Friday, September 27, 2013

Meet newest Lady Monarch Gianna/GiGi Smith

GiGi decked out in ODU gear.
It's OK to call her Gianna or if you prefer, GiGi.

The important words to to call Gianna/ GiGi Smith are Lady Monarch. The 5-10 guard from Maury High in Norfolk committed to Old Dominion on Wednesday.

"I never knew how I got that nickname," says the bubbly Smith. "When I was younger, they used to call me Missy because my mother dressed me up so grown. My nickname became GiGi. Either one is fine with me. I'm probably the only person who gets called by my nickname and my real name."

She was a model as a little kid and a middle school cheerleader, and she liked track, too (Smith might run the 800 for Maury this spring), but basketball is special to her.

"I started AAU when I was 6," Smith says. "And I always played up. Off the court, I'm girly. On the court, it's a whole different part of me. I'm not going to be girly. I'm out there as if I'm in a boys body."

Lots of schools courted her, and many figured she'd wind up at Virginia Tech. She and Hokie-bound teammate Chanette Hicks were two of 135 players invited to the Under-16 National Team Trials last May. While Smith considered other schools -- Tech among them -- she never wavered from ODU, largely thanks to an instant connection she feels toward coach Karen Barefoot and her staff.

"That connection grew over the years," Smith said. "She kept recruiting me so hard. She kept recruiting  me, kept recruiting me. She was there for every single one of my games. Every single one. She never missed one."

Smith has already spent plenty of time inside the Constant Center as a fan.

"I love watching Galaisha Goodhope play. Her being the guard I love, I would to play with her," Smith  says. "Shae (Kelley) is wonderful as well. I love everything about  her. She's so great at both ends of the game. Shakeva (Richards) is always energized. She'll pick you up in a minute. Everybody on that team picks each other up. I love Chelisa (Painter). I've known her since high school. I love everybody on that team and that staff."

When she's not ballin', Smith enjoys watching the Maury boys play, shopping, singing and eating.

In order:

Basketball: "I like supporting boys basketball. It's good and entertaining to watch. I pick up a lot of stuff from watching them play and try to incorporate that into my game." (She's also a huge fan of the Duke men, Syracuse and Kentucky.)

Shopping: "My weakness would probably be Rainbow." (You might see her in a ballin' outfit highlighted by accessories.)

Singing: "Even though I can't sing, I just sing. A song comes on, and I like singing it. I've been singing Ariana Grande for days now. She's all I've been listening to."

Eating: "I love eating food. I go crazy if I don't eat. I won't talk to anybody; I'll cut my phone off. If I don't eat, it's a bad thing. I turn into the hulk or something; I go crazy." (Her indulgences are Subway: a footlong flatbread oven-roasted chicken with American cheese and McDonald's: two double cheeseburgers, a large fry and a bottle of water.

"I always drink water," she says. "That's all I've been drinking for 2 1/2 years."

Smith plans to major in double major in law and communications (her must-see show is Law and Order: Criminal Intent, by the way).

"I can be a sports agent, a lawyer," she says. "I know for a fact that my degrees will get me far in life even if my basketball doesn't continue after college."

We have a feeling that basketball career is pretty promising, too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

White Paper Summit: Where were the fresh ideas?

Forgive us if we're yawning. But Monday's "white paper" summit featuring a gathering of coaches, officials and administrators with a stake in the women's game, unveiled a bunch of tired ideas that do little to address the problem.

The problem, we're told, is the game is not growing. Among the solutions that have been most reported:

*Return to the format with the top 16 seeds hosting NCAA first- and second-round tournament games;

*Have the Final Four return to a Friday-Sunday format, albeit one week after the men's tournament.

These ideas did little to grow the game before, and while the current format often compromises the bracket as lower seed teams frequently host higher ones, this one favors the bigs. With the top 16 hosting, pen in first and second rounds in Storrs, Knoxville, Palo Alto -- the usual suspects -- and say goodbye to the intriguing possibilities when the event expands to worthy mid-major locales. If the new format were in place years ago, Gonzaga and its electric, sold-out atmosphere would have never become part of the first- and second-round experience. The Zags have never been a Top-4 seed.

