Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dribbles and bits on Richmond, VCU, George Mason and more from A10 media day

Atlantic 10 media day was earlier this week, giving LadySwish a chance to sit down with the league's coaches including our own -- Michael Shafer, Marlene Stolling and Nyla Milleson. Before we share some updates from them, we stray to give a special shout out to first-year Duquesne coach Dan Burt, who confessed he's a regular reader of LadySwish. Now that's pretty cool given that the word "Duquesne" is rarely used in this blog (he is a good buddy of Kenny Brooks and wishes the Dukes well this season), as do we, by the way.

Also nice to meet Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley, also a LadySwish reader who takes pride in her Richmond roots.

Gen Okoro
Now onto some business:

A healthy Okoro? Richmond's Genevieve Okoro is getting there but not there, Shafer said. It was almost a year ago
when the springy forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Wichita State six games into the season. Prior to the injury, Okoro averaged 10.3 ppg and 11 rpg with four double-doubles. . Okoro has only just been cleared for full contact and wears a brace that rides up her left leg.

"I don't think today Gen is 100 percent, but there's nothing of concern that is going to prevent her from getting there," Shafer said. "The biggest thing is confidence. Gen needs to fall down to realize she can get back up."

Okoro is 26 rebounds shy of the 500 mark.

Also from the Spiders: No word yet whether senior starter and leading rebounder Becca Wann will return. Picked as a third-team A10 preseason selection, Wann saw her soccer career end prematurely due to a concussion sustained Aug. 23. The multitude of concussions forced the Richmond medical staff to decide it was unsafe for her to continue playing that sport. Shafer is awaiting word about the future of her basketball career.

Speaking of Wann, quite the compliment goes to freshman Olivia Healy, the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year, who led her Reading High School team to 48 straight wins and a state title her junior year. Shafer calls "Liv" a combination of Wann and Abby Oliver, among the program's most decorated players. The 5-11 Healy "can score in a variety of ways," Shafer said. "She can rebound, and she doesn't mind being physical, which can be hard at times for a freshman."

Can't wait to see her!

Over at the Siegel Center: Big things expected from Robyn Parks, the leading scorer in the A10 (18.7 ppg), who is 131 points shy of a career 1,000. Parks is a first-team preseason A10 selection.

"She still has a lot to prove," said Stollings, in her second year coaching the Rams. "We talk a lot about legacy; she wants to leave one at VCU. I think this has gone beyond her wildest dreams about how good she can be, but that's a credit to her and her work ethic."

As for the newcomers ...: The Rams have plenty -- eight of them (Auburn transfer Chadarryl Clay won't be eligible until the 2014-15 season). Stollings is expecting many to contribute early, including 4-star recruit Camile Calhoun, a 6-foot guard from Bowie, Md.

"Camille has potential to be really good in this conference," Stollings said, who added that freshman guard Monnazjea Finney-Smith has been solid, while freshmen Keira Robinson and Ashlee Mitchell could see significant minutes at point.

Among those not back: Kaneisha Atwater, who committed to Old Dominion initially and sat out a year before playing last season at VCU. Atwater initially announced she was going to a Florida junior college in July only to be signed by Florida Gulf Coast three weeks later. Atwater petitioned the NCAA to avoid sitting out the 2013-14 season, but was denied on Oct. 15, according to a story in the Naples News. The school is appealing again on behalf of Atwater, who transferred to be closer to her 19-month-old son, Andarious.

Kind of cool: Stollings' love affair with high scoring offense dates back a ways. She holds the state's high school scoring  record in Ohio with 3,514 points. That would be 857 more than LeBron James amassed during his high school career.

A new George Mason: It will be a Patriots team with a new look under first-year coach Milleson, whose team will benefit immensely from Georgetown transfer guard Taylor Brown, who earned multiple player-of-the-year honors coming out of Bishop McNamara in 2011, and Georgia Tech transfer Sandra Ngoie, a 6-1 forward from Sweden with international playing experience.

