Monday, July 7, 2014

Catching up with the Tribe at the Seven Cities Pro-Am

A Sunday afternoon at Norfolk's Maury High School allowed LadySwish to catch up with the Tribe -- at least part of William and Mary, as we watched senior Jazmon Boone and sophomores Brooke Stewart and Alexis Hofstaedter play in the Seven Cities Pro Am Hampton Roads (apologies, Latrice Hunter. We saw you play a nice game, but did not get a chance to chat).

Anyway, always good to see some of our favorite players in action and hear their thoughts. Here's what we learned.

On second-year coach Ed Swanson:

"He's pretty intense," Boone said. "Those are the best words to describe him. He gets the most out of us."

And his mantra?

"Energy and effort."

Most coaches have a few lines they say over and over again, and the Tribe leader is no different. Among his pet Swanson-isms:

"In my 22 years of basketball, never have I had ....(fill in the blank)."

Boone also does a keen impression of him in a crouched position.

While we asked the W&M players what was going to be different this coming season (Tribe finished 8-21 last season), we knew one
thing already. This is the first time Tribe players have been regular participants in the summer league (Marlena Tremba, Kyla Kerstetter and Alex Masaquel are others on rosters). All seem confident the offseason action will help.

"We play pickup as a team all the time, but it's against each other, so there's only so much you can do because you learn how everyone plays," Stewart said. "You cheat the game in a way, so this kind of keeps you honest. For me we had our end-of-year meetings and gave us assignments on what we need to do and mine was to play."

We quizzed them each about the best part of W&M (not necessarily a basketball question).....

"Southern hospitality," offered Hofstaedter, from Richboro, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia (and by the way, she prefers Pat's to Geno's).

"I love my teammates," Stewart said. "They're my best friends. I've been on teams when it's not like that."

"The academics," Boone said. "I appreciate the academics. It keeps you on your toes for staying disciplined and prepares you for life. You don't just go to school and play basketball. You have to manage the rigorous schedule."

By the way, she says Intermediate Economics has been the toughest, and Stewart, who grew up outside of Boston, gives a thumbs up to the off-campus housing. "If I were to live in the house I live in now in Boston, it would be a zillion dollars."

We also learned what a TWAMP is (that'd be a Typical William and Mary Person).

Moving on ..... their summer guilty pleasure is....

"Ice cream," Boone said. "It's so hot. I like FroYo."

"I like wings,"Hofstaedter admitted.

"Lay by the pool," chimed in Stewart.

Last question -- a frivolous one, we admit. Where's LeBron gonna go?

"I don't like LeBron," Stewart said, whose loyalties lie with the Celtics and upside-rich forward/center Kelly Olynyk.


Spurs fan.

Never leaving Miami, Boone says.

"No doubt."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Headed to Seven Cities pro-am? Here's the scoop on who's playin' (lots of ODU, W&M)

W&M's Marlena Tremba

The Seven Cities pro-am is back for its fourth season at Maury High in Norfolk, and how sweet is it to have the Tribe in the mix! Several William and Mary players are on rosters this season, a first, says league organizer James Flood.

"I approach all the local schools every year," he said. William and Mary previously had not showed an interest, but under new coach Ed Swanson, entering his second season, there's plenty of green and gold in Norfolk on the weekends.

We did our best to track down some info on players who have logged minutes so far. The season will continue this weekend at Maury (games continue on July 5 at 1:30 p.m. with the Virginia Lady Supreme vs. Pepsi followed by the Alexander Senators vs. the Virginia Lady Stallions at 2:30. On July 6, it's Optima FamilyHealthcare vs. Talk at 1:30 p.m.) Here's the full schedule.

Here's info on most of the players who have appeared in games so far.