Nor was Delaware in 2012-13. But thanks to open bidding, the Blue Hens played host to the opening two rounds, sold out its gym and provided a pulsating backdrop for a magical two-game run by Elena Delle Donne and Co.

We keep hearing about how folks was to promote parity. Why propose something that helps the rich get richer?

Look, it's not that these are bad ideas; they're just old ones. Instead of moving the ball forward, it's putting the ball back where it was. Left unanswered - or even dealt with - is what we thought was the central question - how do we grow this thing? Having the same cast of characters bat around the same ideas sure doesn't seem like the winning ticket.

Thinking outside of the box sounds like a cliche - which it is - but we also think it's a good idea in this case. Where were actual student-athletes at this summit? And has anybody spoken with a fan of the game, or better yet a non-fan? It's all good and well to be a coach, player, administrator talking about the game and "enhancing the student-athlete's experience," it's another to talk to regular folk, and for that matter, the players who make this sport special.

Or, they could have just invited us, as we've been yammering about a potential solution for years. It's really quite simple. If all you're offering at early-round NCAA sites is three basketball games over two days, you can do all the marketing, rules tweaks and officiating adjustments you want. Except in a few locales, the audience will be limited.

But if you make these things an event, with the games the centerpiece of a series of interactive and/or related activities, the possibilities are endless.

Seems to us that too much of the focus is on how things look on television. Now obviously that's important. But what about the in-arena experience? As it stands now, teams whisk in and beeline from the bus to closed press conferences to closed practices and back to the bus. On game day, there's no interaction with the fans, and as one kid I know well was told when he wanted to exit the Constant Center to get Skylar Diggins' autograph last March after a first-round tournament game -- "Go out and you can't get back in."


Why can't there be an interactive fan-fest with the players and coaches the day before the game?
Invite every youth girls team to be part of a skills camp the day before the game. Have the players engage with the fans their game is trying to recruit. How about a 3-point contest? How about some fun?

Some coaches will no doubt cringe about diverting their players' focus the day before the big game. But remember, these are the same coaches who agreed to do on-court, in-timeout interviews with ESPN during these same big games. If coaches can adjust to that, they can adjust to anything.

We wouldn't stop there, either. Fraternities and sororities at the local college(s) could be encouraged to "adopt" a team, with prizes going to the Greek unit that gives off the most support on game day. How about a luncheon of the off-day where fans could meet the coaches and select players? Or a music concert that night, or a fashion show. Something, anything, that would make the site of the tournament the place to be not just at tipoff, but throughout the entire four days.

It's hard to imagine any fans - or more importantly, prospective fans - that wouldn't think these are ideas worth exploring. In fact, the only people that might have a problem with them are the coaches, officials and administrators at the white paper summit.

Maybe that's why they kept Monday's discussion to themselves.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ciao from Italy: W&M's Correal blogs on playing Stanford, visiting Venice, driving a stick and a shoutout to Delle Donne

Up against Chiney

William and Mary graduate Emily Correal is preparing to play her first season of international basketball in Italy with Fila San Martino. LadySwish is thrilled that Emily has agreed to blog about the experience. This is her second post.

Make sure to follow Emily on Facebook and Twitter.

Hello again! 

All is well here in Italy. We have been training now for four weeks and are about three weeks away from the start of season! We have had six “friendly games,” which are kind of like exhibition games. We also have practice twice a day and at least a day off each week. I like having two, two-hour practices a day rather than one really long practice like in college. It gives you time to recover mentally and physically. 

Speaking of recovering physically, the team has access to a spa that has a heated pool with massage jets. It is a great way for the muscles to recover, and I have taken full advantage of this amenity. Like I mentioned in my previous blog, one of our friendly games was against Stanford. It was awesome playing them. It was one of our first games together, so we made a lot of mistakes, but overall we played well. It was a close game, but Stanford ended up winning by 9 points. After the game, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer came up to me and talked to me at length. I felt honored to speak with such a successful coach in women’s basketball. 