"Those two are our glue," Milleson said, calling Brown a quiet leader and Ngoie a potential mismatch.

Two additional transfers, Jasmine Jackson (Georgetown) and Kristi Mokube (Florida State) will be eligible to play during the 2014-15 season.

Sidelined: Milleson said redshirt junior guard Christine Weithman will not play the 2013-14 season due to injury. Weithman also missed the 2012-13 season but will remain on the roster. Milleson said Weithman's future with the team is uncertain given her health. ... Annie Lawler of South Kingstown, R.I., is no longer with the team, declared medically unable to play, Milleson said. Lawler, who redshirted as a freshman and appeared in four games before injury as a sophomore, remains at George Mason and will study abroad in Australia for the spring semester.

Home sweet home: Milleson said Fairfax has become home after so many years of living in the Midwest. The Kansas State graduate who coached six years at Missouri State noted, "We just bought some Wizards season tickets and I went to several Mystics games this season. My kids are going to a Redskins game in a couple of weeks, and we're become Metro experienced!

Speaking of ...: George Mason and the Mystics, former George Mason coach Jim Lewis, also a former Mystics assistant, is the interim head coach at Georgetown.

I know your mom! Fordham's  Gaitley (who compiled a 116-63 record coaching at Richmond from 1985-91) has a kid on her roster named Briana Jordan, a 5-6 junior guard eligible this season after transferring from Tennessee Tech in 2012. Crazy thing is Gaitley coached Briana's mom, Pam, a Hall-of-Famer at Richmond. Pam Jordan is second on the Spiders' all-time scoring list and a two-time CAA Player of the Year (1989, 1990). BTW, Briana's dad is Brian Jordan, who played football with the Atlanta Falcons and baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.

Another Stipanovich: She's Steve's daughter (yep, Indiana Pacers Steve) and Sadie Stipanovich is also a 6-3 freshman center at St. Louis.  Coach Lisa Stone said Sadie, who excels at volleyball, didn't decide she wanted to play basketball at the collegiate level until her junior year at Westminster Christian High. Initially, Stone was recruiting Sadie's cousin Sydney, now at Penn. "Sadie ended up being someone we fell in love with because we see her upside," said Stone, who said the freshman is battling for a starting position.

Foreign tour: When asked if his team's trip to Italy in August had an impact, Dayton coach Jim Jabir quipped, "It helped me figure out where I'm going to retire."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Former Hampton, Norfolk State coach now a Hall-of-Famer

James Sweat called Tuesday night one of the highlights of his life.

The coach who guided Hampton University to a Division II national championship and led Norfolk State to the  Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time was inducted into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame. What really tickled him: His wife, LaVerne, a longtime track and field coach at both schools and also an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympic team, was inducted alongside him.

"This is the first time, I think, a husband and wife have gone into a Hall of Fame at the same time," Sweat told the audience at Scope in Norfolk.

Sweat, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, initially served as a volunteer assistant at Hampton on a team that won nine games. The next year he was hired as a full-time coach at the school, and the team won 21. In 1988, Sweat's Lady Pirates accomplished the ultimate: the national championship, upsetting a heavily favored North Dakota State team in the semifinals before topping West Texas to finish with a 33-1 record.

"North Dakota State was the favorite, and when we beat them, their fans started rooting for us," Sweat recalled.

Sweat won 529 games in his 26-year career that ended after the 2006-07 season when he retired. He won five conference titles at Hampton and led Norfolk State to the NCAA Final Four in 1991. Sweat's NSU teams won five CIAA Tournament titles and made five NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional appearances. After the move to Division I, Sweat led NSU to its first MEAC title and an NCAA Tournament appearance against Duke.

"We won all those championships, and we did it with local players," said Sweat, who still wears his national championship ring. "I was able to get Division I players to play Division II."

The best player he's ever coached? Without hesitation, Sweat says the name Jackie Dolberry, an HU Hall-of-Famer and integral to that 1988 team. She holds several school records at Hampton, including career points (2,727).

