty's Simone Brown




Thanks to all who participated in this year's Two-Minute Drill. We had fun getting to know you. Here is our final one with Liberty's Simone Brown, whose Lady Flames meet North Carolina today in the NCAA Tournament.

Two-minute drill: Longwood's Kyndal Skersick
Two-minute drill: George Mason's Jasmine Jackson
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Jazmen Boone
Two-minute drill: Longwood's Autumn Childress
Two-minute drill: George Mason's Taylor Brown
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liz Brown
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Kyla Kerstetter
Two-minute drill: James Madison's Lauren Okafor
Two-minute drill: Old Dominion's Jennie Simms
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Marlena Tremba
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Ashley Rininger
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Janelle Hubbard
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Gen Okoro
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Karly Buer
Two-minute drill: Longwood's Treasure Avery
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liv Healy
Two-minute drill: Norfolk State's Rae Corbo


Friday, March 20, 2015

Princeton, you're not alone. Reflecting back with Liberty on a perfect regular season

Elena Kisseleva today
Did Princeton get the shaft? We think so. Other than UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor, who does 30-0? Yeah, we hear you committee lady about strength of schedule, but we see an attractive RPI and we think an unbeaten season by any team deserves reward.

We wondered who was last team minus the big three to put together a perfect regular season, and indeed it was our own Liberty Flame. Liberty finished the 1997-98 season 28-0 only to find themselves pitted as a No. 16 seed against two-time defending national champion and only-other unbeaten Tennessee in Knoxville in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. Tennessee, of course romped, and went on to win its third straight NCAA title behind, perhaps, Pat Summitt's greatest team. The NCAA committee, no doubt, thought it was doing something sexy in matching up the lone two unbeaten teams. It left a sour taste in both of our mouths, but we wondered how the Liberty players felt about it that year.

This was a team that received its first-ever AP Top 25 vote and only the third time a team had gone unbeaten in the Big South. Elena Kisseleva was Big South Player of the Year and Rick Reeves, Big South Coach of the Year. After the tournament, Liberty was ranked 32nd in the AP Poll. But despite an NCAA Regional record of six 3-pointers from Sharon Wilkerson, Liberty fell 102-58 (cute fact that marginally relates to Princeton. It was in 1998 that No. 16 Harvard, an Ivy like Princeton, upset No. 1 Stanford).

We talked to a few Liberty alums from that team and wanted to share their responses.

Sharon (Wilkerson) Emory with her family
From Sharon Emory, the former Sharon Wilkerson, who lives with her husband Jeremy and sons Brayden and Tyce in Fort Myers, Fla. She is an independent senior director with Thirty-One Gifts.

We were so blessed to have had a previous season where we had the best turnaround in NCAA history.  The school had just won four games . . . and my freshman year (1996-1997) we went 22-8 and won the Big South Conference for the first time in school history.  We expected a 16 seed that season.  However, the next season, we went undefeated.  Now, our strength of schedule was not that great . . . but honestly, anytime you go undefeated in YOUR CONFERENCE, where teams know your plays, coaches scout you all year and know how to defend, it is a HUGE accomplishment.  

When we saw our name pop up as a 16 seed, YES, there was a bit of disappointment there.  We did not feel like we deserved too much higher, maybe a 14 seed.  But going undefeated, and then getting slapped with a 16 seed, really did hurt.  However, our motto during the first practice after the regular season was that there were about 300+ teams NOT PRACTICING, so we were blessed to be able to be still playing in March.

Sarah (Wilkerson) Erps with her family


















From Sarah Erps, the former Sarah Wilkerson, and twin sis of Sharon. Sarah lives in Huntington, W.V., with her four husband, William, and four children Ryleigh, 8; Addalyn, 7; Micaiah, 5; and Will, 1.

My experience is a lot like my sister's. It is always exciting to be in the NCAA tourney, no matter what the seed. To be one of the 64 teams still practicing when other teams are wishing they were is a successful season.