I have been learning a lot in practice and in the friendly games. Some things in European ball take some adjustment. One thing that is different from U.S. ball is the traveling call. They call traveling very close, so on my spin moves and when I start to drive, I have to be cautious and make it obvious that I dribble first before I make my move.  Another difference is the defense I am playing; it is a very aggressive man-to-man, and in college my team played all zone. 

I am learning other things besides basketball techniques -- like how to tape my own ankles, how to cook Italian food and how to drive stick shift! It took me a couple weeks to get good at ankle taping and cooking, and I still haven’t perfected driving stick shift, but I am driving well enough to get around. 

This past weekend we had two off days, so I got brave and took a train to Venice. I spent the day exploring, and it was a wonderful experience. Venice is so beautiful; it’s a place I wish everyone could go to at least once, because it is so unique. I walked around for hours   enjoying the scenery and going into a few museums and shops. I even met a nice couple that works for an English-speaking radio station in Belgium, and we had a nice conversation during the boat ride back to the station. It is nice to be able to play basketball during the week and do some site seeing and adventuring on the days off.

I am really looking forward to my first game. For opening weekend, all the teams in the league play on the island of Sardinia. I hear it is very beautiful, and it will be cool getting to watch all the other teams play. I’m also excited for the first game because my parents will be there! My birthday is the next day so I asked them if they would come visit for two weeks as one of my birthday gifts. I also have two best friends who are planning visits! That’s all I got from Italy. 

In other news, I am happy that my favorite player Candace Parker got MVP and I am proud of my former CAA opponent Elena Delle Donne for getting Rookie of the Year. God bless and Ciao!

~ Emily  

Camp and her scoring prowess bound for Hokies

Just what is Virginia Tech getting in 5-11 guard Rachel Camp?

She averaged 31 ppg, 8 rpg and 3 spg her junior year at East Rutherford (NC) High and became a 1,000-point scorer her sophomore season. She enters her senior having amassed more than 2,000.

"She's one of those under-the-radar players because she didn't attend a lot of camps," said Larry Ross, her high school coach. "She's played everything from the 1 to the 5 for us. She saw box-and-ones as a freshman, and at first they bothered her. She's used to that now."

Rachel, Bruce Smith, her dad and bro Sadarrien
Camp is ecstatic about her decision to commit to Virginia Tech, where she bonded with the coaches and her future teammates during her visit. She also visited Furman and planned visits to East Carolina and Clemson but made her verbal to Tech prior to visiting either.

"I really feel that I can fit in and play with them," said Camp, who played AAU ball with the Lady
Royals in Asheville. (Bonus: Camp also got to meet Football Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith, a favorite player of her dad's.)

As for her own game: "I do a little bit of everything -- even playing defense," Camp said. "When I was young, I always said I wanted to play in the ACC."

Blacksburg is about three hours from her home, Forest City, N.C., and she expects her family to be regulars at Cassell. She talks about her parents with great affection. Camp and her older sister, Tyesha, lived with their grandmother until Rachel was a fourth-grader.

 "These two amazing people (Michelle and Ramon Camp) adopted my sister and me," she says. "At first the transition wasn't easy. I didn't understand why I had to go away. I lived in a group home for a while in Shelby, N.C."

Basketball helped the transition. She signed up for basketball right away, starting AAU in sixth grade. She credits Ross as mentoring her through the hard times.

"He knows everything about me," she said.

Ross has high expectations for her at Tech, figuring she'll be a wing player, but is excited about what she'll bring to East Rutherford, a former sectional finalist with Camp in the lineup, for her senior season.

Notes Ross, "We have a great chance to win state this year."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

JMU in three-game tourney in Florida over Thanksgiving

If you're like us, you're eagerly awaiting the release of James Madison's schedule.

But we get an early glimpse with this news: the Dukes will be one of eight teams participating in the Gulf Case Showcase over Thanksgiving. All games will be played at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla, the southwest part of the state. The games are Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and JMU, a WNIT quarterfinalist last season with a 25-11 record, will play three of them.