What makes Sweat particularly proud is his graduation rate. Sweat said only two players in his 26 years did not graduate.

Sweat also coached current Norfolk State coach Debra Clark, Hampton's all-time leader in assists. Clark was in attendance on Tuesday along with many from the Sweat family that includes three children and four grandchildren.

Sweat was quick to credit his wife on Wednesday, noting, "Behind every man is a good woman." He and LaVerne, married for more than 50 years, first met in kindergarten but didn't talk until junior high. "She walked one way home and I walked the other," he said, noting she was taller than him then and still is today.

LaVerne Sweat also coached at Hampton and Norfolk State, retiring as NSU's senior woman administrator after the 2005-06 season. Her Spartan track and cross country teams won a combined 18 CIAA championships in an eight-year span. The Spartans earned four runner-up finishes at the Division II Track & Field Championships in her tenure. She was also the first female president of the CIAA.

While Sweat doesn't coach anymore, he's a regular at Echols Hall, supporting the Spartans and remaining passionate about the women's game.

"I think soon we'll see a woman in the NBA," he said.

LaVerne spoke first at the Hall of Fame induction, opening her speech quoting Urkel: "Did I do all that?"

Ditto for her husband, and the answer is yes, he did all that plus.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Former Lady Monarch and siblings run for their dad

Kelly and her siblings 

If you remember the background of Old Dominion graduate Kelly Bradley, you might know she played five sports at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, excelling at all of them.

But Bradley didn't enjoy running. That was then.

Today the former Lady Monarch, who was part of the ODU team that advanced to the national title game in 1997, is preparing to run Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon that winds through Northern Virginia and Washington. Last weekend the four Bradleys -- Kelly, sisters Colleen and Brigitte, and brother Kenneth -- ran the Ten-Miler, also in D.C..

The running is a tribute to their father, Ken Bradley, who competed in 10 marathons, starting with his first, the Marine Corps., in 1975, the year Kelly was born. Ken Bradley died on March 26, 2001, while jogging laps with the girls soccer team he coached at Green Run High. He was 51 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

During the Ten-Miler, Kelly said, "It's like our dad was with us the entire time. We all waved as we ran by the cemetery."

Her brother, Ken, has already completed every marathon her dad ever ran in. Like her father, Kelly is a teacher in Virginia Beach and a doting mom to her kindergartner, Connor.

"We were all athletes," Kelly said, "but we all hated to run. Now it's a way to remember and be with him."

Fitting that Sunday's race winds down near Arlington Cemetery, concluding at the Marine Corps War Memorial. All of the Bradleys will be in our thoughts during their 26.2 miles.

Monday, October 21, 2013

VCU freshman Burgess lovin' life as a Ram

We told you in August about 5-11 guard Brittani Burgess (St. Mary's Ryken High, Leonardtown, Md.), once Delaware bound, landed at Virginia Commonwealth -- part of a highly touted recruiting class that Blue Star ranks 38th in the nation and tops in the Atlantic 10.

Burgess, one of seven freshmen, took time to chat with LadySwish. We asked her about ...

Life at VCU: I love it here, honestly. I love the team, the campus; I love everything here.

Feeling at home as a Ram: It feels like I've known these girls for the longest time. Right when I got here, we connected. It's not like a lot of teams. We're all together. They're goofy. I love them all, actually.

Off-the-court fun: We had a talent show.

And.... It was Robyn and Zakia Williams who won. They did a skit about how you should never give up and always follow your dreams. It was funny.

Your talent? I didn't have a talent! I tried to make balloon animals, but I couldn't do it, so I just drew animals on the balloons.

On once being headed to Delaware:  I got a call. It was actually my birthday. I got a call that I wasn't admitted to the University of Delaware. It had nothing to do with basketball. It was academics. It changes you, honestly. Those quick words changed me. You don't know what you're going to do when you had a D-I scholarship that just got taken away.

