The Temple women’s basketball team begins the 2002-2003 season with questions.
What can we expect from the offense?
Will their new front court get the job done?
Can Stacy Smalls lead this team effectively, and can the team get past a demanding non-conference schedule that includes the likes of Rutgers and Notre Dame, and still have enough gas left to get through the Atlantic 10?
Even though there are questions to be answered, expectations are still high this year for the Lady Owls, who won last season’s A-10 Conference Championship and went undefeated in the Big 5.
Last season’s successes will once again make them a team to watch this season.
Head coach Dawn Staley is in her third season at Temple, looking to continue her incredible turnaround of the team that she inherited in the 2000-2001 season.
“Ultimately, we want to win the National Championship here on Broad Street,” Staley said.
The Lady Owls return an experienced backcourt that spearheaded last season’s 20-11 season and led the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989.
Among them are Smalls, an all-America candidate, and Toni Belafonte.
Belafante, a junior, was originally a walk-on as a freshman before becoming a valuable role player for the team.
Though her numbers don’t jump out at you (2.4 points per game, 2.5 rebounds), she did have a starting position on last year’s squad and brings back valuable experience for a young team.
Smalls will be looked upon to set the tone on offense and defense.
Smalls, who averaged 11.3 ppg. and 2.7 rpg. last year, is the unquestioned go-to player for this team.
Also returning this season are five guard/forwards who gave the team a strong and versatile presence off the bench.
Among them are sophomore’s Ari Moore, Cynthia Jordan, junior Christena Hamilton and senior Christine Cruz.
While Hamilton is expected to have a breakout year, look for the underclassmen like Moore and Jordan to add a spark for this team as well.
All seven newcomers could see playing time. Rachel Marcus, Mercedes Miller, Tynecia Pam, Lorenthea Jones, Candace Dupree and Jennifer Owens make up the list of fresh faces for the Lady Owls.
Pam and Jones are junior college transfers, and Pam could make an immediate impact.
Marcus and Khadijah Bowens were with the team last year but did not se any action.
The team will have some shoes to fill in the frontcourt.
Athena Christoforakis and Lisa Jakubowicz, two valuable contributors from last season, are gone.
“This team is more talented than last year,” Staley said.
“They’re very athletic, and we can use them at the front of our press to deter passes and disrupt somebody’s press offense.”
Another problem area that could be the difference between a win and a loss this season is offense, which is a big concern for Staley.
The big questions for this season are whether or not the team will be able to make up for the loss of solid outside shooters like Regan Apo and whether they can create enough offensive punch to compliment an already dominant defense.
Smalls would seem to provide an immediate answer.
Staley is looking for about 15 to 20 points a game this season from Smalls, but she can’t do it alone.
Early on, it seems that they do have other options in players like Marcus, Bowens and Jordan.
“Our job is to hide our weaknesses and highlight our strengths,” Staley said.
“We’re pretty balanced. Hopefully, from game to game, we can get contributions from all of them.”
Lisa Boyer, a former assistant coach with the Cleveland Rockers in the WNBA, is a new addition to the coaching staff.
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Boyer will have on the team as the season progresses.
Looking ahead, with a tough schedule and high hopes, this season could introduce the winning standard we can expect to see for a long time to come.
“One of these days, we’ll sneak up on somebody and be at somebody’s Final Four,” Staley said.
It could happen sooner than you think.
Saudia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com