I'm not sure what Princeton's strength of schedule was this year or the strength of their conference, which may be why they got an 8th seed. My sophomore year, the '97-98 team, had several significant wins, one being the win over the University of Kentucky on their home floor. Then we go on to be unbeaten in our conference, which is tough to do because you are playing teams who are familiar with your style of play and your offensive/defensive strategies. 
So I think in our minds, we were deserving of a 13, 14 or 15 seed, but not a 16 seed again.
I knew that to beat Tennessee that year, we would have to have a great game and they would probably need to play their worst game. :-) We were excited to be playing in the tourney, but disappointed when our name came up, feeling like we were paired together because we were the unbeatens that year, but feeling like we deserved a better seed. Part of me wonders if the selection committee even looked at those things or if they just saw the zero in the loss column and thought it would be a neat idea to match us up.

Having said this, I wouldn't trade my time in the NCAA tourney for anything, and we loved being a part of that unbeaten season, even if our one loss came to the eventual champs that year.


From Elena Bengds, the former Elena Kisseleva, an IT manager at SAS Institute by day who also teaches fitness classes in cycling, weight training and kickboxing. She and her husband have an 11-year old son who plays AAU basketball and competitive soccer.

My memories about the 1998 selection event are definitely the positive ones. We won the Big South tournament for the second year in a row. We were faced with the great opportunity to play against the undefeated Tennessee, who went all the way to win the tournament. It never crossed my mind to be disappointed about our placement. We had a great team lead by wonderful coaches and supported by a very dedicated staff. We were right there with God wanted us to be. 

Erin (Wall) Hartman with son Thadaeous
From Erin Hartman, the former Erin Wall, who lives in Staunton, Va., with husband Jeremy. Erin is mother to sons Thadaeous, Jaxson and Mathias.
What I remember was walking through the tunnel at Tennessee. The life-size pictures on the wall weren't of men's players. They were women. That was a very empowering memory. It was an honor to represent Liberty.
From LadySwish:
Go Lady Flames and go Princeton!!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

JMU's 5-on-5: Getting to know the real Dukes

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you -- can you hear Julie Andrews singing this (dating ourselves, but Toia would dance to this beat...).

Think you know all about James Madison -- the 29-3 CAA Tournament champions who will play Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Chapel Hill?

We asked the five starting Dukes about the Dukes (we included alum Nikki Newman, too) and found out who might be found in the library, who does the best imitations, who's like a Charms lollipop, who talks really fast and who loves to dance.

And we've got some dirt on Kenny, too. Enjoy!

Lady:

Lady's very intelligent. The intellectual conversation will come from her. She's always doing homework. She was doing it before the break. I'm look at her like, 'It's spring break. Take a break. Run a play through your head.' -- Muff


Lady is a very intellectual person. We're sitting there watching the game and she's courtside, her head
in the books. She's like the mother of the team. She cares for everybody. She always has advice for everybody. She's very knowledgeable about a lot of things. -- Precious

Lady is a Lady. She can come up with some slick stuff out of her mouth, too. -- Jazmon

What's that song? Juvenile. Don't let it start in the locker room. She's going to start dancing. -- Jazmon

When she's dancing, we know it's going to be a great day. -- Toia

 I idolize her. -- Toia

When we come home, 2 o'clock in the morning, she's up doing homework. Organic chemistry. Biochem. -- Jazmon

The sophisticated one of the group. Very studious. The mama. -- Nikki

Jazmon (nickname, Bert. Dates back to freshman year when she and Jasmine Gill had the same initials. Kanita Shepherd dubbed Jazmon Bert.

Bert is just so unselfish. We praise her on what's she's becoming. She's a big part of us. Bert's fun to be around, life of the party off court. -- Muff

She's one of the goofiest people on the team. She has all these different personalities. -- Precious

She's really good at imitating people's faces. She do anybody literally. -- Lady

She imitates Carley and Destiny really well. When Carley and Destiny talk, she does a really good job of imitating what they say. -- Precious

She's also one of those people who doesn't say much, but when they do, it's really deep and you're surprised. She'll come out of nowhere and say something and you're like, 'What? OK!'  -- Lady

Bert is a goofball. She's always ready to get us hype, calm us down. -- Toia

Jaz is the most different out of the bunch. Has her own style. Her own way of doing things. So fun to be around. I don't have the words to describe her. That's who I was really close to. -- Nikki

Precious

Precious is my sister. We came in together. We dormed together. We're living together. She's a clean roommate for the most part. Sometimes she doesn't wash the dishes, but it's fine. -- Muff

