Dawn Staley has a knack for creating catchy themes. This year, the motto for the women’s basketball team is “Raising the bar.” With an addition to the coaching staff and improvement among players, Staley is hoping the motto will turn into reality.
Last year the Owls jumped out to a 4-1 start then proceeded to drop seven consecutive games, dimming hopes of a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
But Temple began to turn things around and won eight of their final 10 games, finishing 14-15. After having an up and down season last year, Staley will accept nothing short of winning the Atlantic Ten Conference title.
Gone from last year’s squad are Stacey Smalls, Khadija Bowens, Lorentha Jones and Rachel Marcus.
Smalls’ leadership, floor presence and instinctive play will be missed, but the newcomers look poised to fill the void.
This year’s upstarts are led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Britney Jordan, forward Kamesha Hairston, and redshirt freshman guard Stephanie Douglas.
In the off-season Staley also retooled her staff by hiring assistant coach Carla McGhee in July. McGhee knows a thing or two about basketball.
After starring at the University of Tennessee, she went on to play three years for the WNBA’s Orlando Miracle. McGhee and Staley were also teammates on the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic Team in 1996.
McGhee will help the development of the front court through her experience and insight in the post. While the Owls lost the heart of their front court, Staley can count on sophomore center Candace Dupree and junior forward Ari Moore for a productive season.
Last year Dupree’s season was cut short because of a foot injury and Moore also missed some games with nagging injuries.
Dupree could emerge as the team’s top scorer and rebounder again, but she must avoid foul trouble to be effective. Moore will help relieve pressure off Dupree by spreading the offense with her perimeter shooting, which will inhibit defenders from doubling Dupree in the paint.
Despite being undersized and lacking depth, the front court must out-rebound their opponents. Last season the Owls were out-rebounded by nearly four boards a game.
Defensively they must stay aggressive and force tough shots. Last season the Owls allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent from the field. In addition, Staley said the play of senior forward Tynecia Pam will dictate how far this team will go. Staley tabbed Pam as the X-Factor for the Owls.
The backcourt is fortified by the presence of junior point guard Cynthia Jordan and experienced senior guards Toni Belafonte and Christina Hamilton.
Staley expects breakout seasons from both Jordan and Hamilton, who will split time running the offense early in the season.
Jordan, who played alongside the now departed Smalls, has to emerge as the floor leader for a team that had a turnover margin of +4.5 last season.
Hamilton and Belafonte will need to be more physically active in order to maintain a reputation of being one of the stingiest defensive backcourts in the A-10. Last season the team averaged 10.5 steals per game.
At 5-foot-11, senior Chrissy Cruz gives the Owls some size at the small forward spot. Sophomores Stephanie Hicks, Jennifer Owens, Mercedes Miller, and Gwendolyn Browne will also look to contribute. If these players can show signs of development it will greatly improve the Owls’ depth.
Also, Staley said freshman small forward Kamesha Hairston will compete for playing time. Hairston averaged 21 points and nine rebounds for Bowsher High School in Toledo, Ohio.
David Cargin can be reached at email@example.com.