Thursday, August 8, 2013

Radford women's basketball: new coach, new staff, new vibe, too

Expect big thing from Foy.
We were almost afraid to make the call.

See, we were looking for positive stuff about the 2013-14 edition of Radford women's basketball, but at least from a distance, good news was hard to find. Six seniors have moved on from the 2012-13 squad, including the Highlanders' top four scorers. No returner averaged as many as eight points per game. Everyone raves about new head coach Mike McGuire, but let's face it. He's leading a Division I program for the first time. We're high on his new staff, too. But by the time it was assembled, the Highlanders had already been lapped by the field in recruiting.

As much as we love the staff's makeup and potential long term, what about 2013-14?

Then on Tuesday, Radford's schedule came out, and it featured this early-season, five-game road gauntlet - at Old Dominion, at Wake Forest, at Clemson, at Campbell (a Big South heavyweight), at Liberty (THE Big South heavyweight). These Highlanders are going to get smacked around pretty good, right?

Well, we called McGuire anyway. And while he freely acknowledged all the challenges, he did offer  several reasons why Radford fans may be pleasantly surprised by how the 2013-14 Highlanders come together.

For starters, these Highlanders seem to really want to come together. The entire group was on campus for the five-week summer second session, and thanks to the new access rules, McGuire and company was able to begin putting the new system in place.

"I think we got off to the right start," McGuire said. "When they left campus I felt pretty good about where they were."

One of the standouts over the summer was guard Aisha Foy, a two-time Big South Freshman of the Week a year ago. Foy was on hand for both summer sessions and according to McGuire has "completely bought in." The former Princess Anne High star averaged just over nine minutes per game on the senior-dominated Highlanders last season. She may be positioning herself to at least triple that this season.

"I think she's going to have a great year," McGuire said.

Also, while post players are difficult to find at any level, McGuire believes he's inherited a promising on in 6-2 sophomore La-She' Walker.

"She can really give us a presence inside," the coach said.

Then there's sophomore Diani Mason, a dynamic performer who knows how to get hers (kind of what you'd expect from someone who's honed her skills against guys in Queens, N.Y.). With a greater focus on areas including conditioning, McGuire thinks Mason can be as good as she wants to be.

"We'll see how big of an impact she wants to make," he said. "She definitely has the ability."

At some point during the season, the Highlanders will also have the services of 6-1 junior forward Jordynn Gaymon, who displayed great promises in limited action (14.3 minutes per game) a year ago. McGuire said Gaymon will miss the start of the campaign while tending to a personal issue but should be back no later than the start of the second semester.

Finally, it should help that this year's Big South is filled with teams in transition, squads either having to replace one or two key performers or in full-scale retooling mode. Radford's not going to be anyone's pick to win the league, or maybe even to finish in the top half. But if the Highlanders just put their heads down and play - sort of the way Longwood did last season - they seem to have enough to cause plenty of problems in this wide-open conference.

As for the schedule, McGuire deserves neither credit nor blame for its contents as it was pretty much in place before he settled in. But while we got the impression it would probably look a bit different if he'd started from scratch with this year's team in mind, he likes the message it sends to potential future Highlanders.

"It shows we're going to play at a high level in good environments against the top programs," he said.

McGuire is particularly excited about Radford's three-game series with Virginia Tech (the Highlanders will host the Hokies this season before playing in Blacksburg in each of the next two years) and hopes it can develop into an annual southwest Virginia showdown. Women's basketball is thin on rivalries; let's hope this becomes one.

But perhaps the best development in McGuire's brief tenure to date has been the positive vibes he and his staff have received from AAU and high school coaches, players and parents on the recruiting trail.

"I was really concerned about that with us starting late and all," he said. "But the reception we've gotten from everyone, including the people in the community, has been really exciting."

Then again, we figured Radford's future would be in capable hands with this group. But there's still the 2013-14 season to navigate. We'll admit we were kind of pessimistic for a while. But after talking to the coach, color us cautiously optimistic.

Good thing we made that call.

1 comment:

  1. I heard about some true horror stories about the previous couple of years at Radford about the general body of work going on especially with the coaching staff. Consistent staff turnovers, troubled students and players getting kicked off, etc. You mention how this team "really wants to come together," can you add any more to that and tell readers what was wrong with the previous coaching staff and how the program was going in the wrong direction?