Coach Tina (Martin) was very supportive. She told me she still loved me, and she was sorry it happened. The very next day I got a call from coach Nik (Nikita Lowry Dawkins) at VCU. She had seen me play, but I had committed to Delaware. Coach Tina had contacted VCU and said I was free.

On considering VCU before that: About two years ago, going into my junior year, I visited with the different coaching staff and different players. I didn't get the vibe I have now.

On living in the city: I didn't think I would like it, but I love the diversity. I like the people here. It's all good since I've been here.

On all that conditioning: I wasn't here for all that conditioning over the summer, but they told me how it was, and it was no joke. Once I got here, I saw how hard it was. You have to make certain times, and the weight room ... we're getting it done.

On your role as a Ram freshman: Coach reminds us every day that you have to compete for your spot. It doesn't matter if you're an upperclassman or lowerclassman. That helps all of us understand if you want to play, you have to work hard. She's looking for effort every single time

On playing other sports in high school: I high jumped and took second in the conference (5-4, in case you're wondering).

On her favorite shot: Mid-range. The elbow shot.

On her favorite players: I watch all the time. I like Seimone Augustus and Diana Taurasi. For the men, my favorite player is John Wall. I've been watching John since he was in high school.

On her major: I'm undeclared, but I plan on going into business. I want to open up my own rec center.

Road trip she can't wait for: I'm ready for that Ohio State game (Nov. 14). All the games we want to win, but that should be good.

Simple reflection: You don't get a lot of second chances. It will change a person. I've been on top of my grades since I've been here. The coaching staff, the academics, the teachers, they support you a lot.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Elite 25: The Final Five

Ataira Franklin

You can quibble with the order here, and Lord knows we certainly agonized over who belonged where. But with all due respect to Nos. 25 through 6 on our list, you'll have a hard time convincing us that these aren't the five best returning Division I players in the state of Virginia.

5. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton
Efficiency score: 12.12
You know how they say NFL receivers who are being covered by cornerback Derelle Revis are
stranded on "Revis Island." Well, Hampton has "Alyssa Island," and most of the opponents who draw Bennett as their primary defender are, at least on that night, never heard from again. We've seen 20 ppg scorers reduced to scrounging for one measly field goal with Bennett on the case/in their face. On the nights when Bennett is also feeling it on offense, we'll put her two-way ability up against virtually anyone in Division I. But when evaluating Bennett's impact on games, offense is optional. We've seen nights in which Bennett was the best player on the floor without scoring at all.

4. Shae Kelley, 6-1 Jr. F, Old Dominion
Efficiency score: 16.25
It's tough to break into the pantheon of the greatest players in Old Dominion history, but if Kelley's career continues on the trajectory she established last season, it's not out of the question. It's not just that Kelley ranked in the CAA's Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and field goal percentage; it's that she did so while showing the potential to produce so much more. Best of all, Kelley seemed content to blend in against overmatched foes and tended to save her best play for clutch situations against ODU's toughest opponents. We noticed this same tendency with Kelley during the 7-Cities Pro-Am Summer League. For most of the games she was just another good player. But when it was winning time, Kelley flat-out took over.

3. Robyn Parks, VCU
Efficiency score: 16.80
Not sure who was Division I's most improved player in 2012-13, but here's the case for Parks: Two
years ago, she averaged 6.6. points and 3.2 boards. Last year, she led the Atlantic 10 in scoring (18.7 ppg), finished second in steals (2.7 spg) and ninth in rebounding (7.9 rpg) and claimed first-team all-conference honors. Now granted, Parks was playing in a stats-friendly system and was the primary weapon almost by default given the Rams' shorthanded roster. But when you consider that Parks shot a highly respectable 47 percent from the field, it's clear she wasn't just out there jacking up shots. By any measure, Parks was a beast.

