Tuesday, November 11, 2008
11 Days of A-Sun Women's Basketball makes its second-ever stop in Spartanburg, S.C., to preview the USC Upstate Spartans. Courtney Hawkins, leads the squad looking to build on last year's five-win season.
Hawkins, a junior guard, is the reigning A-Sun scoring champion after netting 16.4 points per game during her sophomore campaign. She picked up the pace against conference foes, pouring in 19.7 points per game.
Hawkins leads a core that earned plenty of starting experience in 2007-08 as the Spartans return five players that started at least 14 games last year highlighted by Ebony Johnson who led the team in blocks and rebounds.
SEASON PREVIEW - (Courtesy USC Upstate Media Relations)
There were a lot of memorable parts to the 2007-08 season for the USC Upstate basketball team: 7,000-plus miles traveled; visits to several historic basketball arenas - Kentucky’s legendary Memorial Coliseum, Wake Forest’s Joel Memorial Coliseum, Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum and the College of Charleston’s John Krese Arena; wins against established Division I programs like Charleston Southern and College of Charleston; a senior walk-on re-joining the team with four weeks left in the season and leading the team to its first Atlantic Sun Conference win; and, of course, the play of Courtney Hawkins, who didn’t start until the third game of the season and ended up leading the conference in scoring.
Still, the growing pains due to the move from Division II to Division I and the adjustments to a challenging Atlantic Sun Conference, which had 10 of its 12 teams finish with seven or more conference wins, were evident, as Upstate finished the season with a 5-24 overall record and a 1-15 mark in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Now, the Spartans are set to make an ascent up the league’s ladder similar to the road that Kennesaw State followed, which went from finishing last in the A-Sun during its first year of Division I play in 2004-05 to being picked second in the A-Sun Coaches’ and Media Polls in its last year of the transition process to Division I this season. For Upstate, the tools are already in place thanks to a backcourt that features three upperclassmen that have already left their mark on Upstate’s record book and a revamped frontcourt that features three transfers.
“We are excited to get back to work,” fourth-year Upstate head coach Tammy George said. “This is going to be a very interesting year because we have one of the best recruiting classes from my time here coming in and we also have a group of players who’ve been through the fire of Division I play who know what to expect and are hungry to improve.”
Add on to that an ambitous schedule that once again sends the Spartans to its furthest points North (Indianapolis, Ind.) and South (Cozumel, Mexico) in program history and the Spartans look poised to continue moving forward as the new era continues.
In their first season, the Spartans found some strength in its backcourt, with one player leading the league in scoring, another that led the league in assists at the time of a season-ending injury and a third that led all A-Sun guards in rebounding. Two other players, each with at least 16 games of starting experience at Upstate also return and three new players give Upstate one of its deepest backcourts in years.
“Last year, we had two guards average more than 30 minutes per game,” George said, “and a third in Courtney Bradley that averaged more than 30 minutes before she was injured. One of the goals of our recruiting class was to bring added depth to the team and the three guards we brought in will contribute immediately to the playing time.”
At point guard, the Spartans can turn to three true point guards, led by senior Courtney Bradley. Bradley led Upstate into its first year of Division I play by being the solid quarterback that she was at the Division II level. At the time of an ACL injury 15 games into the season, Bradley led the A-Sun in assists per game, averaging 4.4, and also she added 6.4 points per game.
Two newcomers will also see time as the court general, with both Kolesia Richardson and Lesley Daniel looking for time. Richardson, a 5-8 junior transfer from Santa Fe (Fla.) College, averaged 5.1 points and 4.0 assists per game for the second-place Mid-Florida Conference Lady Saints. Daniel, a 5-5 freshman from Collinwood, Tenn., averaged 17.5 points and led Collinwood to a District title as a senior as the team’s point guard.
“We need the point guard to be a leader on the floor and in Courtney, Koko and Lesley, we have three players that can fill that role very well,” George said. “Courtney has the ability to be a scorer and has already established herself as one of the best passers in the school’s history. If she comes back strong from her injury, she is going to be a key to our success again. Koko is a great competitor who can pass and drive well. Lesley is going to be someone we look forward to having for four seasons. She can pass, drive and shoot very well.”
At the two-guard position, the Spartans will be led by Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Conference selection Hawkins. Hawkins, who can also play minutes as a point guard, has the ability to drive to the bucket, hit the outside shot and has great ability to get to rebounds on the weak-side.
“Courtney proved last year that she can be one of the best players in the league,” George said. “She did everything we could have asked her to last year, and this year, we will expect to see her continue to flourish, especially with the move back to her natural position.”
In the three-guard/swing position, the Spartans will move senior Ebony Johnson back to her natural position. The 5-7 Columbia, S.C., native played undersized in the post for much of last season, where she was still able to average 7.0 rebounds per game. Johnson, an athletic combo guard, averaged 7.8 points per game and posted just the fifth 20-rebound game in school history during the season.
Around Johnson and Hawkins, the Spartans will be able to move a mix of four players in and out of the lineup, including two with a year of Division I experience in senior Cherale Powell and sophomore Tiffany Whiting.