The field is an  impressive one with UCLA, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, NC State, Wright State, Grand Canyon (love the Antelopes nickname), Southland and JMU. The Dukes open the tournament against UCLA with the winner of that game meeting either Mississippi State or Grand Canyon.  In case you're wondering, why no Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles were already committed to the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Mexico during those dates. (A men's tournament at the same site in Estero includes Louisiana Tech and UNC Greensboro.)

Some notes on the others: the Antelopes are in their first season in Division I, while the marquee name in the field is UCLA, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind a 26-8 mark. The Bruins return two starters, including leading scorer Atonye Nyingifa.

We expect a great year from JMU, which returns four starters led by senior Kirby Burkholder (15 ppg, 9.1 rpg). Toia, Precious, Jazmon and a healthy Nikki Newman should make the Dukes the team to beat in the CAA and possibly the tournament champion in this field.

So while we're anticipating the release of the schedule, this news, along with hosting Virginia on Nov. 8 -- gives JMU fans something to feast on until the full deal is revealed.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Longwood nabs key recruit in Midlothian's Childress

Autumn Childress. Remember that name. We told you earlier about the 5-10 guard from Midlothian High in Richmond (her Boo Williams coach Mike Davis touts her as ranked among the top five in her age group in the nation in middle school). But two knee injuries later left her future uncertain.

Fast forward to her senior year, and she's bound for Longwood, promising great things for a building Lancers program.

"Ever since I can remember, I've been playing the game of basketball,"Childress says. "There are pictures of me 2 and 3 years old holding a basketball. My dad was a big basketball guy, so he was a big factor getting me interested in the game. I've been playing so long, I can't remember how I got started."

But she does remember the injuries that sidelined her after a storied middle school career (she scored 32 in a game and holds the middle school record for career points).

Legend has it that because of the rule no freshman on varsity, Childress played JV for her first game in high school and scored 45.

"I don't think it was 45," she says with a laugh "I think it was 35. I didn't make varsity. They said I needed time to improve. That night, varsity lost by 30 and I got the call, 'Come to varsity tomorrow.' "

During her first AAU practice of freshman year, she went down with a knee injury.

"I tried to play it off like it was nothing," she says. "Eventually I went to the doctor and they told me I tore my meniscus in two places in my left knee."

Childress was devastated, but surgery and five months of rehab were the only option.

"Not playing again was never an option," she says.

Childress was thrilled to return to the court again for her sophomore season of high school. It ended almost before it began.

"It was the first game against Cosby, and within the first two minutes of the game, I was down again," she says. "This time it was more serious, and it was in my right knee -- a torn ACL, a torn MCL and two torn meniscus."

Childress reviewed the tape over and over. There was no contact.

 "Nobody could believe it. My mom recorded the whole thing, and she stood there for a minute because she knew I was going to get up, that there was no way in the world I had hurt myself again. I was in shock for a while and then when it hit me. It was really, really hard, especially seeing all of my friends doing what I couldn't do.

One surgery, requiring doctors to take skin from her patella to fix her ACL, nine months of rehab and two big scars followed.

Childress knew she'd return.

"It was just a matter of when and how," she says. "As far as recruiting wise, I knew I'd have to work harder than the next person to get back to where I used to be. My coach, parents and family were telling me it wasn't a setback, just a set-up for something greater."

North Carolina and Maryland sent mail early, but missing two critical summers for recruiting limited the interest. Smaller schools took notice, including North Carolina A&T, Mount. St. Mary's, Elon and Longwood. Admittedly, she dreamed of the ACC once, but after the injuries, she strived to get her game back -- which now includes a nice outside shot from the top of the key -- and achieve a scholarship.

Longwood liked her game, she says, and was impressed by her academics. The visit to Farmville went well. In June she returned to the campus for Girls State, a summer leadership and citizen program sponsored by the American Legion, -- which just happened to be on the Longwood campus -- and her decision was made.

