Friday, April 15, 2011

Reflection: James Madison

Tarik Hislop
2010-11 season: 26-8; CAA champions; Lost in first round of NCAA Tournament to Oklahoma

Who's leaving: Dawn Evans 23.1 ppg; Lauren Jimenez 14.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 53 FG percentage; Jalissa Taylor 6.5 rpg; Courtney Hamner 8.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg

Who's coming: Achiri Ade 6-1 F Seton Keough (Md.): First team Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland; MVP (consolation) of the Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Basketball tournament; Averaged 14 ppg, 11 rpg as a senior; two-time Baltimore Sun all-Metro first team; Finished her career with 1,371 points and 1,096 rebounds; McDonald's All-American nominee;  Toia Giggetts 6-0 F Lake Taylor (Norfolk): Cog for national power Lake Taylor, the 2010 Group AAA state champion; Lake Taylor lost 66-63 to national power Princess Anne in the 2011 Eastern Region semifinals. The Titans were 26-0 entering the game; Jazmon Gwathmey 6-2 G Liberty (Va): 2010-11 Virginia High School League Group  A Division 4 Player of the Year after leading Liberty to the state title; Averaged 20.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.3 apg, 3.5 spg and 1.7 bpg in the state tournament and scored 26 points and had eight rebounds in the state final; Liberty finished the season 22-5; Crystal Ross 6-3 F/C  Smyrna (Del.): Second team all-state; Smyrna (21-2) lost in the state semifinals to eventual state champion Sanford; Briana Jones 6-2 F Whitefield Academy (Ga.): Whitefield Academy lost in the Region 9-A semifinals; 1,000-point scorer and McDonald's All-American nominee; state champion discus, 2010; Won "Poetry Out Loud" competition at Whitefield after reciting a pair of Langston Hughes poems

High point: Defeated Virginia 82-80 (Dec. 20) behind 42 points from Evans; Won second straight CAA championship and first on neutral court, defeating Delaware 67-61.

Low point: Lost to Monmouth 69-66 (Dec. 18)

Stock: Consistently rising

There was a time when it was difficult to imagine Old Dominion without Ticha Penicheiro, Virginia minus Monica Wright, Drexel with no Gabriela Marginean.

Sometimes players are so etched in a program, they become part of its fabric. So be it with Dawn Evans, the CAA's all-time leader in points and 3-pointers. She wasn't the most efficient player in the league last season, only its most important. Quite simply the 2011 CAA Player of the Year was a game changer, capable of elevating her level to match the occasion. She is part of a veteran JMU group that is Kenny Brooks' most successful in his nine years as head coach.

So the Dukes will begin again with five newcomers -- a class regarded as No. 42 by ESPN, the only class in the conference to receive a Top 60 ranking. What we love about this class is its height and athleticism. Achiri Ade, a 6-1 forward from Maryland, and oversized guard Jazon Gwathney appear to be at the head of it, but this much we know. We'll see the best young players early. Brooks has no qualms about starting freshmen, and by the time they graduate, you'll swear they've been there at least five years.Meredith Alexis started 31 games as a freshman. Tamera Young had 28 starts her first year. Evans started all but five games of her college career.

JMU will be among the youngest teams in the league next season, but given the program Brooks has built there, we see the Dukes contending in a conference where Delaware and VCU are obvious frontrunners. They will need more consistency from rising junior Tarik Hislop, a sleek guard whose pull-up jumper can be deadly when she's hot. Hislop averaged 10.8 points this season, but shot 31 percent from the floor after shooting 39 percent her freshman year. She will have to improve on those numbers for a Dukes team that needs her scoring punch. Nikki Newman and Lauren Whitehurst, both steady rebounders, also must improve their offensive output.

To only look at Evans' statistics does her a disservice. She has been the heart and the vocal leader of the Dukes since she started as a freshman. JMU needs to find a leader in this group, a voice to bring calm when freshmen mistakes show themselves on the floor. Who emerges in that role will be tantamount to the team's success.

Given the losses to graduation, it's hard to imagine the Dukes reaching the heights they have achieved the past two years with back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament. But come March, this team will likely be rounding into Kenny Brooks form, and we know what that means. A third straight CAA title is not out of reach.

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