ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Now beginning its third week of practice, the women’s basketball team is slowly but surely preparing for the upcoming season.
For the players, that means it’s time for the fun stuff: drills, drills, more drills, countless trips to the weight room, some more drills and, finally, more drills.
But for coach Dawn Staley, it’s a time to gain a sense of her team’s identity. It’s a time to determine the team’s capabilities and decide which players will start, chip in as reserves or ride the bench.
“We’re returning three starters,” Staley said. “I don’t see [anyone] taking their positions at this point, but they’re some people that are pretty close. Experienced players do get the edge when it comes to that.”
With the Owls taking on a different look compared to the NCAA Tournament teams of the last four years, this practice time provides the four freshmen a chance to improve their games and learn Staley’s style. That style – to take care of the basketball – is one she picked up from former men’s basketball coach John Chaney.
“With a young team, we can’t be careless with the basketball,” Staley said. “We’re going to do what we do defensively. That’s always been our tradition. We just can’t put that much pressure on our defense and turn the ball over, because we do spend a lot of energy on the defensive end.”
Learning the discipline required of that style takes time. Staley understands that, given the little pressure she places on her freshmen, normally allowing them time to learn the system before testing the waters in an actual game.
So for Marli Bennett, Lindsay Kimmel, Dawnnae Roberts and Shaqwedia Wallace, this time is all about getting comfortable in a new surrounding. Yet, Staley still carries a swagger of confidence about her freshmen and the other girls on her roster.
“I don’t think [the freshmen are] ready today,” Staley said. “I think they will be ready and I think we will maybe surprise some people. But it’s always one game at a time. If we have time to prepare our team to play, we can play and compete with the best teams in the country.”
The same goes for the rest of the Owls. Staley is confident in the team she has, but admits they aren’t quite ready yet. But that’s why there’s a month of practice before the first game.
“Once we have preparation, I think we’ll be okay,” Staley said. “I think this team is ready to rock and roll, but there are certain things that we still have to [work on]. We got some things [done], but give us another two or three weeks, I think we’ll be ready for the challenge. If not, we’ll get our heads banged in a few games before we’re ready.”
The Owls were picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Ten Conference, a position that doesn’t bother Staley at all.
“I like the underdog role,” Staley said.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.