Oct. 1, 2004
Four Graduating Seniors, 66 percent of the scoring, 49 percent of the rebounding and 81 percent of the assists…all gone. Most would describe the 2004-05 season as a “rebuilding” year for the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team. Just don’t tell the team and coaches that.
When questioned about the goals for the upcoming season, second-year head coach MaChelle Joseph calmly replied, “One of the goals every year for Georgia Tech is to make the NCAA Tournament while building this program towards a National Championship.” This year is no different, but the players and coaches know that they need to start somewhere. As for a rebuilding year…not this season!
The Yellow Jackets begin practice this Saturday in preparation for a successful season, and have already set goals as a team that they would like to accomplish.
“Georgia Tech has never had a winning record in ACC play,” Joseph said, “and obviously that goal is in the forefront of our minds. We want to have a winning record in the ACC and make it to the NCAA Tournament.” With additional experience to the coaching staff, along with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, the 2004-05 Georgia Tech team may have the ability to do just that.
After finishing the 2003-04 season with a 14-15 record, Joseph had some gaps to fill–both in the lineup and on the sidelines. She began with adding more experience to her coaching staff while adjusting the duties of the remaining assistant coach. Art PreVost, the only remaining assistant coach from a year ago, was named the program’s recruiting coordinator during the summer, a role in which he brings a wealth of experience.
“I’m very fortunate to have one of the top recruiters in the country on this staff,” said Joseph. “I appreciate the fact that, although Art was offered a head coaching job in the spring, he chose to stay at Georgia Tech to help build this program. We have always talked about winning a championship here, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is committed to Georgia Tech. Having the type of person on your staff that doesn’t quit until the job is done is a great asset to me and to this program.”
Faced with the task of replacing two vacant assistant coaching positions, Joseph immediately looked for things that were missing from the staff as a whole. After her first season as a head coach, one thing that stood out was she needed more experience on her staff, and what better place than with another person with head coaching experience.
“I felt that it was important to go out and find somebody that had been a head coach because I only had one year myself and was the only person on the staff with head coaching experience,” said Joseph. “I was fortunate enough to find somebody like Mack McCarthy that had more than 20 years of coaching experience that can help with so many different aspects of the program. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with him and draw from his extensive experience on the men’s side.”
Joining McCarthy for her first year as an assistant with the Yellow Jacket program is former Arkansas standout Sytia Messer. Her experience in both the Final Four and as a National Champion in the WNIT made her an added bonus for Joseph and the Georgia Tech program.
“I knew Sytia as a player and knew what kind of competitor she was,” Joseph said, “but the thing over the summer that impressed me the most was her work ethic and commitment to helping Georgia Tech sign a Top 10 class. She has been a pleasant surprise for us and will be a tremendous role model for our players. She is energetic but very professional at the same time, and I have tremendous respect for her as a person, player, and now as a coach.”
Just as important as filling coaching positions was filling the leadership roles of four departing seniors in Fallon Stokes, Alex Stewart, Megan Isom and Jasmina Pacariz. Stokes led the Yellow Jackets in scoring and rebounding in 2003-04, while Stewart led the ACC in assists in each of the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Isom’s 47 three-pointers were the most by any Georgia Tech player in 2004, and Pacariz’s leadership abilities were virtually unmatched.
“It’s a tremendous loss for us losing not only four good players, but the type of leadership that they provided for this program,” said Joseph. “Because I spent my first three years at Georgia Tech with those young women, this year’s team is almost like a new one. I helped recruit every player that will be on the team this season, so that is very exciting to me because we are going to be a totally different type of team. It will have a different personality and it will be somewhat young and inexperienced, but I’m very excited about the opportunity this year.”
The Yellow Jackets return eight letterwinners from the 2003-04 team, including five that earned starts in conference games. Megan Harpring (Dunwoody, Ga.), Jessica Williams (Riverdale, Ga.) and Kasha Terry (Douglasville, Ga.) started more than 10 games in 2004, with Harpring as the only returnee to have competed in every contest a year ago.
With the more experienced play of junior forwards Williams and Terry, the Yellow Jackets post play is expected to be the 2004-05 team’s strong suit. Both players finished atop ACC categories at the end of the 2003-04 season and their coaches and teammates are looking for even more from them this season. The coaches are expecting big seasons out of both players and believe that they now have the experience and the ability to step up and be impact players for the Yellow Jacket program.