Precious, my little pit bull. Precious, I would compare to a Charms lollipop because everybody thinks she's so rough around the edges, so tough, until they get to know her and then she is the sweetest person ever. I don't think she wants everybody to know that, but I'm telling it. She has a lot of heart. She has really funny dance moves, too, but you have to catch her on a good day. -- Lady

Precious, she's low key funny. She'll stay slick stuff. She always has the same face, but she'll come out talking really funny. -- Jazmon

She's got signature dance moves. -- Jazmon

She tries to dance. -- Toia

She's very sly. She doesn't say much. Every now and then she'll throw a zinger in there. You'll get a laugh out of her at the most random times. -- Nikki

Toia

She is hilarious. And DeeDee is coming right behind her because she is just as funny. -- Muff

Toia is very silly. Toia is a dancer who will dance from sun up till sundown. Toia will sing. She'll sing a song about chicken and it always somehow rhymes. She's very funny, very unique, very eccentric. -- Lady

She can make a beat out of anything, like somebody's phone ring tone. -- Precious

She's a great cook. She makes everything great. -- Lady

She was my roommate last year, and I think I like her ribs the most. -- Precious

The definition of hype-master, always saying slick stuff, can dance to any beat. -- Jazmon

Toia's the life of the party. -- Nikki

Muff (named for her baby "muffin" cheeks)

She's just a really silly person. On any given day, she always has that bright smile. She always knows what to say and when to say it. She knows how to keep everybody up. I don't know how to explain her other than silly, goofy, fun loving. But still serious. -- Lady

Muff dances but it's very unique, very quirky. -- Lady

She's not a dancer, but she dances. -- Precious

You'll see some things you've probably never seen before. -- Lady

She's been the same person since freshman year, not very selfish at all. She's one of the silliest persons on the team. -- Precious

I hate when people call her Angela. I get so mad when people call her Angela. -- Precious

She's a little energizer bunny. But she's a bulldog. -- Toia

She talks so fast. It's like fast forward in real life. -- Jazmon

Easygoing. She's kind of like the way off the court the way she is on the court. She keeps things light, always good for a laugh. -- Nikki


Kenny

He's soft when he wants to be. You see him getting on us on the court, but we make jokes every day before practice about Coach Brooks. He's just laid back when it comes to us. When it gets to game time, he's very serious. But he's really as silly as we are. -- Precious

He can do the worm. -- Toia

We tell him he's needs to stretch before he does anything. -- Jazmon

He's so down to earth. -- Lady

He loves to brag about Waynesboro, and they're awful. Awful. I'm from Staunton and I'm like 'Uh, oh, Coach, we don't get along if you're from Waynesboro.' -- Muff

Sometimes he'll try to step in practices. And he can't exactly what he used to do. He'll step in on the offensive end and then make somebody else step in on the defense of end. He'll roll in really quick, run the offense and roll out. -- Nikki

Staff of assistants, whom we adore

Relateable, down to earth, hip -- Dukes

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WNIT: There's no place like home


When filling out your NCAA bracket, the challenge is obviously picking which teams are going to win.

With the WNIT, the trick is identifying which (home) teams might lose.

History suggests it probably won't be very many.

Here are the records for home teams in WNIT first-round games over the past four years:

2011 - 25-7

2012 - 26-6

2013 - 26-6

2014 - 28-4

That's a 78 percent win rate for home teams, which merely quantifies something we already know - homecourt advantage is a big deal. That's why we were dismayed with the decision to revert to the top four seeds hosting first- and second-round NCAA tournament games. Makes us wonder if when the powers-that-be say they want parity in the women's game, what they really mean is simply they want someone to win the title other than UConn.

But we digress...

None of this means all road WNIT teams are doomed to one-and-done status. Everyone at this stage has had at least some road success to draw from. So in theory anyone is capable of being part of this year's 22 percent.

But as Michael Smith and Jemele Hill (used to) say, numbers never lie. So Radford Highlanders, Richmond Spiders, Hampton Lady Pirates and Virginia Cavaliers, embrace the fact you'll have each other in your games. Because it's not just the fans that won't be on your side.

History won't be, either.

