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Preseason Press Conference Question and Answer Session

Oct. 11, 2005

Georgia Tech Basketball Media Day

October 11, 2005

Coach Present: Women’s Basketball Head Coach MaChelle Joseph

Players Present: #3 Junior Guard Stephanie Higgs, #32 Senior Forward Jessica Williams

MaChelle Joseph, Head Coach

Q: Do you think that you’ll be able to pick up where you were last year before you lost some of your players?

“Yes. I not only hope that we pick up where we left off, but I hope that we are better. We started three freshmen and a sophomore and a junior the majority of the year, and the great thing about that is that they are now three sophomores, a junior and a senior. We were 10-2 when we lost Kasha Terry and we were 13-7 when we lost Kentrina Wilson, so it was a difficult year because we were really coming together as a team and a program. We really felt like we were on the verge of turning that corner. We did have a set-back. We didn’t finish the year very strongly, but the bright side of that was that we finished the year with freshmen and sophomores getting the majority of the playing time. We did return 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. 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.”

Q: When you lost Kasha last year, how did that change the season?

“I think I underestimated, I know my team did, and I know that I did, what kind of loss Kasha was. You look at the stat sheets and you see six points and six rebounds and then you see four block shots and you say that you can overcome that, but the thing is the intangibles that she brought to the game. Anytime that you can have a 6-3 kid inside defending or on offense, where she drew a lot of double teams and distracted a lot of the defensive players from the other post players and the perimeter players, then Jessica Williams goes from having the second-best defender on her to having the best defender on her. She goes from being the side-kick to being the focal point of the offense. So it was a major loss for us. Kasha brings so many things to the game, and to practice very day. She’s probably the most vocal player that we have on the floor, and not only that, she’s probably one of the most active players, both offensively and defensively that we have.”

Q: You have Stephanie Higgs on your roster who made such vast improvements from her freshman to her sophomore seasons, what kind of improvements do you expect out of her this year? What kind of role will she have?

“Stephanie wasn’t really a surprise in what she did from her freshman to her sophomore year, it was kind of something where we were like, `better late than never.’ We were kind of expecting that out of her as a freshman. 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, and then we challenged her in the off-season to make that same level of improvement from her sophomore year to her junior year. The thing that Stephanie has to understand now is that she has a responsibility to the team. She’s got to be consistent day-in and day-out. She’s got to come and bring her A-game every day, and not just when she feels like it. 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.”

Q: You had Jill running the point as a freshman in the ACC last year. What could you take from last year to this year and how much better can she run the offense as a sophomore?

“I think the biggest thing for Jill from last year that most people don’t realize was that if you look across the conference, there were a couple of other freshman point guards. But you look beside them, and the 2 and the 3 [positions] were juniors and seniors, while Jill had another freshman and a sophomore beside her. So not only did she have the challenge of being a freshman herself out there, but she had two other guards in the backcourt with her that were freshmen and sophomores. I think the fact that she was able to accomplish what she was able to, being surrounded by such a young inexperienced backcourt, I think 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.”

Q: What have you seen over the last three years in the Atlantic Coast Conference and how much better will it be with the addition of Boston College?

“The ACC is the strongest that is has ever been. I was in the SEC when Tennessee won the three-straight national championships and we felt like that conference, at that time, was the strongest that it had ever been with Georgia, Florida and Tennessee all in the top-10. Boston College is another women’s basketball program with great tradition. At least in the last three years, they have been in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s just gotten tougher and stronger. That’s the thing: we all have to raise our level of play. If you look at the returning players from last year [in the ACC], and you look at the top-10 scorers and the top-10 rebounders, only one is not coming back from both of those categories. So you’ve got nine of the top leading scoring coming back and nine of the top rebounders coming back, and this conference is stronger this year than it was last year, if that’s possible.”

Q: Talk about Chioma [Nnamaka] and how tough she was as a freshman and how her game has elevated over the last year.