From Old Dominion
Ije Ajemba: 6-3 sophomore center who played just 56 minutes last season
Keyana Brown: 5-11 freshman guard who scored more than 2,000 points at Williamsburg Christian Academy before transferring to Lafayette High her senior year.
Auteaonna Gilmore: 5-8 freshman point guard  who will be reunited with Jennie Simms at ODU, as the two played together for Riverdale Baptist High from 2010-12. Gilmore played her senior year at Capital Christian Academy.
Maia Lee: 6-3 freshman forward who was a highlight reel at McLean High
Stephanie Gardner: Graduated Lady Monarch who averaged 6.2 ppg as a senior
Ashley Jackson: 5-9 freshman guard from Ridgeway High in Memphis

From William and Mary
Kyla Kerstetter: 5-11 senior started 27 games as a junior and averaged 10.7 ppg
Marlena Tremba: 5-9 sophomore who was the CAA Rookie of the Year last season
Ashley DeLeonibus: 6-3 freshman forward from Bullis High who chose W&M over UMass
Abby Rendle: 6-4 freshman center from South Lakes High

Breana Boone: former Deep Creek High guard who played in 22 games for Tidewater Community College last season
LaTaya Bracey: played in 22 games last season for Tidewater Community College, averaging 8.4 ppg last season
Terice Burrell: point guard from Dyersburg State Community College
Annmarie Prine: Former Green Run High player
Ashley Cunninham: Former Williamsburg Christian High player
Brittney Townes: Former Kecoughtan High player

Jazmen Boone: W&M senior who made CAA All-Defensive team
Monique McClean: Former Bruton High player from St. John's
Jordan Mitchell: 5-8 sophomore forward and Norfolk native who averaged 3.4 ppg and 3.4 rpg for Grambling
Chelisa Painter: 6-1 senior forward who averaged 8.9 ppg and 5.9 rpg for ODU last year
Aerial Wilson: Former Virginia Tech guard who appeared in 115 games
Destinee Young

Kymesha Austin: Former center from Phoebus High
Keiara Avant: Hampton's Athlete of the Year and MEAC Player of the Year in 2013 who also played
in the Ukraine
Jessica Canady: Former ODU forward also played in Puerto Rico and the Ukraine
Trinise Fox: Former Nansemond River High player who played at South Carolina State
Olivia Hampton: Former Hampton guard
Kevia Small: Former Longwood player
Crystal Woodley: Former Oscar Smith High star who played in Germany


LaQuanda Younger: 5-10 junior guard who averaged 3.5 ppg last season for ODU
Amber Easter: former George Mason 1,000-point scorer from Bethel High
Bernadette Fortune: Graduated Hampton guard
Ty Cook: former Heritage High player who played at Virginia State
Kasey Curtis: 6-2 sophomore guard who played 125 minutes last season for the Tribe
LaToya Taylor: played at Virginia Union
Kenia Cole
Kenya Wilkerson: point guard at Apprentice School
Juel Woodard: former Norfolk State forward
Alex Masaquel: 5-9 sophomore guard at W&M from Honolulu who appeared in 12 games last year

Ebony Brown: 5-9 sophomore forward from Norfolk State who averaged 8 points last season
Kenia Cole: 5-4 senior guard who averaged 9.4 ppg for Hampton
Odegua Oigbokie: 6-1 sophomore forward who made 16 starts and averaged 5.3 ppg for ODU last season
Destinee Young 6-1 sophomore forward who averaged 2.6 ppg for ODU last season
Sarah Tabb: Graduated Radford forward from Chesapeake's StoneBridge High
Brooke Stewart: 6-foot senior guard who started seven games last season for W&M
Ronesia Spicer: Sophomore forward on Norfolk State

Friday, June 20, 2014

Welcome home, Emily!

We're remiss in not reporting this news earlier.

Emily is home.

Yes, that's Emily Friar, CEO of Team Emily, who we told you about in December. One bone marrow transplant later and the future looks bright -- and healthy -- for the little girl with the contagious smile who is a big fan of the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs.

If you recall, Emily, now 10, was battling acute myeloid leukemia or AML. That's when too many white blood cells turn cancerous and multiply when they shouldn't, interfering with the body's ability to function. It's the rarest form of leukemia among children.

Because of the disease, much of Emily's 2013 and the first five months of 2014 were spent in hospitals -- Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk and Duke University Medical Center, site of the transplant back in early March.

Team Emily, approaching 6,000 likes on Facebook, is her support system -- along with parents Terry and Kelly, sister Caitlyn and extended family. We're aboard Team Emily along with Karen Barefoot and the Lady Monarchs, Dick Vitale, a Spokane, Wash., elementary school, Chesapeake Fire Station 11 ...

