Sunday, April 26, 2015

Peeking in at Tech, JMU, Radford, Liberty, etc. at the BooPlex

OK, we're back at bloggin' after taking a needed rest, and what better way to get back into the swing then seeking out some of our favorite coaches at the BooPlex this weekend in Hampton, home of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Anybody and everybody is there (didn't see Geno but spotted associate head coach Chris Dailey and Tennessee's Holly Warlick) to see recruits from the Diana Taurasi Division, the Maya Moore Division, the Brittney Griner Division and the Sky Diggins Division.

The great news for the coaches this year is all the action is split between two venues (the BooPlex and Hampton Roads Convention Center) instead of a dozen (the bad news is parking at Woodstock might be easier than finding a conventional spot at the BooPlex). Noted James Madison's Kenny Brooks, "Anything that saves me time is good."

"It's way more effective," added Virginia Tech assistant Jermaine Woods. "I can watch one game at 1:20 and catch another at 2:30 and be on time."

Woods said the Tech staff is mighty excited after pulling off two upsets in the ACC Tournament -- the Hokies upended NC State and Pitt en route to the quarterfinals. That taste of winning has made the Hokies hungry and eager beavers in the weight room.

"It's good to be a coach and come to work at 8 in the morning and see a full gym," he said.

Tech has a top 20 recruiting class by ESPN's count, and is also excited about the return of Regan Magarity, the 6-3 forward from Sweden. The freshman had become Tech's best post player, averaging 14 ppg and 10.6 rpg before calf surgery ended her season in December.

"She'll be a freshman again," said Woods, who is also high on Sidney Cook, who shot .429 from behind the arc last year. "She's having an amazing offseason," he said. "She's going to be key."

Speaking of keys, good to see Brooks and assistant Sean O'Regan showing off the purple. No doubt Dukes fans were relieved when Joni Crenshaw was named the new head coach at Georgia, as Brooks was rumored to be interviewing for the job. Shaking his head, he says, "Twitter rumor. I never even got a call," (and though frankly, we don't know why, we're glad he's sticking around the 'burg).

"Congratulations on another 5,000-win season," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb joked as she passed Brooks, whose Dukes completed their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Look for the 2015-16 version of the Dukes to be "the best shooting team I've ever had," says Brooks, adding that Muff Mickens will be much improved in that department.

"I don't know our record for 3-pointers ... " he said -- so we'll help him out -- Dukes' best accuracy from 3 was 43.4 percent in 1990-91; JMU attempted a school-record 215 3-pointers in 2013-14. Look for those to fall, says Brooks, whose team will return point guard savant Mickens, CAA Player of the Year Precious Hall and two-time CAA Tournament MVP Jazmon Gwathmey. "(Gwathmey) will have a more prominent role," Brooks promised, noting the same will be true for Ashley Perez, eligible for the second half of the season last year.

A few paces away from Brooks we found Liberty Coach Carey Green, pleased with the depth Big South champion Liberty will return. "With three solid post players coming back and our starting point guard, that's pretty good," he said.

For the last five years, Liberty has had at least 10 players averaging double minutes -- one reason the Lady Flames are reliable contenders in March. Look for Jaymee Fisher-Davis (who, incidentally hasn't missed any of her 19 free throws in the last two years) to play a bigger role.

Among the newbies, Green expects Molly Reagan, a 6-2 post from Braintree, Mass., to make an early impact along with 6-0 forward KK Barbour. Liberty, by the way, will have a date with JMU during non-conference play.

Former Old Dominion and VCU assistant Niki Dawkins, now assisting Marlene Stollings at Minnesota, was also in town showing off pics of the kids, 3-year-old twins, Amani and Isiah. As for being a mom and a coach, "I don't know how to do it, we just do it."

Dawkins is hopeful former Lady Monarch Shae Kelley will earn a spot on the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. Kelley, who played her final year at Minnesota, was the 35th pick in the 36-player draft held April 17.

"Minnesota Lynx coaches were at the majority of our home games," Dawkins said. "She has a lot in her favor. She can rebound, play defense, do those energy things that will help me make the team."

Around another corner we found George Mason's Nyla Milleson, excited that her five transfers who sat the bench last year will be eligible to join Atlantic 10 leading scorer Taylor Brown. While she's high on all of them, redshirt sophomore guard Mikala McGhee might be a nose ahead given her familiarity with Milleson. McGhee comes to Fairfax from Missouri State, where Milleson coached prior to George Mason.

"She's a very, very good leader," Milleson said.

Sitting in the stands a few feet from Louisiana Tech coach Tyler Summitt was Amanda Levens, a Lady Monarch oh-so-long ago, who transferred to Arizona State after two years at ODU. A former head coach at Southern Illinois Edwardsville, Levens is now associate head coach alongside Charli Turner Thorne at ASU. Levens had nothing but good things to say about ODU and still keeps in touch with her former teammates, including Jessica Williams and Bettina Love.

Levens said she thinks of ODU as "a place in my life that shaped who I am today. I still talk to Cindy Fisher and Allison Greene."

Before we made our exit, we finally got to say an in-person hello to Radford assistant Britney Anderson, happy about the effort the eight returning Highlanders are making in the weight room. Anderson played AAU ball herself prior to starring for Virginia Tech. She noted the difference between these days and her days.

"We played for a trophy," she said. "Today everybody's playing for a scholarship."

Our last stop was a visit with Hampton graduate Kenia Cole, bound for graduate school at Georgetown where she'll major in sports industry management. Cole is a sports junkie whose opinion we share about NBA MVP. "I think James Harden should get it," she said. "Steph Curry is great, but Harden doesn't have as much help. I think Curry will get it, though."

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