April 2, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball Head Coach MaChelle Joseph will have a really good seat as she attends to business at the 2012 Women’s Championship game Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
Unfortunately, it’s neither the seat nor the business she’d have preferred to be doing.
“I’m on the board of directors for the WBCA (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association), and we’re having our annual convention. So I’ll be there through the weekend,” said Joseph, who completed her ninth season at Georgia Tech. “Obviously, I’ll be watching very closely. I ‘think they’ll be very competitive games.”
She’d rather be there with her Yellow Jackets, but also believes that’s just a matter of time. She can point to the 2011-12 season.
The squad finished 26-9. The 26 wins were a school-single-season record and marked the eighth straight season under Joseph in which Tech either matched or improved its win total from the previous season. The Jackets came on strong at the end of the season, winning nine of their last 11 games and 15 of the last 19. The only losses in those games came to Duke, twice to Maryland, and to top-ranked and undefeated Baylor (the favorite to win it all and is Joseph’s pick — “I can’t imagine anyone being able to stop Brittney Griner.”). All three of those teams were ranked in the top 10 and members of the Elite Eight. In fact, all nine of Tech’s losses during the season came to ranked teams.
Joseph admitted that it took a couple of days to get over the reality of losing to Baylor, but was helped when a bigger-picture reality set.
“I think about what a great year we had,” she said. “We played for an ACC Championship and went to the Sweet 16, and won more games than we’ve won in the history of our program and we didn’t play a home game. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”
That the record-setting performance came in a season where, at best, they were playing neutral-site games spoke volumes for the senior class that arrived in Atlanta in 2008 with seemingly unrealistically high expectations and left having won more games than any other senior class and advancing further in conference and NCAA Tournament play than any previous team.
“It’s a little overwhelming to think about that type of success and what these seniors meant to our program and not just as basketball players,” Joseph said. “They’ve been the epitome of what we want student-athletes to look like at Georgia Tech, get an education and a four-year degree in one of the top schools in the country, compete at the highest level between the lines and be great citizens off the floor. That’s what I think about when I think of how proud I am of all the things we accomplished.”
Losing impact players like starting center Sasha Goodlett and starting point guard Metra Walthour, and more understated but equally important pieces like hard-nosed battlers Chelsea Regins and Mo Bennett and soft-spoken, leader by example LaQuananisha Adams, might decimate a lesser program
It won’t do that to Georgia Tech. The senior quintet positively influenced the returning players before turning the program over to them and with the likes of Ty Marshall, NCAA Tournament hero Sydney Wallace and Dawnn Maye, there is talent aplenty. That base is why Joseph expects the Jackets to continue to move forward
“We had five seniors, but what everybody is forgetting is that we’re returning three starters and Sydney Wallace isn’t even one of those starters,” Joseph said. “So the cupboard’s not bare. With the players we have returning and the players we have coming in, we’re going to be very successful, we’re going to be very competitive. There’s no doubt about it.
“With Dawnn Maye, Sydney Wallace and Ty Marshall I feel like we have one of the best backcourts in the ACC, if not the country, returning,” she added. “Those are three pretty special players and the recruiting class that we’re bringing in, is one of the top 10 in the country. I think our perimeter has a lot of depth and a lot of talent. We’ve got to sort out how to replace Sasha Goodlett and Chelsea Regins.”
The prospect of that has become a little less nightmarish with the ascension of forward T.J. Gortnar, who cracked the starting lineup and showed a fearlessness to battle in the paint, and the continued improvement of center Danielle Hamilton-Carter in the post.
Joseph has a pair of potential wildcards in a pair of redshirt juniors, 6-5 center Shayla Bivins, who redshirted this past season, and 6-2 guard/forward Jasmine Blain, who tore her ACL and took a medical redshirt.
“I think this team is much deeper than people know,” Joseph said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’ve been working with Shayla and developing her for three years now, and Jasmine Blain was really starting to come into her own before she got injured and would have made a huge difference on this team this year. So, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have some pieces.
“I think the big question mark for us is going to be where is the leadership going to come from?” she added. “Ty Marshall, Sydney Wallace and Dawnn Maye and these rising seniors, are they going to be able to step up and lead this team the way it needs to be led? I think last year at this time of the year we had that same question mark about the five seniors we had. But there’s no doubt in my mind they rose to the occasion and I don’t see any reason why this other group won’t do the same.”
The current group also is going to be pushed by an incoming wave of talent. It’s a wave that is continuing to grow. It’s a future so bright that it’s actually made recruiting…fun!
As Joseph has discovered in recent visits, the combination of this year’s postseason success, including reaching the NCAA’s Sweet 16 and getting a prime time game against Baylor and Brittney Griner, and the optimism surrounding the opening of state-of-the-art McCamish Pavilion next season has the Georgia Tech brand on the rise.
“When you make it to the Sweet 16, you’re one of the last 16 teams left, you give a lot of notoriety to your program,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt it will not only impact us this year recruiting but in the future. Knowing that at Georgia Tech we can beat elite teams and get into the Sweet 16 and beyond, that was one of the question marks until we reached that milestone.
“We’re excited to get back in our own facility and one of the best facilities in the country for basketball,” she added. “So it’s going to be exciting for us.”