A look at the WNIT first-round games involving Virginia schools:


Wednesday

Radford (17-13) at East Carolina (21-10), 7 p.m.
It's already been a breakout season for the young Highlanders, who won just seven games a year ago and nabbed the Big South's automatic bid to this tournament after being picked to finish ninth in their 11-team league. That said, succeeding tonight will be a huge challenge. ECU has an RPI of 68; Radford's best RPI win is over No. 149 High Point. And the Pirates are particularly tough at Minges Coliseum, where they've gone 38-5 over the past three seasons. The Pirates can be terrors on the offensive boards, and they rank sixth in Division I in steals. Given that, some Radford turnovers are inevitable. If the Highlanders add unforced errors to the mix, this one could get ugly. Only a fool would count out a Radford team that has come this far this quickly already. But this is going to be tough. A victory would be Radford's first in a national postseason tournament since the 1989 WNIT.

What's next: The winner faces either East Tennessee State or N.C. State in the second round.

Inside Radford

Thursday

Hampton at Drexel, 7 p.m.
Coming off five straight trips to the NCAAs, this Hampton team fits the classic profile of a group that could struggle to find motivation for WNIT play. Then again, a host of Hampton players are newcomers and weren't part of the prior successes. In addition, so much of Hampton's game is based on balls-out effort (so to speak) it's hard to imagine these guys performing at anything less than full throttle. They'll need this approach to slay these Dragons, who in typical Drexel fashion minimize fouling or turning the ball over and make free throws at a Division I-leading 78 percent clip. In short, the Dragons don't beat themselves; Hampton is going to have to earn everything it gets - through efficient halfcourt execution on offense and by defending for virtually the entire shot clock on defense. The teams met in Philadelphia last year, and Hampton rallied from 14 down at halftime for a 50-47 victory. We're expecting another low-scoring, possession-for-possession affair. One more thing - while the historical home/road won/loss split in WNIT first rounders obviously is daunting for any visitors, Hampton may be better suited to deal with unfamiliar settings than most. Nineteen of Hampton's 30 games were road/neutral contests, giving the Lady Pirates among the five highest percentages of road games to total games in all of Division I. So while being at home may help the Dragons, being away probably won't phase the Lady Pirates. These guys are used it.

What's next: The winner faces either West Virginia or Buffalo in the second round.

Inside Hampton

Virginia (17-13) at Old Dominion (20-12), 7 p.m.
Two former powerhouses now battling to regain national relevancy square off in one of the most intriguing Constant Center showdowns in years. Boiling this game down to Virginia's backcourt vs. Old Dominion's frontcourt is way too simplistic, especially since the Lady Monarchs may actually have the best individual perimeter player (Jennie Simms) and the Cavaliers probably boast the top individual in the post (Sarah Imovbioh). But Old Dominion will be challenged to deal with Virginia's bevy of guards, particularly from the 3-point line where the Cavaliers shoot a robust 36.1 percent (21st in Division I). ODU 3-point defense matches up well on paper, but the Lady Monarchs haven't faced a team that can be this explosive from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, undersized Virginia will have to neutralize, or at least keep up with, what can be a voracious Old Dominion rebounding attack. The job the Lady Monarchs did on the glass at both ends in the second half of last weekend's near-miss against Western Kentucky in the Conference USA semifinals was nothing short of astounding. As was the case a year ago, Old Dominion hit top form near season's end, winning six of their last eight with the two losses close encounters with mighty Western Kentucky. And while Virginia laid an egg in its ACC tournament opener against Miami, the Cavaliers looked fabulous in their regular season-ending beatdown of Top-10 Louisville. In short, there's reason to believe both teams will be at or near their absolute best for this encounter. Can't wait to see what unfolds.

What's next: The winner faces either Villanova or Maine in the second round

Inside Virginia
Inside Old Dominion

Friday

Richmond (18-13) at Stetson (23-7), 7 p.m.
Given how Spiders coach Michael Shafer has taken every opportunity to express how much he loves coaching this team - and how much the players have appeared to truly enjoy leaning on and being around each other - we're happy these guys are in this tournament if for no other reason than they get to keep this thing together for as long as possible. As for their on-the-court prospects, well, Richmond might be preparing for that other tournament were it not for several painfully close losses to quality teams (overtime setbacks to three of the top four teams in the Atlantic 10, then a one-point loss to No. 4 Fordham in the league tournament). Given their RPI (54), it seems safe to count these Hatters as yet another quality foe.  So no one should be surprised if the Spiders find themselves in yet another could-go-either-way affair in the final minute. Can Richmond make the one or two late-game plays necessary to get over the hump this time?