The Facebook page is also the spot where Terry post regular updates on Emily's progress. We won't lie. It was a long and daunting road -- one full of transfusions, fevers and waiting, lots of waiting, for platelets and hemoglobin to improve. It's impossible to put into words what this young family has battled since learning of the diagnosis last year.

You wouldn't know any of that by their attitude. The Friars didn't let Emily go through a moment of this alone -- both parents shaved their heads -- and we're overjoyed to report the family is back home in Chesapeake for good. Yes, there will still be lab tests on an outpatient basis and a return visit to Duke for a six-month transplant checkup, but Emily is no longer tied to a clunky IV.

"We are OVERJOYED to be together again, under our own roof," Terry writes. "SO happy to be home."

The best news? After 100 days, Emily's marrow/blood is 100 percent donor. That means no traces of the leukemia.

Team Emily. We told you UConn would be no match. Not the San Antonio Spurs, either. Team Emily is a winner, and we couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

VCU guard not transferring after all

Good news for VCU and guard Keira Robinson.

The 5-8 rising sophomore guard will remain a Ram. On the heels of second-year coach Marlene Stollings leaving VCU for Minnesota in April, Robinson had planned to transfer to Charlotte. She has since had a change of heart and is back on the VCU campus in Richmond, excited for the 2013-14 season under new coach Beth O'Boyle.

Robinson is from Columbia, S.C., which is about 90 minutes south of Charlotte, and being closer to home and the uncertainty about playing for a new coach led to her initial decision to transfer. "I was feeling a little afraid," she admitted.

But then she had time to reflect on the choice.

 "After I transferred, I had nothing but time at home to sit and pray and dwell on the decision I made," she said. "I couldn't first imagine sitting out a year or could I picture myself playing without a great group of girls.  They are like the sisters I never had, and I am grateful for them. I felt like I made a commitment to this team as well as VCU, and I should carry through with my commitment."

We're happy for Robinson and for VCU, whose offense relies heavily on her versatility. She started 31 of 32 games last season, averaging 11.4 ppg, 6.2 apg and 3.6 rpg. Robinson's scoring average is second only to returning guard Isis Thorpe (12.2 ppg).

Eleven freshmen and sophomores were part of a Rams team that was the surprise of the Atlantic 10 last season, finishing 22-10 and advancing to the WNIT. O'Boyle, who just completed her staff with the hiring of assistant coach Nerlande Nicolas and director of operations Stephanie Witko, comes to VCU from Stony Brook, having led the Seawolves to a 24-9 season and their first postseason appearance in 2006.

"This upcoming season I see great things that Coach OB and the amazing coaching staff have planned for us," Robinson said. "Coach OB is wonderful and has a lot in store for us, and we are up for the challenge."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ODU's nonconference sked is Barefoot's best

Getting better.

The Old Dominion Lady Monarchs released their nonconference schedule on Wednesday, and the slate of foes is much improved.

Remember the three bottom-rung MEAC teams from last year (neither Hampton nor North Carolina A&T among them), UMass Lowell and a rebuilding Radford team visiting Norfolk? Those kind of check-off wins weren't much for the folks who are regulars at the Constant Center to be excited by.

The 2014-15 schedule is more attractive. There's Duke and Louisville and California -- three Top 20 teams from a year ago. Nice to see some Virginia schools on the slate, too -- a Nov. 25 date at Virginia Tech and Dec. 5 vs. VCU. And a William and Mary game that returns some tradition to the program.

One lament -- the Blue Devils -- who, no doubt, want to given Virginia Beach's Elizabeth William a chance to play close to home her senior year -- are the lone sexy opponent at home. Cal and Louisville are road games.

Here's how it looks.

The season opener at the Constant Center comes against a Presbyterian team that finished 12-19 last season, winning eight of its final 11 and ranking second to UConn in the NCAA in scoring defense. Next comes the Tribe under second-year coach Ed Swanson -- a series ODU has dominated but still nice to see -- and then Duke. A No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year, Duke was upset by DePaul in the second round, but injuries were the story of the postseason for the Blue Devils.