“We felt that heading into last season our perimeter play was going to be our mainstay,” said Joseph. “But this year, looking particularly at Kasha Terry and Jessica Williams, the strength will be our inside play. For sophomores to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in a statistical category is a pretty impressive feat. With Kasha leading the league in blocked shots, and Jessica in offensive rebounds, we are looking not only for leadership from these two players, but also for them to set the tone, both offensively and defensively, for this young team.”
After making a name for herself on the defensive end of the court in her first two seasons as a Yellow Jacket, in the offseason Terry committed herself to becoming a more complete player. One of the best shot-blockers in the nation, Terry averaged 2.5 blocks per game while pulling down 4.6 rebounds per contest a year ago. A McDonald’s High School All-American, her 9.6 points per game is the most of any returning Yellow Jacket, and she will be looked to for even more of a presence on the offensive end of the court in the coming year.
“We’ve always known that Kasha had tremendous defensive abilities, but this year her challenge is maintaining a level of consistency game-in and game-out,” Joseph said. “It’s sometimes hard to do for a young post player, but she’s no longer that young player. She’s an established veteran in the ACC so we are expecting her to bring her top game every night and set the tone for all of the other post players, especially the younger ones. Kasha came in here as a High School All-American, and now is the time for her to blossom into that type of player because she has the potential. She will be the focal point of our offense as the go-to player inside. As she has success early, I’m sure that several teams will come at her, but she knows this and accepts the responsibility. She finds it as a challenge but also sees that this is her time, as she’s been in the shadows of Sonja Mallory during her freshman year and the four seniors from a year ago. She’s excited about her opportunity and looking forward to meeting the challenge.”
With four breakout games a year ago, Williams showed the Georgia Tech coaching staff, along with her teammates, that she can step up and fill a role as a scorer for this year’s team. The second-leading returning scorer from the 2003-04 team averaged 5.7 points per game and finished second on the team with an average of 5.7 rebounds per contest.
“Jessica showed us last season what she was capable of,” said Joseph. “I think that, at times, she even surprised herself with the success that she had. Because of those games, though, her confidence level is high. She is another player that committed herself during the offseason to not only her individual development but also to helping Georgia Tech become a winning team. She wants Georgia Tech to turn the corner to become a Top-25 program, and she will be one of the key people that this team looks to for leadership.”
Recovering from a knee injury suffered halfway through conferece play in 2004 is Kentrina Wilson, a player that the coaches say can play four of five positions on the court. The sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Fla. played in every game prior to her injury in early February, and had earned a starting role in two contests after showcasing her consistent play at the collegiate level. Her work ethic on the court carried over into her rehabilitation, as she was ready to return to action the first day of school in the 2004-05 season.
“When Kentrina got hurt last season, it was a huge loss for our team because she was just coming into her own,” Joseph said. “She had started some games, earned herself playing time and was really gaining her confidence. She wasn’t backing down from anybody and I was very impressed with how she adjusted as a freshman. In all of my years of coaching, I had never seen a player adjust so easily from high school to college in all aspects-academics, basketball, and her social life. I think that she has a great ability to lead and I have complete confidence that she won’t come back the same as she was, but rather better than she was before.”
Rounding out the returning frontcourt players is junior Ashley Guerrant (East Lansing, Mich.). The coaches hope that Guerrant will have a bigger impact on the offensive end of the court after being utilized primarily for her defensive play in the first two years of her career.
“I am looking forward to seeing how Ashley has developed in the off-season,” Joseph said. “With her height at 6-3 and being so athletic, we hope that Ashley has developed a stronger offensive game during the offseason. In the past, she’s been counted on primarily for her defensive abilities, and especially her rebounding, but this year we are looking for an offensive presence as well. She definitely gives us some depth and size inside and we hope that she will continue developing into a more complete player.”
A pair of High School All-Americans in Daphne Mitchell (Atlanta, Ga.) and Janie Mitchell (Jackson, Miss.) will join the Yellow Jacket frontcourt in 2004-05, and Joseph expects for both freshmen to challenge the upperclassmen immediately for playing time. Daphne Mitchell’s physical strength is her greatest asset, and she is expected to compete at the low-post position, complementing Terry and Williams.
“Daphne has great size, and for her size, very good quickness,” said Joseph. “The biggest thing is getting her into game shape, and she has been working on her conditioning. She has a great touch around the basket, and a great feel for the game for a player her size. She has the ability to score with her back to the basket or facing it, so we’re looking forward to seeing what she can do for us this season.”
