Oct. 16, 2012
By Jon Cooper
That was how many shots each player on the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team — freshmen included — was asked to put up during the summer.
“All summer long we had a goal,” said senior point guard Sharena Taylor. “It was 21,000 threes for the guards and 21,000 shots for the post. I made an effort to really get in there every chance I got and get on the gun and get up shots, maybe 600 a day, maybe 1,000 a day.”
Sound like a lot of shots?
Consider Georgia Tech’s career record-holder for three-pointers attempted, Chioma Nnamaka, put up 733 in her four-year career (2005-08).
Sound like a lot to ask?
Not to Taylor, a two-time Iron Athlete Award winner or any of the current Yellow Jackets that want to continue the program’s recent run of success.
The team is looking to build upon last season, when it earned the school’s first Sweet 16 berth, set school-records for wins (26) and ACC wins (12) and improved its win total for a sixth straight season.
Expectations are higher for 2012-13, as Tech was picked to finish third in the ACC (behind Duke and Maryland) at ACC Media Day (junior guard Tyaunna Marshall was elected to the Preseason All-ACC Team).
They’ll try to do this following the graduation of five seniors, all of them key players, including center Sasha Goodlett and point guard Metra Walthour, both four-year starters, breaking in a group of seven freshmen, and playing through a non-conference schedule head coach MaChelle Joseph calls the toughest she’s ever put together.
Taylor, one of four seniors on this year’s roster — center Shayla Bivins, center Danielle Hamilton-Carter and forward/guard Jasmine Blain are the others — hit the ground running when it came setting an example for the newcomers.
A key part of that was the quest for 21,000 threes.
“I think for them to come in — obviously, they didn’t come in until the second session of the summer — and they see you in the gym, it’s like, ‘Okay, if I want to play then I’ve got to get out on the gun, too. I’ve got to get some extra shots up myself,'” she said. “So in addition to sometimes bringing them along, just being an example and them seeing you out there makes them want to get out there, too.”
Taylor says the multitude of shots has already paid off, and should really be evident once the season kicks off, three weeks from Sunday, on November 11th, against Tennessee at brand new McCamish Pavilion.
“I think my shot is a lot better than it was in the past three years that I’ve played here,” said Taylor. “Another thing, I really am trying to take hold of this new role of being a leader and taking these freshmen under my wing. Those two things have pushed me into wanting to improve.
“And I want to play!” she added with a laugh. “The new court’s nice but it’s not that fun if you’re not playing on it.”
Joseph is impressed with what she’s seen from Taylor.
“Of anybody on our team, she made the most gains in the off-season,” said Joseph. “She improved her shooting, she improved her ball-handling, improved her quickness, her strength. I see her getting significant minutes. She has great experience as a senior. Sharena Taylor has been in our program for four years. She just hasn’t had the opportunity to play.”
That opportunity may be knocking as much for the example Taylor sets defending as for knocking down shots.
“One thing Coach knows about me is I’ve always been a defensive player, a good defensive stopper. I think that she’s probably going to rely on me a lot for that,” she said. “Some girls are not used to defense being the focus in high school, so that’s always a difficult transition. But once they see the pace of our game and once we get after it, and Coach [Joseph] will tell them, ‘If you don’t play defense you won’t play,’ I think once they get that in their heads the light will go on.”
The excitement will really begin once the freshmen do hit the floor under the theatrical lighting at McCamish, as this is a talented group.
“They’re the most talented freshman class, on paper, that we’ve ever brought in here,” said Joseph — although not one of Tech’s freshmen was chosen for the Preseason Coaches Newcomers list. “They were ranked as high as third in the country and we have several top 20 players in the country in this freshman class.
“I look at them and if they stay and they commit the way the seniors that just walked out of here did, we’ll be playing for a championship in four years, no doubt about it,” Joseph continued. “They’re very talented, they’re athletic, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re quick, they get up and down the floor. They just don’t have any experience. Right now they’re learning how to be tough. That’s my challenge is to teach them how to compete every day.”
They seem to be picking it up quite quickly.
“To be in this facility practicing every day and seeing it with my own eyes, I can see how much raw talent we have. Now we do have to shape that and get them to understand the system but we have a talented group,” said Taylor. “I’m sure there are going to be plenty of girls who take it upon themselves to step up. I’ve seen some great things out of these girls already.
“What I’m seeing now is that everybody’s ready to work,” she added. “[The freshmen are] just as excited as we are. But they have to learn. It’s definitely a learning process. It’s all new and fresh for them. But one thing you can not coach is effort and I think that’s something they try to bring every day, just coming in and working hard, playing through mistakes.”
It’s nothing a little repetition and some game time can’t cure, not to mention a little senior advice, which Taylor is happy to offer.
“It’s kind of put me in a place where I know exactly what I need to do and where Coach needs me to be a voice for her,” she said. “Be that extension of her on the court.”