"While I was at Girls State, I went to the coach's office, and he offered me a full ride," she says. "I accepted it at the end of July when I was at a tournament in D.C."

Childress promises her knees are healed. She doesn't play with fear nor does she play with a brace on either leg.

"People think I'm crazy," she says. "But I just don't."

She is one of two seniors on her high school team.

"I want to lead my team in every way possible," she says. "The coaches said the hardest thing to adjust to is the speed of the game. I really want to work on keeping up with the speed of the game. They also want me to play point guard (at Longwood) because I can handle the ball, and I'm not used to playing point guard, so I'm going to work on that so I'll be ready."

Childress plans to major in communications. She mention NCAA compliance officer as a possible career.

Her favorite players are Seimone Augustus and Monica Wright (not surprisingly the Lynx is her team). Childress also enjoys writing on her own, and she plays piano (her speciality is "Let It Be" by the Beatles). You'll rarely find her tweeting, but Instagram is her thing.

"I like laughing and smiling and making other people laugh and smile,"

We imagine in little more than a year, she'll make Lancer fans plenty happy.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Boo Williams, Staley, too, get their spots in Hall of Fame on Saturday

You probably know that Virginia's Dawn Staley is being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, and it's no wonder why. The National Player of the Year in 1991 and 1992, Staley raised the bar on Virginia women's basketball, going on to win three Olympic golds and play in the ABL and WNBA. She currently coaches South Carolina.

You might not know who is being honored along with Staley  -- that is, in addition to North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell -- also from our game.

No wonder why either, considering the honoree is Boo Williams, perhaps the most unassuming influential figure in the sport. Along with Pat Summitt and Magic Johnson, Williams will receive the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award on Saturday evening in Springfield. While Johnson represents the pro game and Summitt the college game, Boo is this year's grassroots winner. And it's no surprise that if you go to the Hall of Fame website, his is the only bio without a photo.

That's just Boo.

The day Boo brags about himself is the day Geno wears orange in Knoxville. Boo is a humble, quiet ambassador for the sport whose full-time job is insurance agent. When he talks, it's rarely about himself. He'd rather talk about one of his kids, and there are many of those. Boo estimates coaching or mentoring more than 2,500 kids, both male and female over the years. The Boo Williams Summer League, founded with four teams in 1982, now has nearly 200, and is sponsored by Nike.

Ask La'Keshia Frett about Boo or Elizabeth Williams. Allen Iverson or Alonzo Mourning. Mike Krzyzewski or Summitt. Everybody who's anybody has Boo on speed dial.

The Boo Williams Sportsplex or rather, the BooPlex, a multi-purpose sports facility in Hampton, is his baby.

The Jackson Award, named for the former Harlem Globetrotters owner, recognizes those are visionaries, those who embrace the core values of the game: hard work, striving to improve and a commitment to others. The award is given to those who are catalysts for change -- leaders who demonstrate a philosophy of respectfulness, teamwork, commitment and human passion in all aspects of their lives.

We can't think of a more deserving recipient than Boo Williams.

Dispatch from Down Under: CNU's Schweers on coming home

Christopher Newport University grad Chelsie Schweers has chronicled her season in Australia with a blog for LadySwish. Schweers' season is over with the Toowoomba Mountaineers, and she returns to the United States this weekend, where she'll be the new varsity girls coach at Hickory High, her alma mater.

This is her final blog. We thank her for blogging for LadySwish and sharing so much with our readers.

I am attempting to put everything I brought with me to Australia back in my suitcases and I'm not having a lot of luck. But, I am determined and eventually the suitcases will be packed, and I will be checking my luggage at the airport terminal. 

I have enjoyed the past several months more than I can put into words. My teammates, roommate, coaches, the Mountaineers Board, and the community of Toowoomba all played a part in making my time in Australia the absolute best. I am proud to have been a Mountaineer and to have been there from the beginning to the end, taking part in the celebrations following our wins, working through our losses, rebounding, and making it to the playoffs! 