2. Kirby Burkholder, 6-0 Sr. F, JMU
Efficiency score: 17.38
Kelley and Parks could also make a claim for this spot, but remember, we're measuring not necessarily the "best" players, but the "most productive." And while Kelley and Parks were outstanding in 2012-13, Burkholder has been going off for two seasons. She was a third-team All-CAA selection in 2011-12 and cracked the league's first team last season after averaging 14.8 points and leading the Dukes in rebounding and steals. Burkholder now has 995 career points; not bad for someone who scored just 31 of those points as a freshman.

1. Ataira Franklin, Virginia
Efficiency score: 14.00
Despite battling a balky right knee seemingly her entire career - and particularly last season - Franklin earned first-team All-ACC honors and finished among the league's top 10 in scoring (14.3), steals 2.2), free-throw percentage (79.1) and, remarkably, minutes played (36.1). Her 1,192 points reign as the most by any active Virginia Division I player; the top four are:
Franklin - 1,192
Monet Tellier - 1,058
Kirby Burkholder - 995
Robyn Parks - 869
Now here's the best part - Franklin seemingly has responded well to the arthroscopic knee surgery she underwent last spring, as over the summer Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said Franklin was "moving better than she has in years." If a gimpy Franklin can put up these kinds of numbers, we can't wait to see how the pain-free version tears things up.

Top 25 - the full list

25. Jordynn Gaymon, Radford
24. Emily Frazier, Liberty
23. Jessica Pellechio, VCU
22. Jazmon Gwathmey, JMU
21. Kelsey Wolfe, Virginia
20. Janaa Pickard, George Mason
19. Jasmine Gardner, Liberty
18. Daiesha Brown, Longwood
17. Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech
16. Toia Giggetts, JMU
15. Ashley Rininger, Liberty
14. Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia
13. Kristina King, Richmond
12. Nikki Newman, JMU
11. Uju Ugoka, Virginia Tech
10. Genevieve Okoro, Richmond
9. Lexie Gerson, Virginia
8. Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State
7. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton
6. Becca Wann, Richmond
5. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton
4. Shae Kelley, Old Dominon
3. Robyn Parks, VCU
2. Kirby Burkholder, JMU
1. Ataira Franklin, Virginia

Just missed it: Tiffany Minor (7.58), Old Dominion; Precious Hall, JMU (7.11); Taijah Campbell, Virginia Tech (6.94); Rae Corbo, Norfolk State (played just one full game last year before blowing out a knee); Liz Brown, Richmond (6.80); Quineshia Leonard, Norfolk State (6.58); Mieke Elkington, Longwood (6.30); Katelyn Adams, Liberty (6.00); Becca Allison, Old Dominion (5.83); Kyra Kerstetter, William and Mary (5.03).

Also see

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Elite 25: Cracking the Top 10

Genevieve Okoro
Another defensive ace, a freaky athlete who starred despite playing out of position and the female answer to Bo Jackson highlight this eclectic array of stars as our countdown rolls on.

10. Genevieve Okoro, 6-0 Sr. F, Richmond
Efficiency score: 15.50
Heading into the 2012-13 season, Okoro seemed poised to join the ranks of the Atlantic 10's top players, and she was averaging 10.3 points and 11 rebounds through six games against rugged opposition before an ACL injury ended the show. The first season after knee surgery is often tricky, and athleticism is one of Okoro's best assets. But even if she's merely close to her old form, near her old standard, Okoro should close out her Richmond career in fine style. And if she gets to be 100 percent healthy, look out, Atlantic 10.

Lexie Gerson
9. Lexie Gerson, 5-11 R-Sr. G,  Virginia
Efficiency score: Did not play last season
Gerson didn't play a minute last season after succumbing to offseason hip surgery. So what's she doing in our Top 10? It's certainly not because we love the name Lexie. OK, that's part of it. But mostly it's because the last time we saw her, she was the on-court maestro of a superior Virginia defense. As was the case with JMU's Nikki Newman, efficiency scores don't accurately reflect the value of this kind of player. But in our view, Gerson is a major impact player.