The rest of the home schedule: Rider, 15-17 last season, a Howard team that finished 11-20 and VCU, the surprise team in the Atlantic 10 that advanced to the WNIT, but has since lost Coach Marlene Stollings to Minnesota.

While Dec. 21 opponent University of Illinois at Chicago finished 26-9, winning the Women's Basketball Invitational, the tournament that is one notch below the WNIT, that game is in Las Vegas. That's a shame for ODU fans, who would certainly love to reminisce with Coach Regina Miller, a Lady Monarch alum and former assistant coach.

But what we see is an upgrade overall, a schedule that reflects the direction Coach Karen Barefoot wants to move in. Granted, the year will be tougher than anticipated due to the transfer of projected Conference Player of the Year Shae Kelley to Minnesota. While we like what we hear about West Virginia transfer Jennie Simms, eligible this season, we really liked the idea of Kelley and Simms playing together along with the return of Ashley Betz-White, injured all of last year.

So while it's only June, ODU gives us something to anticipate. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Remember ODU's Tish? She's Dr. Lyons now

We remember Tish Lyons as the guard with the sweet baseline jumper for Old Dominion. Now the kids we knew is Tish is the doctor we know as Dr. Lyons. Major congrats on her recent graduation from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and many thanks for taking time to chat with us.

What kind of doctor are you, and do you know where you will work yet?

Thank you!  I am an obstetrician and gynecologist. In March, I matched to the University of Texas-Houston, Memorial Hermann Hospital which is in the Texas Medical Center.  My official start date is June 24th and I'm so excited!

What was medical school like? What was the hardest time(s)?

Medical school was very challenging and very rewarding. The first two years in the classroom involved me cramming as much information about the human body and its associated diseases into my brain. The third year of school was very hands-on, as I rotated through family medicine, ob/gyn, psychiatry,  internal medicine, surgery and pediatrics.  Going into that year, I was convinced I was going to do orthopaedic surgery; however, I fell in love on my ob/gyn rotation and never looked back.  Fourth year was filled with applications, interviews around the country, match day and graduation. 
The hardest times of medical school was studying for the different parts of my licensing exam. During medical school I had three different exams to take and I have one more to take in residency.  These exams are very comprehensive and required a focused and intense study period as well as a hefty financial commitment. 

Guessing no time for basketball. Do you ever play pickup? Miss the game?

Although medical school sucks up a lot of time, I definitely made it a priority to make time for things I enjoy. I've actually participated in a spring city league three out of the four years I was in medical school with another Virginia athlete, Cherish Springfield. Additionally, Meharry has an intramural basketball league that I participated in -- on an all-female squad.  I miss the game at the collegiate level times, but anytime I want to play I know where to find a good game.

How long will it take for you to get used to hearing folks call you Dr. Lyons?!

I'm not sure how long it will take, but it shouldn't take too long after June 24th!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Remembering Ginny

Services for Ginny Doyle will be held --
Tuesday, May 27
Life Celebration, 7 p.m.
John H. Givnish Funeral Home
10975 Academy Road
Philadelphia, PA 19154
(215) 281-0100
Wednesday, May 28
Silent Prayer, 10-11 a.m.
Mass, 11 a.m. to noon
St. Bede the Venerable Roman Catholic Church
1071 Holland Road
Southampton, PA 18966
(215) 357-5720
Cards for Ginny Doyle may be sent:
c/o Raymond Doyle
40 Ronald Drive
Holland, PA 18966

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Updated: Bilney sisters, Nichols, Wann share their memories of Ginny and Natalie

Our deepest sympathies go to the families of Ginny Doyle, Natalie Lewis and Daniel Kirk, whose lives were lost in a tragic hot air balloon crash on Saturday. Doyle, associate head coach under Michael Shafer, was the longest tenured assistant in the state. A Spider player for two years and an assistant for 15, she once held the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66.

Buffalo native Lewis, a former swimmer for the Spiders and two-time team captain, was in her second season as the team's director of operation. She and longtime sweetheart Michael Dougher became engaged in April.

