The Rice women's basketball team had its first official practice on Monday, October 3. The Owls return four starters from last year's 18-14 squad that placed third in Conference USA with a 10-6 mark. Rice opens the season on Nov. 11 at Prairie View A&M. Seventh-year Owl head coach Greg Williams shared his thoughts and opinions on his squad.
Initial thoughts after the first day of practice?
First day of practice was good. We always kind of expect that to be an emotional day, an exciting day, with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, which we had, but I thought our effort was very good, our conditioning was better than I thought it might be, so I was pleased with that. I thought our freshmen showed a lot of quick learning ability and did not stand out in a negative way with their first practice even though, naturally, they were a little bit nervous so that's always encouraging when you see your freshmen get through their first practice without having to stop and repeat and correct a lot of things they did. If they continue that then we can advance at a much more rapid pace based on how quickly they learn things, because we do have five new freshmen that are learning things for the first time.
I thought our upperclassmen did a good job of remembering a lot of things we were doing and giving good examples to the freshmen in our drills before the freshmen got their reps in. We also did a lot of scrimmaging on the first day, because we haven't really seen our freshmen in a competitive situation at Rice, so, all in all, I was very pleased with the first practice.
Was your approach different this year, compared to last year's first day of practice?
Well, it really ended up not being that much different because of the quickness of which our young freshmen learned the drills and the things that we were teaching. I thought I would probably have to go at a slower pace, maybe re-explain things but that really wasn't the case, so I thought the practice moved along pretty rapidly, we got our work in that we needed and so it really wasn't that much of a difference as I thought it might be not really knowing how the freshmen would do in a team situation in their first day. Our upperclassmen, as well, were ready to go and so it was kind of business as usual with the anticipation of having to go at a slower pace, which did not happen and I'm glad for that.
What are your goals for the first week of practice?
This is the second year with the new format of women's practices being moved up 40 days prior to your first date of competition, this is a rule that the men do not have in place. We have a tough first week, in that we have to take Tuesdays off, due to class conflicts and then this coming weekend is a combination of evaluation weekend where all of my assistant coaches and myself will be out of town as well as it being fall break on campus. So, it kind of really broke up our practice continuity. We'll have to see how that works out because we've gone one day on Monday, we were off Tuesday, we're practicing Wednesday and Thursday, then we are off Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, which you don't really want to take four days off after only three practices, but that's the way the school calendar fell and we felt it is important for our kids to have that fall break before the long season starts. It's particularly important for our freshmen, most of which are going home, so we'll sacrifice that and we will come back and work on Tuesday night. Then, we'll get back into more of a consistent routine because of fall break being over and we'll be much more into a practice routine and it'll be interesting to see how we come back (from the break). Our players were sore after the first day, so I don't think I've ever practiced to start a season and taken the second day off but we had to do that because of a couple of our seniors had classes they need for graduation. They have had a day to recover and that might not have been a bad thing. We'll see how we do on Wednesday and see if they can come back with the same energy.
We're excited. I think our team has a nice blend of veterans coming back and our freshmen are stepping up quickly. Several of them we're going to have to count on to give us some quality depth. I was very pleased with D'Frantz Smart, our senior point guard, who had one of her best practices in a long time. She had gotten into a mode of not shooting the ball as much as we would like last year and she made a game winner in one of our scrimmages on Monday and another time found herself running the two-guard spot in a scrimmage situation, which she doesn't normally do because 90 percent of the time she has the ball in her hands, but she ran the wing and hit a three on that possession, so I thought she had an outstanding first practice. Jessica Kuster, coming off a tremendous freshmen year, you always want to see where is her game at - has it gotten better? is she going to continue that same work ethic and coach-ability that she had as a freshman? Well, she was also outstanding. Her and Smart are, if you will, our two marquee players coming back and to see them stand out so positively the first day was definitely something that the coaching staff wanted to see.
I don't know - it's too early. Certainly, we do return four starters from last year's team, and they have a built-in advantage of being experienced and having confidence. Our other two starters who return besides Kuster and Smart are Jessica Goswitz and Brianna Hypolite. They both had very solid first practices and showed they worked on their game in the off-season.
That's the thing you always worry about is someone who has been a starter the year before, do they come back better? Do they come back in shape? Do they come back focused? And, not leave that window open for somebody to sneak past them and those four certainly showed in our first practice that they mean business and they'd done their work in the off-season which is something that coaches always like to see. So, if they continue to do that and stay healthy then they, by all rights, should start when we open our season and that would just leave one open position and if that's the case that's going to be a post spot. We've got several players competing for that position, which would be Candace Ashford, Opal Taskila, Zoe Rogers of are our returning veterans in the post and Christal Porter is our lone freshman post player who will be competing for that fifth starting spot should our returning starters hold court.
But again, our freshmen all played well and showed that they're going to be able to compete at the next level and do it well and that's something as a coaching staff you hope is what happens once you get them on the court. Certainly, it was only one practice but you have a much better feeling after a good first practice than if you'd seen a couple of them that give you some extra gray hairs, which I don't need.