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Nov. 7, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Coming off a season where they won a school-record 23 games, the Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball Team is still counting on the element of surprise as part of their game plan.

The most pleasant of those surprises, and the biggest factor in the success of the Yellow Jackets, who were picked fifth in the preseason ACC poll, is a completely healthy Alex Montgomery.

It was a less-than 100 percent Montgomery who missed the first five games last year after tearing her ACL in the 2009 ACC Tournament. She came back, probably earlier than advisable, wearing a limiting brace and still won ACC Sixth Player of the Year.

How valuable is Montgomery? The 2009-10 Yellow Jackets made 89 three-point field goals – they were the only team in the ACC to not make 100 – and converted at a .258 percentage (only Virginia shot lower). Montgomery made 59 of the successful threes and shot .324. The rest of the team made 30 at a .184 percentage.

The need for Montgomery’s presence led her to push her comeback. Of course, she never made excuses or gave less than 100 percent.

She’ll be giving 100 percent at 100 percent when the Yellow Jackets take the floor for their 2010-11 season opener Friday night against Georgia State at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m., preceding the men’s 7:30 start against Charleston Southern.

“I’m out of the brace now,” said Montgomery, one of two seniors on this year’s squad (they have seven upperclassmen), who made the ACC All-Freshman Team and has been Third Team All-ACC her other two years. “I’m 100 percent, as if nothing ever happened. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. I’m full go. I’m ready to score, attack the basket, everything.”

That’s good news for fans of women’s college hoops and for Georgia Tech fans. Included in both groups is Tech’s first-year assistant coach Jim Lewis, who has spent 40 years in different levels of coaching but needed only a couple of minutes reviewing video to tell him Montgomery is something special.

“I really love her spirit first of all,” said Lewis. “Being a rising senior she has goals and aspirations to have a fabulous senior year and for the team to do great things. She can really do some things. She has a beautiful touch. She’s 100 percent healthy and ready to go. I see nothing but positive things.”

Lewis knows special. He sees a lot of former University of Tennessee and current Indiana Fever (WNBA) superstar Tamika Catchings in Montgomery.

“[Montgomery’s] idol is the great Tamika Catchings. So I’ve given her tapes on Tamika,” said Lewis, who coached Catchings with the Fever. “I’ve talked to her and given her stories about her work ethic. They’re about the same size. Alex is blessed with a pro body.”

The one area where Lewis would like to see Montgomery be more like Catchings is in taking over games.

“I think she’s a reluctant superstar,” he said. “She’s very humble, she’s very sensitive to not being perceived as a selfish player, which she isn’t. But at some point great players need to assume responsibility. Other players who are good look to them. They are looking for the great player to lead the way. It may not always be in scoring. It may be verbally or whatever. So that’s the challenge that I’m going to continue to work with Alex – remain humble but keep her mindset aggressive and positive and always expecting nothing but a super outcome through the preparation.”

Lewis believes that the perfect day for Montgomery to shed the reluctant part of that label is Nov. 21, when two-time defending champion UConn comes to town, led by unabashed superstar, and Lawrenceville native, Maya Moore.

“We had a player who once scored 52 points in a game. Her efficiency was off the charts that night,” Lewis recalled. “We were going against a future Olympic coach, it was a high-quality game within the conference that we were in. It was the highest individual Division I score output for that year. So why can’t you, Alex, think about those kinds of possibilities? You may not average 52 or 44, like Pete Maravich, but on any given night, against a UConn, when you KNOW that everyone including, and especially, you, know that you need to have perhaps the game of your career, think about it, the possibilities of having a special game where you can help to make history.”

Montgomery said shyness in the face of the glaring spotlight of the UConn game will not be an issue.

“Not at all. I’m going to bring my A-game,” she said. “It’s very important. Coach Jo told us we can’t look past anyone who’s before them, but it’s very important to us. This program has been through a lot and if we get this win it would mean so much to us. We’ve been working so hard in the off-season. It would all pay off.”

Improving on last year is also an important goal.

Montgomery knows that means getting everybody involved and doing anything necessary, even changing her role.

Confident in the team’s arsenal of outside shooters, bolstered by the recruitment of Swedish shooters Frida Fogdemark and Sonia Hasahya-Ngoie, and Maryland guard Tyaunna Marshall, Joseph has experimented with a new wrinkle in the offense, where Montgomery moves to the four.

The fearless Montgomery, who stands 6-1, is not afraid to mix it up with bigger girls in the paint. After all, in the past, she has shown her versatility, playing center as well as running the point.

“It’s really fun. I enjoy it,” she said. “A lot depends on how defenders play it. If they face-guard me Coach could put me at the four, put me in the post. If Frida is wide open, they’ll have to face-guard her. But our shooters are great this year.

“That’s the tricky thing about it,” she added. “Defenses won’t know how to play us if she puts me at the four then switches me back to guard. They won’t know how to play us.”


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