Kirk was the balloon pilot.

LadySwish extends its sympathies to the entire Richmond team and coaches.

We offer recollections of Ginny and Natalie, who were remembered Wednesday morning by the Richmond community at an on-campus service. A more formal memorial service is planned for the fall.

We thank Samantha Bilney, Rachael Bilney, Amber Nichols and Becca Wann, both of whom graduated on Sunday, for sharing their memories with us.

From Samantha, who shared her thoughts in writing:

"I'm not sure I could ever have thanked Coach Doyle enough for how she impacted my life. She
introduced me and my family to the University of Richmond, something I would never have been able to find on my own. The experiences I had at UR will shape me forever, and I never would have known the school existed if it weren't for Coach Doyle. And I think that is one of the things that made her so special -- she gave kids all across the country a chance to change their lives! And she did it with the greatest  passion, love and the truest understanding of the game of basketball I have ever known. I will always remember the long talks, the banter, the jokes, and her smile. Her creaky knees, her sarcasm, and her heart. Forever happy she was teaching the game of basketball and forever happy I will be remembering all she taught me, on and off the court.

"Any time I have described Natalie I say, 'You know! The happy one with the beautiful smile!' And that is how I will always remember her. I knew of her as a swimmer and fellow student-athete at UR, but I got to know her when she joined our staff, and I am so gracious of our time together. I have truly never met someone who radiated such happiness. She brightened the world of those around her with her spirit and positivity. Her excitement for life was inspiring, as she embraced each day with energy and enthusiasm, and I think that is what I will always remember the most about her. We lost a stunning person but gained a radiant angel. 

"I will always love them both, and I will never forget the beautiful joy they brought to my life. I am honored and grateful to have known them and completely heartbroken to have lost them. My prayers are with the Lewis and Doyle families as well as all the Spiders that knew them. May we always cherish the true joy they leave in our memories."

From Rachael, who shared her thoughts in writing: 

"I am forever indebted to Coach Doyle, as she was my lead contact and recruiter at Richmond. The conversations we shared will always remain special as she was a huge part of my decision to attend UR. She was also so much of why my time at school was so special. Coach Doyle was always goofy with the players. We pulled pranks, picked on each other and laughed relentlessly. We always joked with each other that you had to plan out at least 90 minutes if you were going to the coaches offices because, without fail, you would get caught up talking to Coach Doyle. She was so loved and respected by everyone at the school and beyond. I only hope to have the same reputation she acquired. Her legacy will live on . . . once a Spider, always a Spider.

"I had the honor of being in school with Natalie at the same time. Although I only got close to her when she was our director of operations, her bubbly personality and unwavering smile were well known by all. I can truly say I have never been around a person who simply glowed so naturally as Natalie. She radiated all day, every day. Her passion for life, people, her swim team and then the basketball program was palpable. Of course, her efforts with her job made her indispensible, but it was her love and compassion that we all appreciated so much more. The joy that Natalie had will long be missed, but I am so thankful to have had the chance to know her and more importantly learn from her. 

"Thank you, Natalie and coach Doyle, for everything. I love you both with all that I have. My heart is with your families and your memories will be with me forever."

From Amber: Ginny and Natalie were the last two people Amber saw when she left campus a week ago for an internship interview at a sports management company in California.

"Before I left, I was in Coach Doyle's office talking about my upcoming trip to Cali. Natalie came in and sat down with us and was telling us about the engagement party her mother and father had thrown for her. She was so excited. Her mom had taken 1,000 pictures of her and Michael. She was giving us the details of her engagement party."

Ginny told Amber to promise to text or call with details, and Natalie assured Amber she'd get the internship.

Amber was back from the trip when she saw the group text from Shafer telling the seniors about the accident. "My first thought was it wasn't fatal; maybe it got stuck in a tree. Then Olivia (Healy) texted me at 2:45 a.m. on Friday night and said they were missing. I broke down. My mom stayed up with me. On Saturday, coach Shafer explained what happened. Sunday was graduation, and it was really, really hard. We were with coach Shafer in person and we were about to take pictures, and he said to us that coach Doyle told him on Friday she was proud of us and told him she couldn't wait to see us graduate. She told him that she wanted us to enjoy this day and she wanted us to be happy. He told us, 'I know Natalie and Doyle want  you all to be happy, and this is a moment to celebrate.' It was inspiring. It was a really emotional moment for us."

