Within minutes after news began circulating about Kenny Brooks' resignation as JMU's women's basketball coach last March, momentum started building within JMU Nation for Dukes associate head coach Sean O'Regan to fill the vacancy. For what it's worth, we thought it was a pretty good idea, too.
If only all of our thoughts turned out this well.Here's hoping Coach O'Regan receives STRONG consideration. https://t.co/U6Kj5t2yy1— LadySwish (@Ladyswish) March 28, 2016
There's a temptation is to look at the Dukes' record - 14-6, 7-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association - shrug and say, "typical JMU." In fact, what's unfolded in Harrisonburg is actually an expert rebuilding job cleverly disguised as typical JMU.
Consider that these Dukes are without the 2016 CAA Player of the Year (Jazmon Gwathmey), the first-team all-league point guard (Muff Mickens) and the team's second-leading scorer (Ashley Perez). Right before the 2016-17 season began, center Kayla Cooper-Williams, who made the league's all-defensive and all-rookie teams last season, went down with a season-ending knee injury. And eight games into the campaign, O'Regan revealed that forward Da'Lishia Griffin, the CAA's leading rebounder a year ago, had left the team.
The massive turnover produced one of our favorite by-the-numbers stats:
0 - Points supplied by current JMU players in the Dukes' 60-46 victory over Drexel in the 2016 CAA tournament championship game.
Now, O'Regan isn't the first coach to have to replace five starters. But how many have had to replace five studs? In their first year in command? The challenge is enough to make a guy pull his hair out. No, wait....
Scratch that bit about hair. The point is, this team had to undergo a near-complete overhaul. Also, we couldn't help but wonder, how well would the players respond to O'Regan going from popular assistant to the man who now must occasionally crack the whip? And what about the challenges of replacing a superstar coach like Brooks? Wouldn't it be better to be the coach who replaced the coach who replaced Brooks?
In short, there were all sorts of legitimate excuses in place for a season (or two) full of getting-to-know-each-other struggles. Led by O'Regan, the Dukes have navigated around them all while branding themselves serious players for a fourth straight conference tournament title in a deeper-than-usual CAA.
Granted, it helps to have star guard Precious Hall, who missed last season with a knee injury, not only healthy but producing at an All-American level. But everyone else is either adjusting to a more significant role (Tasia Butler, Aneah Young, Logan Reynolds, Hailee Barron, Savannah Felgemacher), to playing the JMU way (Stetson transfer Amber Porter) or simply to college life, period (freshmen Kamiah Smalls, Lexie Barrier, Devon Merritt).
There's plenty of talent there, for sure. But to see it blending together this effectively this quickly is a credit to O'Regan, assistants Bridgette Mitchell, Ian Caskill (Cox High!), Ashlee McGee and the rest of the women's basketball brain trust. Evidently, O'Regan is as good as assembling a team around him as he is as guiding the team in front of them.
So, yeah, O'Regan was the people's choice. And in this case, it looks like the people knew what they were talking about.
What is "1984?"
a. Title of a classic book by George Orwell;
b. Year "Purple Rain" hit theaters;
c. Career point total for JMU's Precious Hall;
d. Consecutive victories by the UConn women's basketball team;
e. All except "d."
Pat yourself on the head if "e" was your choice. Obviously, UConn hasn't won anywhere near that many games.
As for Hall, well, we're not taking anything for granted. But since she's averaging 23.9 points per game, let's just say we like her chances of crashing the 2,000-point barrier Friday night in Hempstead, N.Y. when the Dukes visit Hofstra (8-11, 1-7 CAA). Only two other JMU players have ever done so - Dawn Evans (2,667) and Tamera Young (2,121).
On Nov. 11, we visited Harrisonburg and watched the Dukes go 6-for-16 from the free throw line (Brick City!) in a season-opening loss to Tennessee. On Sunday, we saw JMU live for a second time at William and Mary and witnessed a program-record 18-for-18 performance from the line in a 15-point triumph over the Tribe.
Combine this with the 6-for-6 effort in the final 26 seconds in last Friday's victory over Drexel and the Dukes will take a streak of 24 straight made free throws into Friday's game at Hofstra. And the best thing about what's happening is it isn't just one player knocking 'em down. Not surprisingly, Hall leads the way by making all nine of her attempts over this span. But there's also: Butler 4-4; Barrier 3-3; Porter 2-2; Smalls 2-2; Young 2-2, Barron 2-2.
Of course, this streak's bound to end at some point (right?), but the improvement from that first game seems legit. Through nine conference games, the Dukes are shooting 75.9 percent from the line, just a smidge behind league-leading Delaware (76.0). JMU was at 69 percent through its 11 non-conference games.