Janie Mitchell has the ability to challenge immediately for a spot in the lineup with her ability to play three, possibly four, positions on the court and her raw athletic ability. The NIKE All-American averaged more than 20 points a game her last three years in high school and the coaches are looking for her to be an impact player at Georgia Tech.
“We recruited Janie to be an immediate impact player, and I think that’s why she chose to come to Georgia Tech, because of her opportunity to make a difference early on,” Joseph said. “She has a tremendous work ethic and is a great athlete that has a knack for scoring. I think that Janie has challenged herself to match the accomplishments of her mother, who was a freshman All-American at Georgia. We were very fortunate to be able to attract a player of her caliber to Georgia Tech and are looking for big things out of her.”
With the loss of all three starting guards from a year ago, the Yellow Jackets have some major roles to fill in the backcourt. Georgia Tech returns a pair of shooters in Harpring and Stephanie Higgs (Lawrenceville, Ga.), both of whom are capable of hitting the three and bringing the ball up the court, and a key reserve in Cheytoria Phillips (Raleigh, NC). With only two players returning, the coaches are looking for a freshman to challenge for a starting position while providing healthy competition at all three guard positions.
“Although we lost three experienced, veteran guards, it is a very exciting time for our program because we have several players with the ability to step in and earn minutes and starting positions,” Joseph said. “We are excited about it as coaches because we feel like we have gone out and recruited some very talented players. We know they are young and inexperienced, but we think it is a good thing. I think with us trying to build this program and turn the corner, it’s a great situation to have young players come in with the high expectations that they have.”
The veteran of the returning guards is Harpring, the only player on the roster to have competed in every game in the past two years. Known primarily for her work ethic, this former high school standout scorer will be the Yellow Jackets’ primary three-point threat this season, after the loss of Megan Isom from a year ago. The coaches are also looking for Harpring to take a more assertive role as one of the leaders of this young team, both on the court and behind the scenes.
“The thing I respect the most about Megan is her work ethic and desire to win,” Joseph said. “No matter what, she is ready to battle and wants to win more than anything else. This summer, she was challenged to further develop her perimeter game, to be more consistent from the three-point line. She also needs to step up as a leader. In the past, Megan has always been the hardest worker, but her challenge now is to bring her teammates along. She needs to get these younger players to step up and match her intensity level and work ethic in practice and games every day. Because of her work ethic, she will have the respect of those younger players and I think she will be an impact player, a leader, and a difference-maker on this team.”
Higgs enters her second season at Georgia Tech after finishing 2003-04 with the Yellow Jackets’ top three-point field goal percentage of 41.2 percent. After being recruited primarily for her ability to score, her shooting was no surprise to the Georgia Tech coaching staff. Higgs is expected to challenge for minutes not only at shooting guard, but also at the point position.
“We call Stephanie the microwave, because she just heats up,” Joseph said. “She can score points faster than any person that I’ve ever seen. The only thing holding her back last year was her conditioning, but she addressed that in the offseason and we are excited about having her back this year. We really feel like Stephanie turned the corner with her work ethic this summer and are looking forward to her play this season.”
Phillips, one of the strongest players on the team, will have the opportunity to earn playing time this season, and the coaches say the amount of playing time she earns will be determined by her work ethic and improvement during the offseason.
“The opportunities will be there for Chey because of all of the open positions,” Joseph said. “I think that she has the work ethic and desire to earn some of those minutes, even though the perimeter positions are very competitive considering the talent of the players coming in. The opportunity will be there, and her offseason workouts will determine her level of success early on in the season.”
Four freshman will push the upperclassmen at the guard position, including a pair of shooting guards in Chioma Nnamaka (Uppsala, Sweden) and Shantrell Moss (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Nnamaka enters Georgia Tech as an experienced international player that can play any of the three guard positions. An unselfish player, according to the coaches, this she is expected to be one of the best defenders on the team.
“We were really excited about Chioma signing with us because she brings so much experience with her, and that is one of the things that we are obviously lacking heading into this season,” said Joseph. “The fact that she has played so many games at such a high level in a league against very talented, experienced players tells me that she won’t back down from a challenge. I don’t think that she will be put into any position in the ACC that she hasn’t been in oversees, and that’s what makes her so much better. She has great size and overall body strength and can play all three guard positions. She is a very unselfish player, but the thing that separates her from everyone else is her defensive ability. She has a tremendous desire to play defense and that is a hard thing to teach a young player.”
