WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2015-16 Season Preview

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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: 2015-16 Season Preview

Georgia head coach Joni Taylor (Photo by John Kelley)
[su_spacer size=”20″] Head coach Joni Taylor and the Georgia Lady Bulldog basketball team kicked off a busy week by speaking with media during Tuesday’s preseason press conference at Stegeman Coliseum.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Taylor, along with senior forward Merritt Hempe, sophomore guard Haley Clark and sophomore forward Mackenzie Engram spent time with media members discussing the upcoming season and the team’s progression through the first two weeks of preseason practice. The Lady Bulldogs began their third week of practice on Tuesday, marking their eighth day of work.
[su_spacer size=”40″] This week will culminate with SEC Tipoff ’16 on Thursday. The annual event, which will be held at the SEC Network studios in Charlotte, N.C., serves as the league’s Media Day for its 14 member institutions. Joining Taylor at the event will be senior guards Shacobia Barbee and Tiaria Griffin.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Below are comments from Coach Taylor during Tuesday’s media session on the Georgia campus:

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On the format of practice as compared to the past…

“I think if you were to come today, you’d see that we’re continuing to add and to build our press defense and offense. The first two weeks were just a lot of transition, getting up and down the floor. We’re very athletic and it’s important for us to play fast and give ourselves as many chances to score in transition before we allow the defense a chance to get set against us. So starting in the summer, we really picked up the pace, did a lot of conditioning. That has carried over well. Our girls are in great shape, so it’s a lot more up and down than probably what you’re used to seeing in the past.”

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On any confusion in recruiting after her marriage with her name change…

“No confusion. I did get married on August 1 to Darius Taylor, who was an assistant coach at South Carolina. Since then he has left, and he’s here in Athens. There has not been any confusion. A lot of the kids that we were recruiting knew that I was engaged and the different dynamics. They had a lot of questions like ‘How do you work it out with him being at South Carolina and you being at Georgia?’ There’s been no confusion at all in terms of with the name. As far as his role being different, yes, he’s no longer coaching. But he has started Inside-Out Basketball company where he trains players, male and female, and he’s going to Atlanta, he’s working out kids here in Athens. It’s nice to have someone who gets it, who understands, and to have someone who you can lean on and supports what you’re doing.”

[su_spacer size=”40″] On having a different relationship with players as a head coach compared to being an assistant coach…

“Not that much (is different). I think the biggest difference is that now we’re having conversations more about, especially with our seniors, about what’s next. Before, my conversations were very position oriented. I was the forwards’ coach, and I told them this is what you need to do to get better, this is what you need to work on, this is what you’re really good at right now. Now it’s more of an overall conversation. But in terms of them hearing my voice and being more of an authority figure, that really hasn’t changed much. The credit goes to Coach (Andy) Landers for that. He gave me a lot of responsibility, and they’re used to hearing my voice.”

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On advice for Mackenzie Engram in regards to her role on the team…

“The thing for Mackenzie to understand is that she’s not a surprise anymore. Everybody is going to have her red-lined on the scouting report, and I think she found that out toward the end of last year once we had Shacobia go down, Merritt Hempe went a while without playing and so did Krista Donald. So it became Mackenzie Engram. I think she worked really hard this summer on expanding her game, and for her physicality piece she really spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger. I think people thought the way to guard her was to push her around. She’s physically stronger, and she’s really embraced that role. It’s every single day, just every single day. It can’t be sometimes, it can’t be when you want to. So she’s pushing all the time, every minute when she’s on the floor, and she’s responded really well to that. She gets it. It’s something that she’s taken ownership of.”

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On the difference in the new four-quarter format for women’s basketball…

“It’s going to make a big difference. I’m excited about it, first of all. I think it’s going to pick up the pace of the game. I think you’re going to see all women’s teams play faster now during the four quarters. I think it’s going to line us up with professional. A lot of our kids have aspirations to play either overseas or in the WNBA, and college basketball was the only basketball league that played two haves. This gets us more lined up with professional women’s sports, and that’s the goal for a lot of our girls to do.”

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On the veteran roster facilitating her transition to head coach…

“It’s very easy. First of all, the entire team has been great, even our newcomers. I’ve had relationships with all of them and their parents, and they’ve embraced me and really gone over and beyond anything I’ve asked them to do. But when you have seniors who not only have been here for four years, but have played a lot, and two kids have started since their freshman year they know the verbiage and the language, they know when I’m upset and not, and when I’m about to get upset, and that makes it easy for them to get everybody else going. They’re really at this point managing themselves except for the new tweaks we’ve put in that are different to everyone. It just makes my job that much easier, and I can go to sleep at night knowing that they’re running things and taking care of things. And I think that just goes back to the kids we get into the program. We want great players, but we want great people first. We’re a people-first program. And when you have great people, there’s a lot of things that you don’t have to worry about.”

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On her relationship with Andy Landers…

“We talk all the time. I went to the farm Sunday, hung out with him Sunday, and I’ll see him again tonight. We are great friends. Outside of him being a great mentor to me and everything he’s done, he is my friend. I call him all the time and just say I miss seeing you every day. He comes around more than you’d think. He comes around and people don’t know it, but a week doesn’t go by where he doesn’t stick his head in the office just to say hi and check in and see if there’s anything he can do and just see how we’re doing. So it’s great just knowing that you have him on speed dial to call or run things by or just see how he’s doing.”

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On newcomers who have stood out in practice…

“Well, all have in their own ways. I’ll say first Shanea Armbrister is recovering from surgery. She had a small meniscus tear, so she hasn’t been able to do anything since practice started. Since she was here this summer, what we were able to see from her was she’s a really big guard with an ability to score over the defense. And her leadership and her background is going to help us when she’s able to get back on the floor. She’s from the Bahamas originally and played for the Bahamian national team the last two years. This past summer her team won the championship and she won the MVP, so she’s someone who brings immediate leadership and can put points on the board in lots of different ways.

“Then you’ve got Caliya Robinson, someone who is extremely athletic. She’s coming off a torn ACL; she tore her ACL her senior year in high school. She hasn’t been cleared to do contact stuff yet, but in all of our offensive stuff she’s been able to just get out there and run. Her athleticism just jumps off the tape when you watch her, and she’s going to be able to really stretch us. She’s someone who won two state championships in high school and knows what that next level is that we’re trying to get to.

“Amber Skidgel had a great day in practice Saturday. She’s starting to figure it out. She’s someone who is a great shooter, she’s a specialist. We’ve really stretched her and asked her to do more; shoot the ball but do more. On Saturday in practice she just put all that together and I don’t think she missed a shot. Again, a bigger guard and someone who can put points on the board, especially behind the 3-point line.”
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