Hudson Touts Tide Turnaround

Wendell Hudson spoke yesterday during the SEC Basketball Media Day held at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham with an air of confidence usually warranted for a coach winning with regularity. Incremental progress over three years was interrupted in the fourth season as the Alabama roster was decimated by injuries to key performers, transfers not yet eligible to participate and an academic casualty.

Optimism is the chorus sung by the fifth-year Alabama women's head coach. Can Hudson be the conductor leading to a resurgence of the program? He believes the team is on the verge of a turnaround. "I told Mal Moore this when I took the job. I thought it would take us five years for us to where we have the talent level to compete in the SEC. This is my fifth year. We have the talent level to compete in the SEC," he stated. "We still have got to get some chemistry things together. We have fourteen or fifteen people in practice which is something that is very unusual that we didn't have last year. We have healthy bodies and people that are competing for playing time that we didn't have competing for playing time last year," Hudson emphasized. "The people that were sitting out in practice gave us fits last year. Practice was so competitive. So now being able to play with all the people who have all the experience that they have I'm really excited about our opportunity to move up in the SEC."

Former McDonald's All-American, Kaneisha Horn is now a redshirt sophomore recovering from a knee injury causing her to miss the entire 2011-212 season. "We had a long talk yesterday. She is not where she would like to be right now. She is getting there. She is much better from a basketball standpoint than she was a month ago. She can make the shots," said Hudson of her recovery and rededication to the game. "She makes some really good moves and finishes the plays maybe not as good as they were but better than they were a month ago. It's going to take her playing in games to continue to get better. The good thing along with Kaneisha is that we've got other people so she doesn't have to do as much as she did before."

An influx of newcomers consisting of transfers, freshman, injured players and those held out for academic reasons means the roles have changed for this season. "Khristin Lee who started for us all last year will be a backup point guard this year. Meghan Perkins who started a lot for us last year will still start but just not play as many minutes," Hudson said. "Jessica Merritt who started a lot for us last year she will probably be coming off the bench right now with this group that we have in there. Now you just keep adding all the other players who played a lot for us. If I was starting today, I'm probably not going to tell y'all exactly who I'm going to start but out of that group that was sitting out two or three of them will be starting right now."

The off-season is a time for improvement. One particular player was recognized by Coach Hudson for her progress and being the best all-around performer last year. "I think Jasmine Robinson had one of the best off-seasons on our team. She stepped up and really improved her attitude from the standpoint of being a leader on the basketball team, taking pride in especially being a defensive player. Offensively she was really okay anyway but she has taken a lot of pride in her defense." Alicia Mitcham returns after a one year absence. "She is athletic and can run the floor," said Hudson. Other returnees include versatile Celiscia Farmer and shooter Shafontaye Meyers.

Two transfers from Rutgers University, point guard Daisha Simmons and forward Briana Hutchen, are projected starters. They bring a competitive attitude and SEC caliber type talent to the program. Forward Brittany Jack, a perimeter threat, sat out the year as well coming over from Samford University. "Daisha Simmons is a special player and understands the position. She knows her role early in the game is to get everyone involved," said Hudson. "She has the basketball on a string. She makes good decisions with the ball. She sees the court and knows who to pass it to when they're open. Biggest problem now is players recognizing they must be ready when they are open because she will get you the ball." Teammate Hutchen brings intangibles. "Briana is the ultimate team player that will do all the stuff that won't be in the stats. She will dive on the floor and play hard."

Three freshmen added to the squad are guards Emily Davis and Jasmine Steele along with post player Nikki Hegstetter. "Body wise Nikki will play in the post for us but she is a better perimeter shooter," Hudson said. "Davis has been the surprise. She is a thin as a rail 6'2" two-guard. She doesn't pass the look test but she passes the player test. She can shoot the basketball and get her shot off. Jasmine is learning she can't penetrate and take the ball to the basket like she did in high school because of her size (5'1")."

Alabama was voted by the media to be the cellar dweller of the league at fourteen. Hudson remains confident the Tide can rise above the forecasted finish. The crystal ball projection is bulletin board material providing motivation for a team and program aiming to prove the naysayers wrong. "I don't think there is any question that we're going to make some noise in the SEC. I talked to the team about this yesterday," he said. "Whether the media voted us to throw us down at the bottom that is not bad. You have to earn your right to come out but I think with this team we are going to earn the right to come out."

Three new assistants were hired in the off-season. Two were from perennial powerhouse Alabama high school programs – Donnie Quinn of Hoover HS and Tim Miller of Bob Jones HS (Madison). The third, Clarisse Garcia was formerly the head coach of Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University. "Donnie Quinn was a very successful high school coach not only in Alabama but Louisiana and had some college experience," he said. "From a coaching standpoint he has been outstanding. As a recruiter with his connections and because he's been so successful, there is not a state in the union that does not know about Hoover women's basketball."

Hudson tabbed prep coaches for a reason. "Tim Miller, the other guy I hired, is probably the next most successful high school coach in Alabama. You probably wondered why I hired these high school coaches," he said. "If you can coach a twelve year old or thirteen year old and get them to play at a certain level, you surely can coach an eighteen to twenty-two year old. But the good thing about this group is they all have been experienced head coaches."

Preliminary indications are the trio has produced beneficial results for the program. "The other person I have on my staff is Clarisse Garcia, also was a head coach. Everybody on my staff was a head coach. They knew what they wanted from a staff assistant. They have been great to work with. The experience has been great. Practices have been good because now we're talking about things people have put into practice on a regular basis instead of theory," Hudson claims. "The other thing that has been good from a recruiting standpoint is that when they go into high school gyms right now, coaches understand you were one of us at one time. You're getting this opportunity. They want them to be successful."

Someone else interested in the program flourishing is a well-known recruiter. "On this Friday if I had official visits in town, Nick Saban will take time out and visit with every prospect. We have four commitments right now. Nick Saban visited with every one of them on their official visit. Nick Saban is one of our best supporters. On Friday afternoon about 5:30 PM after a walk thru, how many programs in the country can say the head football coach will take out that time to visit prospects? It doesn't matter what game it is. He is recruiting them. He is selling Alabama." So is Wendell Hudson.

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