“Chioma is again another one of those players that a year of experience, maturity and work in the weight room has just helped her game. The thing with Chioma is that she had moments of greatness, not just average play, not just good play for a player, but moments of greatness that showed that she could be an elite player in this league. Her challenge now is to be consistent with her. 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. That’s just freshman to a sophomore and hopefully sophomore to a junior, we’ll see that continued growth and development in her game. But she’s one of the best shooters in the league, one of the best three-point shooters in the ACC, but now she’s got to do it on a consistent basis, night-in and night-out. Another thing that hurt us is that if you look at her stats early in the year, she was our leading offensive rebounder, and then we lost her five rebounds towards the end of the year. Offensive rebounds is about effort. Look at Jessica Williams. She has been in the top three in the league all three years in offensive rebounds, and 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. I think what happened with Chioma is that, as the season wore on, she got tired. She’s not used to going through a college season. They’re not used to 30 games and three-hour practices for four months. When we lost those five offensive rebounds, we lost eight to ten points a night just from those offensive rebounds, and that’s one of the things that we’ve challenged her with. She goes all-out every day in practice. I’ve never seen a kid that goes as hard as she does for three hours straight, and one of the things that I’ve talked to her about is being able to maintain a level of intensity without burning herself out over the course of the season, so we’re hoping to see that maturity and growth out of her this season.”

Jessica Williams, Senior Forward

Q: Where do you think this team can go? How good can this team be?

“I think any team can be as good as they want to be, and I really believe that. The way that we feel about each other and the way that we feel about working hard and doing all we can day-in and day-out in the weight room and on the court really makes me think that we can go…really, the sky is the limit. I came in going to the NCAA Tournament and I would like to leave, and I know my fellow classmates would also, going into the tournament. I think we focus a lot on not just how far we want to go, but each day doing everything that we can to make sure that we get better. And that we give our all in practice or in the weight room or individuals or just in extra shooting. We make sure that we work hard, and we take it day-by-day. Of course we have goals, but we have to reach the short-term ones to reach the long-term ones.”

Q: How big a blow was it losing Kasha [Terry] and Kentrina [Wilson]?

“Just Kasha’s presence, both offensively and defensively, is so valuable to our team as a leader and as a person. It was tough losing her, it really was, but I think the team did handle it well. We pulled together and stayed together. She was still there, just not on the court with us, but we are just glad that she’s here with us now and we’re looking forward to having her back there. To have her shot blocking, to have her defense, her offense, her energy and everything that she brings to the court. This year we know that she’s going to come out with a lot of energy and a lot of fire and we are just excited to get the chance to play with her again.”

Q: Did both Kasha and Kentrina going down make it feel like the air just went out of your season?

“We had a young team, so of course it was a little tough. It’s natural. Things change and you have to adjust to it, but once again, I think that we’re just excited and we’re happy to have her back. We got through last season and we learned a lot from last season and now we’re just ready to move on and continue where we left off and keep getting better every day.”

Q: Have you noticed a change in Coach Joseph? She said she feels like an upperclassman now.

“I have definitely noticed a change in Coach Jo. Like she said, she had to grow with us. She came in, pretty much with me, and she always uses that analogy `as a freshman,’ but it’s a good one. But Coach Jo has gotten a lot more comfortable where she is. She is finally realizing what a head coach is. I tell her all the time, `you’re the head coach, don’t do that!’ And it’s true, because she had to find the right people to pick her up. Coach Jo is a winner all-around and she wants things to go right, and I think that she’s finally found that.”

Q: How important is it for you to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year? Would that be considered a successful season for you?

“It’s very important because that’s how I started. It’s always the ultimate goal of any team: to get to the tournament. As far as for it to be a successful season, I just think that as long as everyone gives their all in every single individual workout, in every single shooting practice, in everything, and gets better, then I think that the wins will come. As long as everyone keeps that in mind: everyday give it all you’ve got, everyday work hard and everyday get better, then I think ultimately, it will happen. I think it’s inevitable that if you do that, if everyone pulls together that the tournament will come, that we’ll get the wins to get there. But it’s very important because you work towards your goal. You set those goals. You say that you’re going to do something and it’s about you going out there and doing it and getting the achievement.”

Q: How important is it for you to have Kasha back in the low post?

