In front of a backdrop that included a new HD center-hung scoreboard, an improved LED lighting system and new black seats, Georgia Lady Bulldog basketball Head Coach Joni Taylor stepped to the mic to preview the 2017-18 season and discuss the newly-renovated Stegeman Coliseum on Monday.
Taylor met with media members ahead of preseason practice, which is scheduled to start Tuesday.
The Lady Bulldogs enter the 2017-18 campaign with eight returners, including five players who have starting experience. Georgia also welcomes four freshmen who made up a top-10 signing class in 2016.
“We are excited for the season,” Taylor said. “We have a great mix of returners who got a lot of experience last year and some new faces you’re going to see. Our signing class was top-10 in the country, and they’ve been on campus this summer. They’ve hit the ground running, and honestly we’re gonna have some freshmen who are going to play immediately. You’re going to see the up and down a little bit as those freshmen get used to that change, but I expect them to do well.”
Georgia’s group of returners includes 2016 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team selection and 2017 SEC All-Defensive Team pick Caliya Robinson. The junior forward is one of the league’s top returning scorers, rebounders, and shot-blockers. Robinson played particularly well down the stretch last season, averaging 16.5 points and over eight rebounds per game over the last 10 SEC contests.
Joining Robinson are seniors Mackenzie Engram and Haley Clark. Engram was a SEC All-Freshman Team member in 2015, before sitting out a good portion of her sophomore campaign due to an illness. Last season, Engram scored in double figures in seven of the team’s final 11 games.
Clark, who graduated with a degree in finance this past May, started at the point guard spot in each of Georgia’s 31 games a season ago. She finished the year ranked sixth in the SEC in assists per game with 3.9 per contest.
As the 2017-18 season approaches, the Lady Bulldogs are hoping that the mixture of youth and experience will help them take that next step.
“We gave them all a visual of an escalator and right next to the escalator there were steps,” Taylor added. “We talk about everyone wants to take the escalator because it’s easier, it’s faster, it’s quicker, it’s not as hard on you, it’s not as taxing. Let’s take the steps, let’s do what other people aren’t going to do. Look at the national championship game last year, we lost to South Carolina by three at their place, we led Mississippi State for three-quarters in Starkville, and that’s who played for it all. We are right there. The difference from good to great, it’s that little extra step. So, we talk about taking the steps, doing the extra work, and that’s been our mindset this summer and going into the fall.”
Below are more comments from Coach Joni Taylor’s media availability on Monday.
On the Stegeman Coliseum renovations …
“We are super excited and have been following the progress all summer long. In the month of July, we have this long recruiting period where we are gone and when I got back on campus in August and walked in it was totally different than when I left at the end of June. Our players are excited to play here. It just gives us a great atmosphere. I’m happy for our fans because they support us and do so much for us and this is going to enhance their experience.”
On how recruits respond to the renovations …
“We have been recruiting kids from all over the country who have been a lot of places and when they walk into Stegeman Coliseum their first response is ‘wow’. Obviously, the trend with kids and technology is LED and the lights and things that capture your attention. They were looking at the floor and they could see themselves playing on this floor. Then, they see the lights and they see the possibility of one day imagining their face, their picture, their video being on the scoreboard, so they were very impressed.”
On the commitment from the Georgia administration to Lady Bulldog basketball …
“It is a tribute to our administration and our supporters and our president. We are not someone who is put on the back burner. Women’s basketball, men’s basketball, gymnastics, whatever sport you want to name at the University of Georgia, every sport matters, and I think they show that by what they do for our facilities and our program and our student-athletes.”
On the expectations for the four highly-touted freshmen …
“Expectations are to come out here, learn as much as you can, play hard and see what happens. When we recruited them we told them you are going to have an opportunity to play. It’s not going to be given to you because there are some returners who are going to be fighting for those sports also. It’s going to take all 13 of us. All of those kids are going to have something to do with our success. Our freshmen have been eager, they are competitive and they come from backgrounds where they’ve had success, whether it’s from a high school standpoint or an AAU standpoint at a championship level.”
On junior forward Caliya Robinson …
“We talk about the kitchen sink. They are going to throw the kitchen sink at her and we talked about that last year. She is not a surprise to anyone, so she needs to train that way, prepare that way and tackle school that way. To her credit, she has responded very well and had a great summer. We’re looking forward to her leading this team by her actions.”