Nov. 28, 2010
by Jon Cooper
The Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball team knew what it wanted when it took off for St. Thomas to play in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t get the short-term results they wanted, as they lost two of their three games. But long-term, the losses to No. 13/12 Georgetown and No. 4 Tennessee (they beat Missouri in their finale) may have given the squad something even more valuable. An evaluation of where they stand against the nation’s elite, what they needed to improve to play with them and the chance to work on fixing those weaknesses.
“I think the experience of coming down here and playing this quality of opponents was great,” said Head Coach MaChelle Joseph after her squad’s 61-46 victory over Missouri. “This is a great way to prepare for the ACC and NCAA Tournaments — to have these kind of games with this caliber of competition back-to-back-to-back. On top of that, we’ve played eight games in 15 days, which is a lot to ask of the student-athletes. I think I’ve seen some real growth in our players throughout the course of the last 15 days.”
Such harsh scheduling is not new for Joseph’s teams, as last season, the Jackets played in the Women’s Pre-Season NIT, which included a trip to Stillwater, Okla., to play Big-12 powerhouse Oklahoma State and the year before that, they traveled to Storrs, to battle top-seeded UConn.
This year, it was a three-game gauntlet of UConn, then in the Islands against Georgetown and Tennessee.
“Coach didn’t make this schedule by accident,” said senior co-captain Deja Foster, who made her 2010-11 debut Friday against Tennessee. “These teams were supposed to show us our weaknesses. So we’ve just progressed. Even though we lost the first two games, we progressed in those two games.
The Jackets showed some offensive holes — especially an extended first-half drought against the Vols — but they believe they shored up their defense, an important goal going in.
The team’s improvement on defense, and in general, goes hand-in-hand with getting Foster back.
Foster, who tore her ACL last May, sat out the first six games of the season. Her return was welcome.
“It was good to have Deja Foster back out there,” said Joseph. “Her leadership and toughness really infects our team, and really brings out the best in her teammates around her.”
Playing in the Paradise Jam was paradise for Foster, who wasn’t supposed to be back for at least another month. But that timetable wasn’t acceptable to her, especially since, she already knew what it took to get back.
“I tore my other ACL when I was in high school,” she said. “So I knew everything I was going to go through. I thought, ‘I came back in four months from the other one, so why can’t I play now?’ I took my time, did everything the team doctors told me to do.
“I wasn’t supposed to come back until January, or that’s what the doctor wanted me to do,” she added. “My plan was to get back on the court with my team. I wanted to be here. I just wanted to be a leader for my team on and off the court, but I couldn’t be a on the court if I wasn’t able to play. So I rehabbed the way I was supposed to.”
Foster did what she was supposed to against the Tigers, scoring 11 points, shooting 5-for-7 from the foul line, and pulling down eight rebounds in the win over Missouri. She also displayed the type of energy that’s expected of her. She tied for the team lead with two steals and tied for the team lead with center Sasha Goodlett by pulling down a game-high six offensive boards. Missouri as a team had six offensive rebounds.
That energy is Deja being Deja.
“I’m feeling great now,” she said. “ACL tear? What’s that? That’s how I feel. When I go out there I don’t think about my knee brace or the fact that I tore my ACL. I’m just out there trying to play and trying to provide energy for my team get wins.”
In the win over Missouri, the Tigers, shot 36.2 percent shooting, 23.5 percent from three, including 31.8 in the second half, and 0-for-8 from three in the final 20 minutes.
That’s Georgia Tech being Georgia Tech.
They felt at home, even if they were far from the friendly confines of Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Spending Thanksgiving in the Virgin Islands — they actually celebrated Thanksgiving prior to leaving Atlanta, with Foster’s mom cooking dinner for the team — was an interesting experience, even though there was very little fan support.
“We had one local cheerleader in the bleachers,” said Foster with a laugh. “You could hear her out of everybody.”
In the end, the trip to the Virgin Islands gave the team a chance to rediscover who they were. It was an opportunity they believe they took advantage of.
“We held Tennessee to 66 points, almost 20 points below their average, and I felt like we could really grow on that,” said Joseph. “Then to hold Missouri to 46 points, I really think our defense is starting to grow and come together.”
“Every day we got better and better on the defensive end,” said Foster of the squad that’s a positive 5-4 heading into December. “That’s where we were struggling a little bit. That’s playing Georgia Tech basketball. We’re a defensive team.
“Like Coach said, she scheduled these games so that we can win in January and February,” she added. “These are the type of teams we will play in the ACC and we don’t want to be exposed in ACC play. We could easily be 7-0 right now or 8-0 but we’re not and we’re fine with that because we know what we need to do to get better. Come January and February we’re going to win those close games that we normally wouldn’t have in the past.”