Rachel Gordon
8. Rachel Gordon, 6-0 Sr. F, Norfolk State
Efficiency score: 15.53
If there's such a thing as being too efficient, Gordon might be Exhibit A. The Spartans star shot a team-leading 47 percent but ranked just fourth on the team in shots taken. Of the three NSU players who took more shots than Gordon, none shot higher than 35 percent (one was at 29 percent). Also, the fact that Gordon had just 37 turnovers on the season despite playing 33.2 minutes per game suggests the ball wasn't in her hands nearly as much as it could have been. Memo to NSU players - how 'bout getting Rachel a few more touches around the hoop? Of course, there are no issues with Gordon's rebounding (9.7 rpg last season, 10.4 rpg in 2011-12). In fact, if our lives depended on getting one rebound and we could send anyone on this list to the glass to pull it down, this young lady might very well be our choice.

Nicole Hamilton
7. Nicole Hamilton, 5-8 Sr. G, Hampton
Efficiency score: 11.79
A super-athletic elite defender - 48 blocked shots from a guard? - occasional big-time scorer and first-team All-MEAC pick who did a spectacular job after offseason injuries forced this natural two-guard to man the point all season. "Nicki" still had a bit of a sweet tooth for 3-point shots - a team-high 166 of them - of which she made only 23.5 percent. But given her versatility and otherworldly defense - not to mention that Hampton went 28-6 and blitzed through MEAC play unbeaten with Hamilton running the show - we'll live with a few missed shots.

6. Becca Wann, 5-10 Sr. G, Richmond
Efficiency score: 12.12
The ultra-versatile Wann provides a broad assortment of statistical contributions, but what has always stood out to us is how hard and passionately she plays, as though each game could be her last. That's why it was ironic when, last month, Wann had to step away from an All-American soccer career for the Spiders after suffering the latest in a series of concussions. Wann credited her faith for her ability to move forward without regret, and we're sure that's true. But it has to help to have the knowledge that you poured everything you have into the games you did get to play.

Becca Wann
Previous rankings

Friday: The Final Five

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Elite 25: Inside the Top 15

Virginia's Sarah Imovbioh
Our countdown continues with four players who showed tantalizing glimpses of Division I stardom last season. And while the fifth hardly played at all, she's already proved the kind of impact she can make.

Ashley Rininger
15. Ashley Rininger, 6-4 R-Soph F/C, Liberty
Efficiency score: 10.85
Another member of the All-Great Hair team, Rininger redshirted her first year on campus but got to practice every day against Lady Flames stars Avery Warley and Tolu Omotola. Those lessons paid off in 2012-13 as only an incredible season by Winthrop's Schaquilla Nunn prevented Rininger from being named Big South Freshman of the Year. Our favorite stat - Rininger scored in double figures 10 times; the Lady Flames were 10-0 in those games. But the best number is 4.0 - Rininger's grade-point average as a criminal justice major. She's on track to graduate in three years.

14. Sarah Imovbioh, 6-2 Jr. F, Virginia
Efficiency score: 12.86
Last season Imovbioh was to the Cavaliers what Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig is to the Los Angeles Dodgers - an unfinished yet breathtaking talent who makes you go "Wow!" at least once or twice every game. Although her raw numbers (8.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) were relatively modest, Imovbioh's 2012-13 resume is loaded with superlatives, from her 21-point, 11-rebound effort in her Cavaliers debut against JMU to her 18-rebound performance against Wake Forest. Those numbers better reflect the upside of this uniquely gifted player.

Kristina King
13. Kristina King, 5-10 Sr. G, Richmond
Efficiency score: 12.12
If personality and likability were part of these calculations, King would have been among the first names on our list. Look solely at performance and the Spiders star still makes it with room to spare as a career-high 29 point explosion against JMU was just the biggest highlight of her breakout junior season. Consider: Going into the season King's career high was 13 points, a tick under last year's team-leading season average (13.1). She also led the Spiders in steals and free-throw shooting (82.4).

