Nov. 20, 2002
FORT WORTH, Texas -
This season, you're nationally ranked and picked to win the conference for the first time. Is there a different mindset for your team?
There was so much unknown a year ago. A new league and a lot of new faces, and we didn't know what to expect. This year, with the number of returners, and the fact that we are coming off a conference championship, it is a different mindset and expectations are higher. I think some people gunned for us last year, but it will be different this year as there is some history between the teams. We've already developed some pretty good rivalries in the league. I don't know if our approach is different but this team is more comfortable with the early part of practice than a year ago.
Although you lost Kati Safaritova and Shanti Nix, it looks like you could have as good a team, or even better, if the team's chemistry comes together.
Safaritova gave us a good inside-out game, and we feel Amy Pack can give us that kind of game. Losing Nix at point, we recruited Kimmie Ortega. We feel Nix was a great defender, Ortega is more of a scorer than she was. This team is deeper and has more experience than a year ago. Expectations should be higher for this team. This is the first year I believe we deserved to be picked number #1. As a coach, I would prefer that we would be picked #1 every year, because that means you accomplished a lot the previous year and you have a number of those same players back, and that you recruited well. We want our players to get used to being picked high in the league and somewhere in the top 25.
Do you envision having more players in your rotation this season?
We've always played a lot of players in our rotation, usually it's 9. I really think there's 10 or 11 that can really help this basketball team. Fitting those pieces into the puzzle and what's their role is going to be the biggest challenge of the preseason. When I look to fit those pieces, there are two areas that I am looking at. One, our guard rotation. Guard depth is a concern going in. We have quality guards but we aren't as deep as I would like. The second is the 4/5 spot. Who comes in for Sandora at the "5." Who gets extensive minutes at the "4" spot and how that rotation works out.
Are you looking at Tracy Wynn and Pack at the "4" spot, along with Grace Gantt?
You can throw a number of players in that group including Tiffany Evans. We have a versatile group. We aren't quite as big, as Safaritova was about 6'3", but that spot has always been very good for us. That spot can shoot the three and get inside and post up. We've been able to cause people mismatch problems there. Sandora Irvin may slide to the "4" more because she has improved her perimeter skills.
Are you looking for a better NCAA seed and a higher RPI with this season's challenging schedule?
It doesn't do any good just to play. You have to win some games. One, we feel like playing that schedule and having success will help our RPI, and in turn, help our NCAA seeding. Two, we are still growing interest in this program. Whatever we have to do to bring quality people to Daniel-Meyer, that's what we are going to do. Those are the type of games our players want to play in, and the games our coaches want to coach in. I think your schedule has to have balance. I think this one is tilted toward the stronger side of that, but I think the team is ready for that. As our team has more depth, our schedule toughness has more depth. I'm excited about the challenge.
This season, it looks like you will play most of the C-USA favorites on the road.
Who knows where teams are going to finish this season. I think the top 4 or 5 teams from a year ago - Cincinnati, Tulane, Louisville, Houston - all have players back and it's going to be a war. After that, I think you can shuffle them up. I think South Florida is going to have one of the better teams in the league. Charlotte had some success last season and is expected to be better.
After a season in C-USA, has that changed your style any or the type of players you want to recruit?
No. I've never been one that changes for a league. I want the league to adjust to us. We are going to coach the way we coach, and recruit the type of athletes we're comfortable recruiting. If you recruit good players and recruit to your style as a coach, I don't care what league you play in, it doesn't change my style at all. I do think C-USA is more athletic than the WAC.
Do you have a theme or motto for your team each season?
Yes, we do. Last year, it was "We've Got Answers" because we wanted our team to understand that while we had some question marks, as far as new players and a new league, we felt like the answers were in that locker room. At the end of the year, we felt like we answered those.
This year, the slogan is "More to Prove." When you look at the preseason polls, it is recognition for your program and you look at them when you are trying to get national respect. I looked at one poll that had three C-USA teams ranked in the top 25, and we weren't one of them. That poll is on my wall behind me. I got to thinking about that and felt like we had a lot more to prove. We've certainly had success, but nationally for us building this program, you have to prove it everyday. I think our players like that challenge.
You have a new director of basketball operations, Sean McShane. What does he bring and what are his responsibilities?
Sean brings quite a bit of experience. He was in Australia for 8 years, and was head coach and general manager for one of the professional men's teams there. That person is like our minor leagues, they handle promotions, fundraising, budgets and all those things. He brings some international experience as well. His duties are handling all of our travel, scheduling, some film editing, sponsorships and special projects, like our coaching clinics and community outreach activities.
Because of your success, are you and your team in more demand in the community?
Our players are in tremendous demand, but that's a good problem to have. Balancing those schedules is tough. It's part of the responsibility of being a student-athlete here. As you have more success, you have a chance to have an impact on more people. That's a real positive in what we do. Our athletes enjoy that part of it. We were out at Cook Children's last week, and had a great response there. I know our team got more out of that trip than some of the kids at the hospital.
How is the proposed new practice facility coming along?
I think it's coming along well. I'm excited about the project and think it's going to be a beautiful facility. It is critical for our basketball program. There are so many advantages to our university here - the small class sizes and personal attention the student-athletes get. The challenges are class times often conflict with our practice time. The new practice facility will really enable us to utilize more efficient practice hours and let our players workout whenever they want, which is a big advantage.
What are your thoughts on how the NCAA is now selecting campus locations for the first and second round games?
I don't think we've done enough. Its kind of the same old, same old with the same teams hosting. To give you example, Tennessee could play four straight home games next year and be in the Final Four. That isn't fair. I would be saying the same things if it was us. We haven't done enough to create a fair playing atmosphere. We've tried to take a little bit of a step forward. New Mexico, if you look at past history, may not have been a high enough seed to host. Cincinnati was able to host this year, which is good for them.
With the way the rules are, if we had a chance to do it, we'd jump at it in a heartbeat.
I don't happen to think that it's right for women's basketball.
My preference would be for neutral sites in cities that are close to the teams, and do those years in advance, so you could sell them. See if our game can grow that way. We haven't had the confidence to see if we can do it yet. We could have played last year in Raleigh, which would be 20 minutes away. If it was Louisiana Tech, they could play in Shreveport. They could still have the crowd, but the teams would be shooting in a different arena with different backgrounds, and that's some of your home court advantage.
What will be interesting this year is if a team like New Mexico gets in the tournament and they are a #7 seed. Then you have a #2 seed that has worked all year that has to go to New Mexico. That #2 seed is not going to be happy at all. I think you could see more problems with this than even the past format.
Have you decided to discontinue the men's/women's doubleheader downtown?
I liked the idea. I think for us to go back downtown, we need to turn it into an event, and I don't think we've done that. We've had decent teams but it's always been at times when it's difficult to make it an event. It's been at Christmas time when you don't have the students, the band and the atmosphere you need. I would rather go down there in early December when you have those things and can turn it into the event of the week in Fort Worth.
This interview originally appeared in The Horned Frog Sports Report.