As if it wasn't enough to be playing basketball, I got to "play" in Australia! Petting kangaroos at the zoo, spending time in Sydney, catching some sun on the beaches of the Gold Coast, endless nights looking out at Toowoomba from Picnic Point, and driving down the highway on the left side of the road! I cherish the memories and the new friends that helped to make those memories special. 

Many thanks to the Toowoomba community for its amazing and generous support throughout the season. To the Mountaineers Board and my coaches, special thanks for your hard work and endless hours, but especially for giving me this opportunity.

I cannot close this blog out, without giving a special shout-out to LadySwish for keeping up with my basketball journey and for posting my blogs. You have the pulse of women's basketball in Virginia.

Until next time,


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Richmond's two-sport phenom Wann will make the best of playing just one

We blame the pogo stick.

A week ago Becca Wann had a Richmond soccer season in front of her. The All-American forward, who is also a decorated basketball player for the Spiders, spent the summer pondering a professional career in the soccer. Now Wann's soccer career is over given yet another concussion, sustained during the season-opening tournament at James Madison.

That made for too many concussions the neurologist told her last Friday in advising Wann, who earned a Gold Medal in the 2012 FIFA World Championship in Japan, about the implications of continuing to play soccer.

"I've been trying to stay positive," Wann says, a senior, whose 34 goals rank her second in career scoring at Richmond. "What are you going to do? It's definitely something I'm still trying to wrap my head around, but the way I look at it is I had an incredible 14-year career. If I focus on the little bit that I didn't get, I'll have trouble remembering the good stuff. Although it ended in a way I thought was prematurely, I know I'm going to be OK. My identity is not in soccer. It's not in basketball. I'm going to be OK. It's just tough to transition out of it."

Wann estimates she's had four or five concussions playing soccer at Richmond (none thus far in basketball). Then there's that nasty one that came when she was 10 years old on Christmas Day. The culprit: the new pogo stick.

"At this point in my life, I wish my parents hadn't gotten me that present, so I'd have one more to spare," she says. "We returned the pogo stick the next day."

The concussion sustained on Aug. 25 in the last six minutes of a game against Old Dominion wasn't immediately obvious to Wann, whose head collided with another ODU player.

"I got a foul called against me," she says. "I thought if felt kind of weird. But I wasn't dizzy. I didn't
black out. I was hoping it would go away. On Wednesday night, after having a headache for the last couple of days, I told myself if I wake with a headache, I'm going to tell. I woke up and had one.

"Deep down, I knew I was at the limit. I was trying to avoid this."

Wann sat through Richmond's game last Friday against Longwood realizing she would never be on the field again. She broke the news to her teammates on Saturday.

"I blindsided them," she says. "The team has been very supportive, incredible."

 While Wann might not be playing soccer anymore, she still plans to be at every practice.

"I told them I'm not going anywhere; I just won't be in cleats," she says. "I talked to (basketball) Coach (Michael) Shafer, and with this being my last year, I didn't want to miss anything soccer. I'm not going to not go to soccer practice to go to basketball practice. We talked about it and he told me to take my time and do what I need to do."

The new Wann won't be scoring anymore, but she will still be part of every aspect of the team possible. She'll encourage, pick up cones, shag balls, whatever she can do to make the Spiders season successful. Earlier this week, she and her Richmond teammates were in D.C. to watch the U.S. National Team against Mexico at RFK Stadium.

"It's hard not being on the field and having the on-field leadership," she says. "But there's so many other things that can be done. Having seen Rachael Bilney and Kara (Powell), there were so many people on the basketball team that found a role" after injury.

Unless the concussion lingers -- which Wann doesn't expect given the progress she's already made -- she should be healthy for basketball.

Wann, who will graduate in the spring, is weighing her options after college now that a pro career in soccer won't be happening. She's considered an internship through a church, getting a job working soccer camps or perhaps more college.

"For me, this is a door shutting, and even though it's painful, in the long run, it's one less decision I have to make because it was made for me," she says. "When God closes a door, it opens a window, and that's what I'm telling myself. I'm not stressed out or worried about it because I know it will work out."