"Coach Doyle was the one who reached out to my high school coach to recruit me. She was the one I always worked out with and she the one I reported my grades to every week. She was the coach I probably had the best relationship with, because I saw her the most. My freshman year, I remember I was struggling a little bit adjusting to the flow of the college game. She pulled me aside after practice and said, 'You have a lot of potential and I know you're having a tough time adjusting right now, but I wanted to let you know that I believe in you and if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to recruit you.' She was that kind of person. When she saw you struggling, she tried to build your confidence up.

"This previous summer was my biggest memory of Coach Doyle. I worked every day with her by myself. Every day we would meet at 12:30 and do ballhandling workouts. We would laugh and she'd tell me I'd be getting drills quick. We'd laugh through the drills. I remember going through my old text messages and at the end of the workout she'd text me, 'You really did a good job today. You had a purpose. You're going to have a great season.' That fact that she cared so much about how I was improving spoke to her personality.

"We'd always talk about everything. Even when I'd go into her office for my grades for what should be a two-minute meeting, it would be 30 to 45 minutes. We would talk about everything. In California (during the season), we missed our flight to get back to Richmond. She ended up taking care of me and four of my teammates in the airport. She stayed up while we all slept. 

"She always cared. She always wanted details about what you were doing. That showed how much she cared. When I got the internship with the Redskins, most people brushed it off. She wanted to know details like, 'What are you doing?' and 'Do you like it?' and 'Who have you met?'

"Natalie came to us last year, and off the bat, she was smiling all the time. You could have the worst day of practice, you could have the worst mood, and Natalie would come in and smile and brighten everything up."

From Becca:

"Nat taught me to swim last summer. After basketball season ended, three days a week we would get in the pool, and she taught me all the strokes. It actually ended up helping me, because when I was frustrated, I would get in the pool as an outlet. Every Tuesday morning we would get up and we would swim.

"One day at practice I was struggling and I was sitting. I was upset I wasn't on the court, and I started crying. I didn't think anybody saw me. I left and gathered myself and came back in. We went down to lift and came back up an hour and a half later. Nat knows I love dried fruit. She left dried fruit and nuts with a note that said, 'Hope this dried fruit helps those wet eyes I saw this morning. xxx Nat.' That's her. She would do anything for anybody. She's the most thoughtful person.

Coach Doyle . . . I just remember sitting in her office for extended periods of time talking about nothing! This year with not playing I feel like I got to know all of the coaches, but especially Coach Doyle, on a different level. Coach Doyle is one of the funniest people you will meet. It's this dry humor. Our relationship was mostly banter. I'm not sure there were any actual compliments dished out. It was usually her picking on me and me picking right back. I started refing IM (intramural) basketball as an on-campus drive. I liked it, and the coaches would let me ref scrimmages in practice.  Coach Doyle would be one of the other refs. Her and Coach Shafer would give me the hardest time for refing. I"ll always remember that. I went to this A-10 refing clinic in Richmond. Immediately afterward I went to Coach Doyle's office and she asked me how it was. For an hour I told her about all the dumb stuff I did. She texted me after that and said, 'I'm sitting here laughing at the stories you told me about your refing.' She would pounce on any opportunity to give me a hard time, which I loved. We definitely had a unique player-coach relationship in that manner, but I loved it."

On graduation day: "For me it was a balancing act. I went to church that morning and I walked in the door and sobbed for probably an hour and a half. I had gotten Nat a ticket to come. But I realized both of them would kill me if they knew I was crying on my graduation day. They would be like, 'You worked four years for this. You're just going to cry it away?' I put my big girl panties on for them. We had a moment of silence for them, and I sat there in my cap and gown with tears streaming down my face. It came in waves. I saw the swimmers who were graduates and they had their caps decorated like we did. We just cried. Sunday for me -- there were times I celebrated my graduation, but it was very up and down. It was also Mother's Day. Afterward, I went to dinner with my mother and in the restaurant there was a five-minute news story on them, and I started crying. It doesn't go away, but at the same day I want to honor them with the way they'd want me to be, and sad is not anywhere close to that."

