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Just hours after taking part in the “Midnite Madness” festivities this past Friday night, the UNCW women’s basketball team got to work with its first official practice of the 2013-14 campaign.
There were plenty of fresh faces on the floor for second-year Coach Adell Harris as she formally welcomed six freshmen into the lineup. Harris also returns three letter winners from last season’s squad, including junior and CAA All-Tournament Team selection Kelva Atkins.
“We knew heading into the season that we’d have a big freshman class and I have to thank my staff for all their hard work,” Harris said.
“Each one of them has done a great job in recruiting. They are equipped to do it all. Once we realized that we would be bringing in a number of new players, they put their heads down and got to work.”
Atkins played in all 31 games and made 17 starts as a sophomore and finished third on the team in scoring (10.4) and second in assists (2.6). She was named to the CAA All-Tournament Team after averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the postseason event. Atkins tallied a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting against George Mason in the first round of CAA Championship.
“Coach Harris has done a great job of bringing us together in such a short time,” Atkins said. “We have a lot of family time on and off the court and its really helped us gel heading into the preseason. Last year at the conference tournament, Coach made it clear that I need to go hard every time down the floor. That’s the mindset I’m taking into this season–to go hard and stay relentless.”
The Lady Seahawks will be one of the youngest teams in the nation in 2013-14 as Harris’ active roster features just 55 games of Division I experience. The six freshmen will be led by Raleigh native Ryan Flowers, who helped take Millbrook High School to a perfect 33-0 record and back-to-back NCHSAA 4A State Championships. Naqaiyyah Teague is also expected to provide a spark for UNCW this season as a former standout player for nationally known Malcolm Shabazz High School in Newark, N.J.
“I’ve had a chance to prepare myself heading into the season as far as learning how to turn younger players into leaders and get them in the right mind set to be successful. Experience doesn’t always necessarily make you better.
“It’s the improvement of skill. Can we get better every day at fundamental things, or learning how to win. So that’s my responsibility to put them in situations where they’re getting those lessons constantly. Rule number one here is to be fearless,” Harris said.
Family time–as many of the players referred to it during Wednesday’s media day–is a time where the team gets together off the court to share inspirational stories and to help build comradery between teammates, a key in Harris’ master plan for success.
“Family time is everything. You have to have relationships that go further than just putting the ball in the hole if we’re going to get through difficult situations together. Throughout the course of a season, there are going to be plenty of times that we’re presented with those situations, and sometimes there’s just a fine line on how hard we’re fighting for the person next to me as opposed to just for myself,” Harris said.
While Harris looks to continue to lay the groundwork to return the Lady Seahawk program back into a contender after a WNIT appearance in 2011, the only senior on the team, Diania Venezia, reflected on the coaching change and direction of the program heading into Harris’ second year at the helm.
“Coach has been such a great influence and role model for all of us. She’s always positive, always motivating, and we have a lot of family time. We have a lot of inspirational talks and I take something out of it every time,” said Venezia, who will miss her senior year after she tore her ACL for a second time this summer.
In her first season in the Port City, Harris led the Seahawks to victories over league foes Georgia State, Northeastern and William & Mary. She also guided the squad to an impressive showing in the 2013 CAA Women’s Basketball Championship with an opening-round triumph over George Mason and near upset of eventual tournament champion Delaware in the quarterfinals.
Over the last month, the Lady Seahawks took time to give back by participating in a pair of community service projects.
On Sept. 7, the players and coaches took part in the Big Buddy Family Fun Day at Hugh McRae Park. The team spent time painting faces, playing games and interacting with the children in attendance.
The players also assisted the Cape Fear chapter of Habitat for Humanity, spending the morning of Sept. 21 to help the McMillan family paint their new home.
“We have a responsibility to this community. There are people in this town that donate dollars to our player’s scholarships. Winning basketball games is just one component of that. Surely, people get excited when you’re winning, but there are hundreds of other times when we’re not on the floor that we need to be doing to make sure we’re always saying thank you,” Harris said.
UNCW will host UNC Pembroke in an exhibition contest Nov. 4 before opening the regular season Nov. 9 with a 1 p.m. matinee at national power Notre Dame.