Powell, a former JuCo scoring champion at Wilkes Community College, will see time at both the No. 2 and No. 3 positions. The 5-9 guard posted five or more rebounds 11 times in 2007-08 and finished the season with a 4.2 scoring average.
Whiting, along with Hawkins, was one of the team’s top 3-point threats as a freshman, canning 34 treys in 29 games. She averaged 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. A hard worker, the 5-9 Whiting can also play either shooting guard slot.
Two newcomers will also immediately challenge for time on the court, as Brittany Johnson joins the team from Allen Community College and Kendra Wallace, one of the top players in West Virginia High School history, also enters the Spartan fold.
Johnson, an athletic 5-9 guard/forward, is an ideal player for the No. 3 position. She averaged 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds during her only full season at Allen Community College.
Wallace, who earned three First Team All-State accolades in West Virginia, hit 45 (85-for-190) percent of her three-pointers as a senior, averaging 21.9 points per game at Nitro High School. Thanks to her 5-9 height, she will see time at both the No. 2 and No. 3 slots.
“We are very encouraged by the development of our backcourt so far in the preseason,” George said. “We have so many versatile players that can do so many things for us. Our depth is going to be a strength this year, which is something we didn’t have last year.”
The team will also redshirt 5-8 guard Sharniece Wadelington, a junior transfer from UNC Greensboro.
Three players return to the frontcourt from the 2007-08 rotation for Upstate and the team will also be aided by the addition of three newcomers to the rotation.
“We have three new players that will hit the floor this year that will immediately make a difference in the frontcourt,” George said. “Combined with the three players we have back who all made strides in the offseason, we will be more aggressive on the glass and in the paint all year long.”
At the No. 4 position, the Spartans will have multiple options, including returning senior Kelly Westfield, and newcomers, Chelsey Peterson, Brittany Johnson, Sam Frost and Chelsea McMillan.
Westfield, a 5-11 post from St. Petersburg, Fla., averaged 1.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in 26 games as a junior. Peterson is a 5-11 athletic playmaker from Dutch Fork High School where she averaged 19.4 points and 5.7 rebounds en route to All-State honors as a prep senior. Frost, who redshirted in 2007-08 after her transfer from Division II North Greenville, will provide immediate help after averaging 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.0 minutes for the Crusaders. McMillan, a Santa Fe (Fla.) College transfer, averaged 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds as a freshman and will provide a big body for the Spartans in the post. Johnson may also see time at the four-position.
Playing in the No. 5 position, the Spartans can factor in a mix that includes returning sophomores Tara Tranum and Kim Pitman and both Frost and McMillan.
Tranum, a 6-1 Bluff City, Tenn., native, averaged 1.0 point and 0.7 rebounds in 22 games as a freshman. Tranum has worked to gain endurance and speed during the offseason. Pitman, a 6-2 Plumtree, N.C., native, averaged 1.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 27 games. She started 10 games as the Spartan center and pulled in more than five rebounds in four games. Both Frost and McMillan, who may play on the floor at the same time, have the versatility to play both at the No. 4 and No. 5 slots.
The Spartans will keep a local flair to their non-conference schedule in 2008-09, as they look to develop rivalries with other South Carolina Division I programs, beginning with the season-opener on Nov. 14 against fellow provisional Division I member Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C. The Spartans will also play at South Carolina on Dec. 16, heading to the Columbia campus for the first time.
“We didn’t intentionally try to schedule so many South Carolina teams,” George said, “but it is something that will certainly help increase our program’s visibility across the state, as we will play against a team from the low-country, two from the center of the state and also against Presbyterian. I think what can really be special about it is that it gives a chance for our fans to travel.”
Upstate plays three non-conference games at the Hodge Center this season, beginning with a game against NAIA-school Montreat (Nov. 17). Upstate also hosts host Charleston Southern (Nov. 20) and South Carolina State (Jan. 6) in in-state rivalry games at the Hodge Center.
The Spartans will also once again travel to the furthest points north and south in school history, as they head to Indianapolis, Ind., for a game with IUPUI on Nov. 25 and also head out of the country for the first time in school history when they play defending Summit League champion Oral Roberts (Dec. 19) and Oakland (Dec. 20) in the Cozumel Cup.
The Spartans also play a double round-robin, 20-game Atlantic Sun Conference schedule beginning on Dec. 3 when they travel to Mercer. The conference slate features a home game against all 10 other conference programs - North Florida (Jan. 3), Jacksonville (Jan. 5), Lipscomb (Jan. 15), Belmont (Jan. 17), Campbell (Jan. 24), Florida Gulf Coast (Feb. 5), Stetson (Feb. 7), East Tennessee State (Feb. 23), Mercer (Feb. 26) and Kennesaw State (Feb. 28) - and a road game against all 10 programs - Mercer (Dec. 3), KSU (Dec. 13), Stetson (Jan. 8), FGCU (Jan. 10), ETSU (Jan. 26), UNF (Jan. 29), Jacksonville (Jan. 31), Belmont (Feb. 12), Lipscomb (Feb. 14) and Campbell (Feb. 21).
11 Days of A-Sun Basketball Schedule