Nikki Newman
12. Nikki Newman, 6-2 R-Sr. F, JMU
Efficiency score: 7.0
We weren't sure where to slot Newman since she missed most of last season with a foot injury. And as you can see by her score, she wasn't terribly efficient in the few games she played. So what's she doing on this list? Well, to paraphrase the (once) great Mo Vaughn, Nikki's got hardware. Namely, the 2011-12 CAA Defensive Player of the Year award, after a season in which she, among other notable feats, checked Elena Delle Donne better than a lot of WNBA players. The efficiency formula doesn't measure the ability to lock people up. But we all know that's an extremely valuable skill, and Newman does it as well as just about anyone.

Uju Ugoka
11. Uju Ugoka, 6-1 Sr. F, Virginia Tech
Efficiency score: 10.00
The Lagos, Nigeria native had a smashing Hokies debut as she dropped 28 points on Wake Forest. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to produce like that every night in a league like the ACC, especially while battling knee issues. Still, it was overall an impressive debut - 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds in 17 games - and with Tech seemingly having upgraded its roster, a healthy Ugoka is poised to make even more of an impact this season.

Previous rankings:

Thursday: Cracking the Top 10

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Elite 25 - Kicking off the Top 20

Virginia Tech's Monet Tellier

Our countdown of the state's best returning players continues with three outstanding rebounders, a pint-sized powerhouse from Longwood and a Virginia Tech star who shines brightest against the Hokies' toughest foes.

Janaa Pickard
20. Janaa Pickard, 6-1 R-Sr. F, George Mason
Efficiency score: 9.11
The Patriots struggled mightily as a team, but Pickard contributed her usual solid rebounding and shot-blocking numbers and delivered a career-high 18 points in Mason's season-ending loss to UNC Wilmington at the CAA Tournament. Pickard also served as a legitimate 3-point threat (21 of 61, 34.4 percent) for a team that, in general, shot poorly from distance.

Jasmine Gardner
19. Jasmine Gardner, 6-2 Sr. C/F, Liberty
Efficiency score: 9.97
A late-season knee injury and two subsequent surgeries have raised the specter that Gardner will miss at least the start of the 2013-14 season and could possibly redshirt. Still this list reflects what players have already done, and before she got hurt, Gardner was a solid across-the-board contributor while holding it down as the second-best rebounder (7.3 rpg) on the nation's best rebounding team.

Daiesha Brown
18. Daiesha Brown, 5-3, Soph. G, Longwood
Efficiency score: 10.73
The Lancers threw Brown into the Big South fire as a freshman, and the Richmond native responded with 12.2 points a game on 44 percent shooting and surprisingly solid rebounding numbers (128 total boards, the third-most on the teams) for such a shorty. It all made her an easy choice for the Big South All-Freshman team, and she was also named the state's rookie of the year by the Virginia Sports Information Directors. More importantly, Brown's play was a big reason why the Lancers, after being picked to finish last in the conference, made it all the way to the league's title game.

17. Monet Tellier, 5-11 Sr. G, Virginia Tech
Efficiency score: 11.03
In addition to having one of the all-time great names, Tellier has developed a knack for flat-out lighting up one marquee team every year. As a freshman, she went for a then-career high 23 points as the Hokies stunned Vanderbilt. The following year, she torched No. 8 Maryland for 33 points as the Hokies rocked the Terrapins in College Park. And last year, she dropped a game-high 24 points as Tech spanked 19th-ranked Florida State by 19. Now, Tellier isn't that player every game - then again, who is? But when she's good, she's really, really good.

