Carey: 'Young Players' Time to Shine'
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Towards the end of last year’s women’s basketball season, a few things became very clear.
West Virginia’s program had experienced two of its best years in team history, amassing the most wins in two seasons (53-15), earning its highest-ever rankings in the Associated Press poll at No. 7 and No. 6 respectively, and having several athletes earn all-BIG EAST accolades, with Liz Repella named to the Capital One Academic All-America first team in both seasons.
It was even more clear that the five seniors who were instrumental in bringing about this success, Madina Ali, Korinne Campbell, Vanessa House, Sarah Miles and Repella, were going to be greatly missed.
The 2011-12 season brings in a very young squad for the Mountaineers, with three sophomores and four freshman comprising the bulk of the roster.
“Anytime you have one senior and two juniors and the rest of them are sophomores and freshman, you’re pretty young,” said coach Mike Carey. “But we’re excited. This is going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be a challenge for our new players and for the coaches also.”
It helps that the Mountaineers spent 10 days practicing in August before embarking on a nine-day tour of France and Italy that saw the team pitted against a French all-star team comprised of some former U.S. college players, as well as the Dutch National Team.
The experience gained from those travels proved crucial. As official practice began for the women’s team on Oct. 2, the trip to Europe allowed the team to produce a base with which to work off of.
“Usually what I do is just a lot of talking and explaining, and fast breaks and offensive concepts and that type of stuff,” Carey said. “We were already able to do that in those 10 days of practice, so we really broke things down a lot more right here early and we’ve been able to put a couple of more things in. If there was ever a time to have 10 days of practice early, this was the year for it because of the youth of our team.”
The team posted a 2-1 record in Europe, and saw several playmakers emerge. Christal Caldwell, a sophomore transfer from Florida, consistently contributed double-figure scoring games. She had to sit out last season to fulfill NCAA transfer rules, but is now ready to display her talent.
“I think Christal Caldwell is going to have to score for us,” commented Carey. “We’re going to be looking for points, and as you know, we lost most of our scoring from last year so we have to find points somewhere.”
Additionally, freshman Linda Stepney emerged as a young, new talent for the Mountaineers at guard. Unfortunately, she’s currently sidelined with a stress fracture and will not return for a few more weeks.
“The biggest issue we have right now is Linda Stepney,” Carey said. “She’s probably going to be out another two to three weeks. She’s been out five weeks already and now she’s going to be out another two to three I’m told, which really hurts us at the point guard position.
“I thought she did a good job in the games. But now’s the time to rest her and now’s the time to get that healed up because you really don’t want that to happen in the middle of the season. So we have to be careful with that and make sure it is healed before we bring her back full go.”
Despite the loss of leadership, Carey still returns several experienced players in Natalie Burton, Asya Bussie and Ayana Dunning, all of whom have improved over the summer.
“I think Asya Bussie looks very good, and I think YaYa Dunning looks a lot better this year - she’s in better shape and is finishing. Natalie is consistent and plays hard,” said Carey.
Combining the veterans’ talent with the newcomers allows for a new game plan. Last year with a successful, experienced team, Carey wanted to try a different fast break.
“When I started going back and really looking at film and looking at how many points we got off our fast break I saw that we were getting a lot more opportunities to score off of our old fast break than we did the one we put in last year,” he explained. “The only difference is either you go down the sideline or you go down the middle and we’re going right down the middle. And that’s what makes the point guard that much more important.
“If you look when we ran the fast break with Yolanda Paige we led the country two years in assists and Sarah Miles led the BIG EAST in assists.”
Carey knows that every team the Mountaineers will face this season is going to be athletic and strong on defense: it is part of what makes the BIG EAST the tough conference it is. Because of that, he’s looking for his post players to open up scoring opportunities.
“We have to keep the guards off the posts and I look for Asya to get double-teamed a lot. With that being said, our guards need to stay out of the paint and get out of line of the defense. It’s a lot easier to hit a shot when you’re wide open than with someone on you so I look for our guards to get some wide open shots because of our post players.”
Even though it’s still early, Carey likes the attitude and effort the players have been bringing into practice.
“I’m very happy with our attitude and work ethic right now. That’s the hardest thing, getting these young players to come into practice every day and every time they step on the floor to go hard. I think we’re starting to get that, even our younger players are and that’s a start there,” he said. “You have to start where they come in every day and they go hard every day and if they do that you have a chance to get better. And hopefully we do that and we continue to get better.”
He also has made sure to let the sophomores know that it’s their turn to shine. The team may have lost most of its starting five, but that only opens up opportunities for others.
“I told these sophomores they ought to be excited,” he concluded. “Now’s their time. They were freshman last year and I guarantee they sat at the bench and called me names and wanted more playing time and all that but guess what; be careful what you ask for. Now it’s your turn and now they’ve got to step up and do what we need them to do for us to be successful.”
West Virginia University, WVU Mountaineers, NCAA women's basketball, Mike Carey
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