Moss committed to Georgia Tech early as a track signee with twin sister Shantia, but had a breakout senior year on the basketball court. Her speed and quickness immediately interested the coaching staff and she joined to team after reporting to campus at the end of the summer. A player that can score, shoot the three-pointer, and get to the rim because of her quickness, Moss is expected to challenge the other guards early in fall practice.
“We had known about Shantrell for a while because she signed an early track scholarship,” Joseph said. “Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to watch her play basketball, and there is no doubt about her speed and quickness on the basketball court. If she makes up her mind that she wants to be a defensive stopper, with her tremendous athletic ability, I don’t think there is any guard in the ACC that she couldn’t defend. I think that, depending on her commitment level to developing her offensive skills, she could really surprise some people this season.”
Possibly the most important role that the Yellow Jacket coaching staff is looking to fill is that of point guard. Following the departure of graduating seniors Alex Stewart and Nina Barlin, Georgia Tech was left with just one player in Higgs that had any real experience in guiding the Tech offense. Joseph plans to turn to incoming freshman Jillian Ingram (Charlotte, NC) to fill the role, and is banking on her leadership abilities and work ethic to set the tone for the 2004-05 Yellow Jacket team.
“I have total confidence in Jill,” Joseph said. “I have watched her play since she was in the ninth grade and recruited her these past four years. Even though she’s coming off a knee injury and it may take her a little while to adjust to the college game, I have total faith and confidence in her ability to lead this team. When you have a point guard, you want her to be an extension of you on the court, and that’s something that I think that Jill can be for me and for this program. She is a gym rat, she has a great work ethic, and she has the personality to be able to lead. You couple that with her ability to score-she can shoot the three, penetrate and create and she has the ability to create shots for her teammates-and it makes me excited about having the opportunity to work with a point guard like Jill.”
Giuliett Ancora, a 5-11 native of Melbourne, Australia, also brings international experience to the team and is expected to provide minutes off the bench in place of Ingram this season.
“I really feel like Giuliett will adjust quickly to the academics of Georgia Tech. She will also bring depth to the point guard position and the fact that she has size and has had some international experience will be an asset to the position and to our program.”
With match-ups against perennial Top 25 teams like Georgia and Old Dominion in the first four games of the season, Georgia Tech will find out early the intensity level that it takes to be one of the top teams in the nation. The challenge is one that the players and coaches are meeting head-on, however, because of the experience that they will gain before heading into conference play in early January.
“With the schedule like we have this season, we will find out early what our potential is, along with what our strengths and weaknesses are,” said Joseph. “This is probably the most challenging schedule that I’ve seen since I have been at Georgia Tech, but we did that because of the talent level in the newly expanded Atlantic Coast Conference.”
No longer will the Yellow Jackets be competing against Georgia in the annual Russell Athletic Shootout, but rather the game will return to the school’s homecourts beginning in the 2004-05 season, with Georgia visiting Atlanta in early December. Georgia Tech will face another Southeastern Conference opponent in Arkansas in the Russell Athletic Shootout, which will be contested in February at the Gwinnett Arena.
“We go back to the home-and-home series against Georgia, and the fact that we get to play them on our home court is another great opportunity for this young team,” Joseph said. “We are also looking forward to playing Arkansas, because anytime that you play against an SEC team, you know that you are playing against one of the top teams in the nation. The Razorbacks only lost one starter from a year ago and I know that it will be a great game for people to see. Anytime that teams from the ACC and SEC meet, you are always going to see a quality matchup and a great game, so we are very excited about that.”
With the expansion of the ACC over the summer, teams will play just 14 league games while facing just three teams twice. The Yellow Jackets will visit and play host to Clemson, Florida State, Maryland and Duke this season while also hosting Virginia, North Carolina and NC State in single games. Georgia Tech till travel to Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech along with the home-and-home games against the Tigers, Seminoles, Terrapins and Blue Devils before closing out the season at the ACC Tournament, to be held again at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina.
“I really think we are going to see a more competitive league with the addition of Virginia Tech and Miami,” said Joseph. “We’ve just added two more 2004 NCAA Tournament teams to the six ACC teams that earned postseason bids in 2003-04, so we are certainly looking at a more competitive conference all the way around. I think it’s going to be a very interesting race to the end just because, similar to last season, there is a lot of parity in the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
Regardless of the additional competition in the league, one of the best schedules in the last few years, the holes to fill in the lineup, one thing remains the same: the constant goal for the Georgia Tech women’s basketball program-making the NCAA Tournament. With a new look to the team and a more experienced coaching staff, the 2004-05 team may have the pieces in place to accomplish just that.