Oct. 12, 2005
ATLANTA – With the return of all five starters and 12 letterwinners from the 2004-05 squad, as well as the addition of four talented newcomers, the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team is set to begin preseason practice Saturday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Head coach MaChelle Joseph begins her third season at the helm of a team that went 13-14 last year. The Yellow Jackets will practice twice on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday of next week, taking Monday off, and their first exhibition game is scheduled for Nov. 10 at the Georgia Dome against the Premier Players.
Tech’s top two scorers from last season, both all-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees in 2005, return in 5-9 junior guard Stephanie Higgs at 13.3 points per game and 5-11 sophomore guard Chioma Nnamaka (12.7 ppg). The other three returning starters are 5-9 sophomore point guard Jill Ingram (7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) and 6-0 sophomore Janie Mitchell (6.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and 6-1 senior Jessica Williams (4.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) at forward.
Higgs, the ACC’s 10th-leading scorer last season, averaged over 13 points per game during her sophomore year (2004-05) after averaging just 3.8 ppg her rookie season. She scored at least 20 points in two ACC contests during the year and had her top game of the season against Samford in her first career start, scoring 30 points on 11 field goals. The 2005 honorable mention all-ACC honoree averaged 35. percent from the floor and 74 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 4.6 rebounds per game.
“Stephanie wasn’t really a surprise in what she did from her freshman to her sophomore year, I think it took her freshman year for her to learn what kind of work ethic and commitment that it took day-in and day-out to excel at this level,” said Joseph. “The thing that Stephanie has to understand now is that she has a responsibility to the team to be consistent day-in and day-out. She’s got to bring her A-game every day, and I think you’re going to see a much more mature player on the court. I don’t think that she’s going to take a day off. I expect her to come in and lead this team not only offensively, but defensively as well.”
Nnamaka, one of just two Tech players to start every game during the season, came up big for the Yellow Jackets in the first ACC game of her career, scoring a season-high 30 points at Florida State. She was also one of the most consistent three-point threats on the team, connecting on 34 percent of her shots from beyond the arc, which is currently tied for eighth in the Tech career annals. Nnamaka, named to the 2005 ACC all-Rookie team, finished the season 11th in the conference in scoring while shooting 35 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the charity stripe.
“The thing with Chioma is that she had moments of greatness, not just average play, not just good play, but moments of greatness that showed that she could be an elite player in this league,” said Joseph. “Her challenge now is to be consistent. That’s her biggest weakness right now. Instead of getting 30 points one night and three the next night, she’s got to average 15. It’s got to be between 15 and 18 every night, not 30 and 2. She’s got to show her teammates and her coaches that we can count on her night-in and night-out, and that’s just growth and maturity.”
Ingram, who started 26 of Tech’s 27 games at the point guard position in 2004-05, struggled with consistency early in the season, but improved during the latter part of the year, averaging 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per league game while dishing out 2.4 assists per contest. She played her best games against the team’s toughest opponents, scoring a season-high 20 points at Duke, where she hit eight field goals, including four three-pointers. She also had a season-high 10 rebounds at Virginia Tech while scoring in double-figures on seven occasions.
“I think the fact that [Jill] was able to accomplish what she was able to, being surrounded by such a young inexperienced backcourt, and the fact that she got 30 games under her belt, is just going to make such a difference in the world. I’ve noticed that, even this summer, a growth and maturity in Jill, not only as a person but as a player with her leadership abilities. It’s exciting to see what the future holds for her as well, and I think that we’re going to see her game mature just from the experience that she had last year.”
Williams, Tech’s lone returning starting senior, started all 27 games for the Yellow Jackets a season ago, and has made 51 starts in her first three years on the Flats. The Riverdale, Ga. native again led the Yellow Jackets in offensive rebounding, ranking third in the conference with 3.5 offensive boards per game after finishing first in that category the previous year, with 2.9 orpg.
“Offensive rebounds is about effort,” said Joseph. “[Jessica Williams] has been in the top three in the league all three years in offensive rebounds. She’s not the biggest or the quickest or the strongest post player in the league, but she gets it done because of her desire to go get the ball.”
Rounding out the returning starters for the Yellow Jackets is sophomore Janie Mitchell, who earned her first start of the season against St. John’s in the seventh game of the season and then returned to the starting lineup for seven of Tech’s final eight games.
Also returning are 6-3 senior forward Kasha Terry, who started 11 of the Jackets’ first 12 games of the season in 2005, averaging 6.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, 5-9 three-point threat Megan Harpring, who returns for her senior season after participating in every game the last three years, and 6-1 forward/guard Kentrina Wilson, who begins her junior season fully recovered from her second knee surgery in the last two years. Tech gets more help in the frontcourt from 6-4 redshirt senior Lauren Sauer, who joined to team following the conclusion of the 2004 volleyball season, 6-3 sophomore Daphne Mitchell, who played in 23 of 27 games last year, earning one start, and 6-0 Cheytoria Phillips, who begins her fourth season with the team.
“We didn’t finish the year very strongly [last year], but the bright side of that was that we finished the year with freshmen and sophomores getting the majority of the playing time,” said Joseph. “We returned every single player from a year ago. The only player not back is Giuliett Ancora, because she had an ACL injury [she suffered] the first day back from Australia, the first day off the plane [this summer]. So that’s the only player that was on last year’s roster that won’t be active this year, plus we added three freshmen and we also got a transfer who was freshman of the year in the Colonial [Athletic Association] in Meagan Samis. So we’re really pleased with our recruiting class in the incoming freshmen and the contributions that we know they can make and along with the 13 other players that we have.”
All there of Georgia Tech’s incoming freshmen were high school standouts, including 5-11 guard/forward April Phillips of Long Beach, Calif., 6-1 forward Tabitha Turner of Miami, and 5-6 point guard Jacqua Williams of Seattle, Wash.
Phillips was a two-time Nike All-American and two-time Street & Smith All-American at Long Beach Polytechnic, where she also excelled at track and field, finishing fourth in the state in shot put while leading her team to the state championship during her junior year. Turner is a proven winner, leading her Monsignor Edward Pace team to two championships while being named one of the top female prep players in the state of Florida by the Breakdown Magazine. The younger sister of Old Dominion’s former standout Corrina Turner, Tabitha averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds per game during her junior year while also playing volleyball.
Rounding out the freshman class is Williams, a Seattle Times Athlete of the Year that averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five steals per game during her prep career while also ranking as one of the top-20 athletes in the nation in the 200 meters. She was the state champion at the 100 and 200 meters, as well as the long jump, during her career at Rainier Beach High.