The stated mission during Wednesday’s media day for the UNCW women’s basketball team was clear as fourth-year coach Adell Harris put the focus on the weeks ahead and not some of the other issues the program dealt with over the last month or so.
After a successful season in which the Seahawks surpassed most of their stated goals for the year, UNCW heads into practice without two of their key contributors, who made up about 50 percent of its scoring from the 2014-15 slate.
Despite some of the questions from a scoring standpoint the Seahawks might have following a 10-8 mark in conference and 14-16 overall record, Harris understands the challenges ahead and believes she has the pieces in place to follow up a winning season in league play with a step in the right direction.
“The big picture is always to take strides to make this a championship program,” said Harris. “I think moving into 2015-16 for this team is to make it a winning season. It’s something that hasn’t been done frequently on the women’s side. The program is 43 years old and we’ve had seven winning seasons. To be able to say you were part of one of them is huge. We felt like we let it get away one year ago and if the kids could go back and reflect they’d say the same thing.”
The two playmakers the Seahawks will be missing from last year’s team include: Kelva Atkins, the team’s leading scorer, who averaged 16.7 points per game as a senior and junior Brie Mobley. Mobley was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules. Harris would only comment that Mobley would no longer be a member of the program.
“The emphasis is not on what was and it’s on these players right here,” Harris added. “We appreciate Brie’s contributions to the program over the last two years, but you need to get to know the players right here, the work they’re putting in to make this team successful.”
As for some of the players looking to pick up the slack, with exactly one month to go before their first exhibition game, UNCW returns eight letter winners in addition to freshman Emily Thomas, an Ohio native. Transfers Jenny DeGraaf and Janea Williams also transferred into the program, but will have to sit out one season per NCAA guidelines.
The Seahawks’ front court will also be without junior Ryan Flowers, who is out for the year with a back injury, but Harris thinks one of the players that could have a breakout season is sophomore Rebekah Banks. The 6-foot, one-inch center saw plenty of minutes through her freshman campaign and is looking to contribute on both sides of the floor.
Naqaiyyah Teague will also look to take a bigger role as the team’s vocal leader on the court as the junior likes to mix it up in the paint with her aggressive play and consistent effort.
“I’ve really been working this season to be a more all-around player,” said Teague, who averaged 7.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season. “I’m the talker on the floor and we work hard daily. This is not something that’s going to happen in one day or one week. But, we are grinding right now and looking forward to getting into practice.”
Redshirt senior Shatia Cole will also be asked to spearhead the team’s backcourt, while Amber Reeves brings her on-ball defensive skills to the court. The Seahawks will also look for Madison Raque and Jordan Henry to help as shooters. Jasmine Steele is also a wild card in the rotation, with a pesky ability to move the ball in transition as a redshirt-senior transfer from Alabama.
Cole was the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago with a 10.2 average, while Steele looks to improve on her 38 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc.
“I know we had a lot of adversity, but I think we’ve come through it and have confidence that we depend on each other,” said Cole. “I’m hyped for the first practice and know everyone has each other’s back. It’s my last season and I’m really taking it in. While it’s my last year, it’s about the team and how we do and not me.”
Harris also took some time on Wednesday to talk about some of the off-the-court accolades, singling out Reeves, a 3.0 student. The Marietta, Georgia native commented on her ability to keep her attention on the game, with concentration in the classroom.
“It really comes down to time management,” said Reeves. “Coach does a great job with getting us a monthly schedule so we know exactly what to expect. I make sure that during off time and weekends I take care of the small assignments and utilize my time wisely.”
UNCW heads into one month of practice before the only exhibition of the preseason against Mount Olive on Saturday, Nov. 7. A new change to NCAA women’s basketball this season is games will consist of four 10-minute quarters rather than a pair of 20-minute halves.