For more memories, read Mel Greenberg's blog here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Talking to ODU's Shae Kelley about why she left for Minnesota

Leaving Lady Monarch basketball behind was a hard decision for Shae Kelley.

Last year's leading scorer and rebounder from Old Dominion will play out her eligibility at the University of Minnesota, which hired former VCU coach Marlene Stollings on April 8. Former ODU assistant Niki Dawkins is an assistant to Stollings at Minnesota.

Most players who opt to transfer have to sit out a season due to NCAA rules. But although Kelley didn't walk in Saturday's graduation at the Constant Center, she did graduate with her bachelor's in sociology, which will allow her to play immediately for the Gophers.

"It was definitely something I realized my junior year, that I could have the possibility to pursue another school," said Kelley from her Denver home. "Leaving really was an ongoing thought process. I really want to go into social work, and ODU didn't really provide that. That was a big reason for my choice. Of course, it was a tough one because ODU was so welcoming, and I definitely had a great time there my two years."

Kelley, who went to three high schools in four years and graduated from Denver East, initially signed with Colorado. The coaching staff was fired four months after, but the school refused to grant her a release. On the first day of the Buffaloes season opener, Kelley signed with Northwest Florida State, where she earned junior college All-America honors.

The 6-1 forward then had a dynamic career starting in 2012 at ODU, and last season was the undisputed best player on the floor for the Lady Monarchs. But Kelley said she wanted a better fit on the court and in the classroom -- she plans to pursue a master's in social work at Minnesota -- for her final year of college ball.

She received her release from ODU one month ago and has explored colleges ever since. Not surprisingly a bunch showed interest in the All-Conference USA first-teamer, who amassed more than 1,000 points in her two seasons in Norfolk. Her list included Michigan State, Oregon, Florida, Ole Miss  (which she visited) and Indiana. The winner became Minnesota when she went for her visit.

"It's a very experienced coaching staff," Kelley said. "Coach Nik has a heck of a resume. Coach Marlene is really down to earth. I really connected with her during my visit. They know how I play; we played them twice when they were at VCU. She's an uptempo coach. They're running and gunning, and that's my style of play. I really connected with the team on my visit."

Kelley did not know Dawkins from her time at ODU -- Dawkins assisted former ODU coach Wendy Larry for seven seasons -- but spoke to graduated Lady Monarch Shakeva Richards about her style.

Under Stollings, who replaced Pam Borton, fired after the Gophers lost in the first round of the WNIT, Minnesota could be a national contender. In addition to Kelley, the Gophers tout two WBCA All-America honorable mentions in 6-5 center Amanda Zauhi B and Rachel Banham, the most touted duo since the Gophers boasted Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen.

"Amanda and Rachel, I really connected with them," Kelley said. "I feel I'm the missing piece and we can really make some noise at Minnesota."

In addition to her major, Minnesota is in a bigger conference (the Big 10), which has its own network -- perks for a player hoping to achieve a professional career.

Kelley said the added exposure at Minnesota played a role in her decision. "Not necessarily the full factor but I do want to go to the WNBA and go overseas. That's a goal of mine. There's a great team bond. None of those girls left. They could have left after they lost their coach. It's team basketball. That's definitely exciting for me -- going to that next level."

The decision to leave was neither easy or quick, Kelley said. "It was a very, very hard decision. It was something I prayed about, thought about, talked to my family. The fans there are very supportive. They love me. I love the fans, the team; we did better than we did the year before. It was definitely a hard decision to make knowing I was the best player on the team. I had that comfort. It took a while to decide what I really wanted to do."

At Minnesota, she wants to improve her mid-range jump shot and further develop her 3-pointer and ball handling skills.

"I left on good terms," Kelley says. "As a transfer coming in, you're always dealing with that -- that chance. I could have stopped playing basketball. They definitely understood. I'm an alum, so I'm always going to be part of the ODU family."

Kelley will leave for Minneapolis in June.

"I've got to get me some coats and North Faces and boots."