Balance is Key for the Jackets

Nov. 5, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– Even before today’s Hoopsfest (4:30 p.m. in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, no charge), and certainly afterward (when games begin), there was more than ever to be amped about regarding women’s basketball at Georgia Tech.

Even for those skeptical of the women’s game, and in the interest of being honest that number is unfortunately high, the Yellow Jackets may well offer something special.

Four starters return, and although the Jackets were picked to finish fifth in the ACC by the conference media, that projection is silly low and way out of balance. The best of the returnees, Alex Montgomery, is back without the knee brace she wore last season and has in practice appeared an almost entirely different, uber-energized player.

Ironically, balance figures to be the Jackets’ calling card. A team that last season sorely lacked jump shooters has several now, and a couple of new swing players and a lightning-quick point guard may dramatically change the complexion of Tech when it has the ball.

There are six newcomers to the program, including four freshmen.

One of the old new hands on deck, Danielle Hamilton-Carter, was sidelined last season and will be for the first 10 games this season because of an NCAA ruling that she played for a pro team in her native Sweden. Really, it was a club team, and really the only realistic option she had to play as high school ball does not exactly flourish in the lands of Scandinavia.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward led the Swedish under 20 team in scoring in the European Championships over the summer, and she rebounds well.

Two more Swedes, freshmen Sandra Hasahya-Ngoie and Frida Fogdemark, are 6-2 slick shooters. If they and Montgomery heat up from the perimeter, the opposing defense will have to flex outward to leave room in the paint for 6-5 junior center Sasha Goodlett (9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds as a sophomore) to operate in a post vacated by Brigitte Ardossi.

“The two freshmen from Sweden have shown ability to hit 3s, which we haven’t had in the past,” said coach MaChelle Joseph, who has led the Jackets to four straight 20-win seasons and as many consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. “Frida can play [shooting guard, small forward and power forward].

“She was seventh in the Europeans in rebounding, a big guard who can rebound, a left-hander who can really shoot. It’s very rare, and a tremendous asset because you can’t double down in the paint.”

Minus clutter inside, Tech should be able to slash to the goal, and freshman point guard Dawnn Maye is blur-like with or without the ball.

She, Metra Walthour, Sharena Taylor and eventually Deja Foster – who hopes to return from knee surgery in late December or early January – will share keys to the offense.

If there could be said to be a key to everything, Montgomery is your top candidate.

She tore an anterior cruciate knee ligament in the 2009 ACC tournament when she was arguably one of the top 12 or 15 players in the conference. Although she returned last season, she was not her old self. She led Tech by far with 59 of the team’s 89 made 3-pointers (Mo Bennett was the only other player with more than eight, with 15, as players other than Montgomery made 18.4 percent of their treys).

Montgomery appears to be more than her old self now.

“Last year I was sort of protecting my knee, and I wasn’t attacking because I was scared of getting hurt again,” she said. “I settled for jumpers, and if I didn’t hit them my game was off. I’ve been working without the brace, and focusing on attacking, penetrating and kicking.”

Joseph, who is a tad excitable, says, “Alex is one of the most improved players in one year I’ve ever coached. She’s attacking the rim.”

There’s plenty more to say about Montgomery, but Sting Daily’s Jon Cooper is working on a grand feature about her. That’ll come soon.

You cannot roll with the big girls unless you play them, and Tech’s schedule reflects a move in that direction. Beyond competing in perhaps the nation’s top conference, the Jackets will play perennial powers UConn, Georgetown and Tennessee in consecutive late-November games.

UConn, the two-time defending national champions, will bring a young team to Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 21, when former Gwinnett county superstar Maya Moore will lead the way.

The Georgetown and Tennessee games will be in a tournament in the Virgin Islands, and Tech’s other big non-conference game, Dec. 5 against Georgia at AMC, will mark the debut of Hamilton-Carter.

It should be quite a ride.

“We feel like we’re at a point in our program where we have to take on top teams in the country,” Joseph said. “We don’t need to beat teams by 30; we need to get better. That’s the situation we’ve been working to get in for eight years. “

“We do have the depth, we do have multiple players. It’s exciting to watch them every day. We’re a work in progress. Where we start is not going to be close to where we’re going to finish.”

I’m looking forward to seeing this team play. Maybe I can meet you at AMC. Give me some particulars at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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