Toia Giggetts
16. Toia Giggetts, 6-0 Jr. F, JMU
Efficiency score: 11.30
While we've been appreciating Giggetts' skills since she was a freshman at Norfolk's Lake Taylor High, in all honesty we weren't exactly expecting to see her this high on our list. That is, until we ran the numbers. Turns out this formula loves Giggetts,  not only for how much she does well (rebound, block shots) but also how little she does that hurts her team. She doesn't take bad shots (51.1 percent field goal percentage). Makes her free throws at a solid clip (73.3 percent). And doesn't cough the ball up much (a mere 1.4 turnovers per game). Could she manage her fouls better? Sure. But overall she is a really efficient player who may poised for a breakthrough season.

Previous rankings:

Wednesday: Inside the Top 15

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Elite 25 - the state's best returning players

JMU's Jazmon Gwathmey
Who will be the best Division I performers in Virginia in 2013-14? We'll let the players sort that out on the court over the next few months. But the top players heading into the season? That we can take a stab at. So before we start looking ahead, let's sort out what's already gone down and determine the state's 25 best returning players.

Our rankings rely heavily on efficiency rating, which credits a player for positive contributions (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) while deducting for negatives (missed shots, turnovers). But of course, no one statistic can completely measure a player's value, particularly defensively, so we tried our best to look beyond the numbers in breaking things down.

Since we're basing this on what players have already done; freshmen and other newcomers will have to wait for our 2014-15 list. With that in mind, check out the LadySwish Elite 25, five studettes at a time.
Jordynn Gaymon

25. Jordynn Gaymon, 6-1 Jr. F, Radford
Efficiency score: 7.69
Gaymon averaged just 14.3 minutes per game on the senior-laden Highlanders a year ago, but she made excellent - and efficient - use of the time. In addition to being the only Radford player to make at least 50 percent of her shots, Gaymon blocked a team-high 26 shots - more than any three other Highlanders combined - and ranked third in rebounding despite being 10th on the team in minutes played. Now imagine what she might do in starter's minutes....

Emily Frazier
24. Emily Frazier, 5-7 R-Jr. G, Liberty
Efficiency score: 7.92
Call her the epitome of the heady point guard, and not just because Frazier finished her undergraduate work in just three years and will spend the next two working on her master's. OK, that's part of it. But Frazier showed her smarts on the court, too, racking up nearly twice as many assists (121) as turnovers (67), dishing out at least 10 dimes on three different occasions and leading the Big South in assist-turnover ratio before a mid-February knee injury prematurely ended her season. The efficiency model highly values playmakers who execute with a minimum of mistakes. Obviously, so do the Lady Flames.

Jessica Pellechio
23. Jessica Pellechio, 5-8 So. G, VCU
Efficiency score: 8.07
Great hair, and an even greater 3-point shot. As a freshman, Pellechio was a bit of a one-trick pony, er, Ram, as 76 percent of her made baskets came from beyond the arc. But it was one heck of a trick - a quick-trigger long-range stroke that Pellechio, when hot, nailed with stunning frequency. A member of the Atlantic 10's All-Rookie team, Pellechio buried nine treys in one game - one shy of the school record - made a conference-high 77 on the season and ranked 15th in Division I in made 3s per contest.

22. Jazmon Gwathmey, 6-2 R-So. G, JMU
Efficiency score: 8.11
A unique combination of length and agility, Gwathmey is already an impact shotblocker (a team-high 34), defender and rebounder and figures to be a key for the Dukes going forward if that's all she does. And as she fine-tune her offensive arsenal, the stage is set for Gwathmey to take her place among the very best players in the Colonial Athletic Association - at least.

Kelsey Wolfe

21. KelseyWolfe, 5-10 Sr. G, Virginia
Efficiency score: 8.72
A bit player for the Cavaliers her first two seasons, Wolfe used her lethal perimeter shot to blossom into her team's second-leading scorer until a knee injury - didn't all the Cavaliers get hurt last season? - shelved her down the stretch. We sometimes take for granted how much work is involved when athletes come back from major surgery in a matter of months, but all indications are that Wolfe is on track to return to the lineup at the start of the season. Here's hoping it won't take long before she can pick up where she left off in 2012-13.

Tuesday: Kicking off the Top 20