What's next: The winner faces either Youngstown State or Duquesne in the second round.

Inside Richmond

Monday, March 16, 2015

Here's what LadySwish has to say about the NCAA Tournament

JMU celebrates its CAA title.
Congrats to James Madison (29-3) and Liberty, NCAA Tournament-bound. JMU, a 12 seed, meets Ohio State, a No. 5, on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Chapel Hill. Same site for the No. 13 Lady Flames (26-6), who will play host No. 4 North Carolina at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Game talk later. Bracket thoughts here.

*We don't like to get too caught up in seeds; it's about match ups, and Ohio State's up-and-down style might suit the transition-happy Dukes. But, really, a 12? For a 29-3 team? Supposin' the Dukes hadn't beaten Hofstra in the CAA title game on Sunday, what would happen? We know the answer. JMU would be in the WNIT.

*It's all about who you beat not who you lose to. Problem is, Kenny Brooks will tell you, is that when he picks up the phone, nobody wants to schedule JMU. What incentive is there for the so-called Power 5 to play anyone outside of the so-called Power 5? Then, gasp, we might have some, shall we say it? parity in the game.

*Another thought on that. When Old Dominion was a mainstay in this thing, you remember the Lady Monarchs non-conference schedule, don't you? ODU's storied history and Wendy Larry's connections were invaluable when it came to scheduling the top teams. Makes you wonder why Wendy was dismissed in such a shoddy manner.

*Princeton got screwed. My son asked me why they weren't a 1 seed at 30-0 like Wichita State was in
the men's field last year. Now we're not suggesting Princeton be a 1, but an 8 seed for a team that has gone unbeaten with an attractive RPI is more than a slight. Did the Tigers truly not earn the right to host home games on their own court? Wichita State was rewarded on the men's side last year because the Shockers had gotten to the Final Four the year before; they proved they belonged with the big dogs. How the hell can a quality women's team outside of the Power 5 prove it belongs?

*Speaking of the right to host, Cal and Stanford earned that? Eighteen losses among the two? Kansas (15-17) dumped Cal 62-39, and the Bears were also beaten by 15-15 USC. Yada, yada, yada, Stanford beat UConn. We know. They lost to Chattanooga. They lost to 13-17 Oregon. They're hosting.

*Princeton vs. Green Bay is mid-major vs. mid-major crime. We'll hear the tired refrain of mid-majors failing to advance to the Sweet 16 by Rebecca Lobo and crew. The committee is knocking them out by pitting them against one another. Just ask Gonzaga, which lost to JMU last year in the first round.

*Would love to see Liberty vs. JMU.

*Must ESPN drone on with features and UConn gushing prior to unveiling the full bracket? We got three weeks to talk about Geno. Tell us who is playing who by 7:30.

*The fact that the women's game has gone back to the top 16 hosting is a huge blow to the so-called mid-major programs. Remember when Delaware hosted a few years ago, taking down West Virginia and North Carolina? The Bob was sold out. That great Delaware team would not have been given that same opportunity if we put that same team and same record in 2015 with top 16 hosting. Isn't the plan to grow the game? How? The game is grown in Storrs and Knoxville.

*We've used the word mid-major a bunch of times already for purposes of clarity. But we want to make this crystal clear. Mid-major is a term that simply should be abolished. JMU would kill so-called "majors" such as Virginia Tech, Alabama and Missouri, to name just a very few. UConn isn't in a Power 5 conference; are they a mid-major? All these teams are playing Division I basketball. Some, however, are treated like they belong in a second tier, an inferior sport.

*The truth is the women's tournament belongs on a neutral court. All of it. Every game. When you sacrifice results for attendance, it's an insult to the coaches and athletes who earn the right to compete fairly for a national championship.

*Go Dukes! Go Lady Flames! We're rooting hard for you guys.