“It’s very important. She just brings so much. Not only on the offense and the defense, but the energy that she brings. She’s very vocal in practice, on the court, on the side, she’s just always so loud. It’s just so great to have her there, and I guess that we didn’t realize that last year, but we’re just so excited that she’s back. And I know that she’s excited. Just to see the energy that she has now, it just gives us that much more energy for our posts to go out there and work hard. I’m extremely happy to have her back.”

Q: How much have your underclassmen realized about the strength of the ACC over the past year and how much has that helped them to gain experience/how will it help you guys this year with that experience gained?

“You can just tell when you say `come on guys, let’s work a little harder.’ It’s not like you have to say it more than once. And sometimes you don’t even have to say it because they know. They’ve been there, they’ve seen it themselves, how every night you have to bring you’re A-game, and how you can never have a `night off.’ The way that they are stepping up, they are the ones saying `come on, let’s do this harder, let’s stay a little longer, let’s make some more shots’ so you just have these people that are completely on board with you and they know how to fight through fatigue and they know how to get through some pain because they’ve been there. They can feel that desire. They’ve been very close to a win and didn’t quite get it, they’ve been in front of a thousand of people, they’ve been face-to-face with one of the great players in the ACC. So it’s just that experience that they got and the minutes that they’ve played will help us so much because now you’ve got that many more leaders to help the freshmen now, and it’s that much easier to bring everyone together, because these people know how to get it done.

Stephanie Higgs, Sophomore Guard

Q: Talk about your season last year, and when you got your opportunity you kind of dominated.

“I think the biggest thing was my work ethic. Coach Jo mentions it all the time. Coming in as a freshman, you’re used to being the star all the time, and then in practice you have to go 100% harder than you have to in high school, and once I figured that out, it was like the sky is the limit, and I was able to show that my sophomore year. I don’t think I started my first seven to ten games, and in my first start, I had 30 points, so from then on it just helped my confidence tremendously. I was able to finish out the rest of the year starting in the ACC, and that just makes a big difference. It just gives you an opportunity to see how it is to play against better competition.”

Q: I know in these first two years, Tech hasn’t done what it had hoped to do in the ACC, because the conference has gotten stronger. What are some things that you can relay to the younger players about how hard you have to work and how hard you have to play?

“I try to emphasize that when you come out to practice, make sure you go your hardest. Come out to practice like it’s the last practice you’re ever going to [take part in], because when you’re in a game, everything is faster. Everything is ten times faster in the competition than it is in practice. You think you’re going hard in practice, but it doesn’t really compare to a game. You can never work hard enough, you can never go hard enough. I think that it’s just something that you have to learn as you get older, I don’t think it’s something that you automatically know as a freshman, like the work ethic that you have to do, the time that you have to put in to be a good team, be a great team.”

Q: Would you say the secret to success for you guys this year is everyone staying healthy and the experience that you have coming in?

“I think that’s the key. Injuries: I’ve never seen anything like this until I came to Tech. Just how the impact of one of your starters [going down] could really affect your season. It’s like everyone has to do so much more than what that person gave. If everyone stays healthy, we can do great things this season. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Q: One of the differences is when Kasha goes down. How key is it for your guards for Kasha to be able to score in the post to open up your jump shot?

“It’s really key. Like you said, when Kasha’s in the game, a lot of people key in on her. She gets double-teamed and everything and it opens up the court. You see lanes that you don’t see when she’s not in. You have chances and opportunities to score that you don’t have when she’s not there, and the defense has figured that out and the coaches have looked at that. She has a presence. When she’s out there on the court, you know she’s out there on the court. When she’s not, you know she’s not.”

Q: What is a successful season in your eyes right now?

“In the two years that we haven’t had postseason, we haven’t made the WNIT or anything, so I think that the biggest thing is going to the NCAA Tournament. I feel like that’s something that I’ve dreamed about. I watch it all the time on television when it’s March Madness, and I want to be a part of that.”

Q: The last two years you guys didn’t finish strong. What do you do to change that?

“We remain positive. We regroup. We have everyone back. When they went to the tournament the year before I came in, they had a lot of veterans, they had a lot of good seniors, and that’s something that we have this year. We have five seniors, we have starters back, and we have the ability to do great things. My first two years here weren’t what I thought they were going to be, but I have two years left. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I reach the goals that I’ve set for myself.

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