Contributed by Tom A:
It’s fun to watch the Lady Bucs Again!
Preseason games against inferior competition don’t have a lot of predictive value, but after games against Carson Newman and Young Harris there is good reason to be more upbeat about the Lady Bucs than in the last couple of years. Last season was such a disappointment: there was enough talent on the floor to take LSU into overtime – and the Tigers needed a last second shot to avoid losing in regulation. Too often in other games there was ugly, disorganized, listless play. But boosted by transfer and freshman talent, the young Lady Bucs have come out strong, averaging 80.5 points and 57 rebounds in two wins. It has been fun to go the women’s games again.
GUARDS: Freshman Brianna McQueen has been handed the keys to the car at point, and drives it like an experienced hand. A little undersized at 5’3”, she’s got speed, a great handle, good vision, the ability to hit from three, penetrate and pull up for the midrange jumper, or take it to the rim, shifting hands for a layup. She’s averaging 30 minutes a game, 11.5 points (shooting percentages need to be a bit better (8-22 and 2-7 from 3) 4 assists, but too many turnovers at 6. She also plays tough defense, grabbing 2.5 steals and 4 rebounds a game despite her size. She needs to be more efficient and better controlled, but the talent here is remarkable. This gal is almost as much fun to watch as Petey McClain for the men. Brianna Bogard, now a sophomore, is McQueen’s more efficient counterpart, averaging 16 minutes, with 6.5 points on 5-12 shooting, 3-9 from 3, averaging 3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0 turnovers. When Brianna entered the game against Young Harris, we were down 9-2. Five minutes later it was 15-14. Even though she wasn’t posting big numbers, things just ran well with her on the floor. Junior Shawn Randall is the biggest and perhaps the most physically gifted guard at 5’7”. She still struggles with the tendency to follow a remarkable play with a turnover. She may be improving though – against Young Harris last night, she got 4 assists and only 1 turnover, compared to 1 assist and 5 turnovers against Carson Newman. She has averaged 18 minutes, 7.5 points and 4 rebounds and 1 steal. But the up and down nature of her play may be seen in the fact that one game was 14 points, and the other was only 1.
POST: 6’2” Tosha Austin, now a senior, has gotten limited playing time this year, averaging 9 minutes with limited production. Last season she was the only Lady Buc over 6’0”. This season, the Lady Bucs have four (4) others: 6’2” freshmen Jasmine Kemp and Imani Martinez, 6’2” transfer Serena Clark, and 6’3” transfer Tiana Burley, who will be eligible next semester. Tosha may still be valuable, especially as a rebounder and defender, but will have to battle to get on the floor. The big news inside is 6’2” Clemson transfer Serena Clark, a redshirt sophomore. She is slim, but strong, and has great length with a tremendous wingspan. She seems an inch taller than the other gals listed at 6’2”. She’s averaging 28 minutes, and fourteen (14!!) rebounds, and 9 points on 10-19 shooting. 6’2” freshman Jasmine Kemp is rangy and physical – averaging 16 minutes a game, with 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 3 rebounds and 3.5 points on 3-6 shooting. She is a defense force with a knack for anticipation and stepping into passing lanes. Just wait till big 6’3” transfer redshirt sophomore Tianna Burley becomes eligible next semester.
FORWARD: Team leader Destiny Michell, now a junior, seems to be rejuvenated. Last year, coming off a painful knee injury, she seemed tentative, particularly early in the year. This year she seems back to her ferocious freshman year play. She averages 30 minutes, 12 rebounds and 23 points on 20 of 34 shooting and 3 steals with 3.5 assists and 2 turnovers. I love her play but wish that someone would get her to scrap her willful, pointless, slow motion free throw shooting display. She could only get better (6-9) if she would get a crisp, focused, repeatable routine. Much depends on her keeping her intense, productive play… and on avoiding the temptation to get selfish and self important… a temptation that always comes to the best player on the team. Part of last year’s collapse was a collapse in morale, and that is something that our best player must help us avoid. Destiny has also expanded her shooting range so that she can face up and reliably knock down the 15 foot jumper. Sophomore Maria Bond at 5’10” has been starting and averaging 16.5 minutes, with 5 points and 2.5 rebounds. Sophomore Amy Duke has averaged 22.5 minutes and shown remarkable improvement with 8.5 points, 4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and a nasty 3.5 steals. She has added a 12 foot face up jump shot that is money. At a rangy, powerful, athletic 6’0” she plays with an energy, abandon and grace that is reminiscent of John Walton on the men’s side, and is the lady most likely to be diving for loose balls. The least heralded of last year’s recruits, she may have the best upside. She was stunningly effective against LSU’s big strong women last year. If she can turn that into consistent play this year, it will be a remarkable addition for the Lady Bucs. Biggest downside for Amy is an average of 3.5 turnovers. With all the strong front court players this year, a very promising athletic 6’2” freshman, Imani Martinez, has had a hard time getting onto the floor, averaging only 6 minutes, but still pulling down 2 rebounds per game, a better rate per minute than either Amy Duke or Mariah Bond. She also showed a very nice midrange shooting touch in the Bluenanza. This gal can play, but may have to wait for her opportunities. Thinking of redshirt might be worthwhile, if she has the kind of patience that Lester Wilson did. Redshirt sophomore Ashley Miles 6’1”, recovering from an ACL tear, has had even more limited floor time.
The ASun: Stetson, led by pint sized warrior and ASun POY Victoria McGowan, returns everyone, including All ASun 6’0” Sasha Sims, and is the team to beat. FGCU loses 4 of their best 5 players, and still has one of the best returning nuclei with POY candidate Sarah Hansen, Oregon State transfer Britney Kennedy, stud Valpo transfer, 5th year Senior Betsy Adams and sharp shooter Lerrin Cook. Adams led Valpo in scoring with about 13 points per game and 2.2 from 3 before a knee injury. She will be eligible to start immediately. FGCU would have been even tougher but have recently lost 6’3” sophomore Whitney Knight, who was ASun All-Tournament team as a freshman, to a torn ACL. These two teams are chalk – but not unbeatable. Everybody else in the ASun are less than strong – we should beat those teams. FGCU will have a distinct size disadvantage against ETSU, with only 1 player 6’1” (skinny Greek role player Anthi Chatzagiakoumi – NOT an inside threat) and 1 player 5’11”. Everybody else on the squad is between 5’7” and 5’10”. Coach Smesko recruits only one specific type of interchangeable do-everything player, who can shift from post to perimeter to create mismatches and shoot the lights out. But that may leave them vulnerable to an ETSU squad that is both very tall AND athletic.
SUMMARY: The Lady Bucs are much bigger this year, and will be the longest team in the ASun. The addition of 4 athletic 6’2” or 6’3” players, transfers Serena Clark and Tianna Burley, along with freshman Jasmine Kemp and Imani Martinez, the improvement of Amy Duke and Mariah Bond, and the rejuvenation of Destiny Mitchell leaves the Lady Bucs strong inside. Rebounding and interior defense should be a given. Guard play has the potential to be much improved. But that needs to be proved on the Court against real competition. The Lady Bucs are also very young: only Tosha Austin is a senior. Outside shooting, and offensive execution remain the question marks at this point. But there is more reason to be optimistic than there has been for the last two years, since Sierra Evans and Taronda Wiles graduated. Young Bucs Brianna McQueen and Jamine Kemp should be ASun All-Freshman. Imani Martinez has the potential to be, if she can get the time on the floor. This young team has lots of room to grow. And right now it is fun to watch them grow.