Vandal hoops coaches take same approach to OOC

With true freshman point guard <b>Jerod Haynes</b> seeing significant time last weekend, the Vandal Men's basketball season has begun. Same goes for the women, who are sporting a 2-0 record already. Both head coaches (Leonard Perry of the men, and Mike Divilbiss of the women) are approaching this non-conference schedule in a similar fashion.

Mike Divilbiss' Lady Vandal basketball squad pulled out a couple of tough wins at home. Leonard Perry's Vandal men had 3 tough losses in as many night in tournament action at Boise State. Regardless of those results, both squads have adopted similar philosophies for the 2004-05 season: Use the early season games to learn about adversity while building a solid foundation for the Big West Conference season and tournament.

And both teams see a big jump up in the quality of their opponents this week as the Vandal men travel to Spokane Wednesday to take on nationally ranked Gonzaga and the Lady Vandals head to Hawai'i for a Friday matchup again nationally ranked Georgia in the Rainbow Wahine Classic. Ironically enough, both opponents have Bulldogs as mascots.

In speaking to the Latah County Vandal Boosters weekly luncheon Monday afternoon in Moscow, Perry said "This tournament was a good experience for us. We opened up with Boise Friday night. We took it to 'em in the first half, but keep in mind it's the first game of the year; so we're going to have things not go right and some adverse situations. For us and our program adversity is good. It's good for us early. We learn how to fight through, not blame each other, not point fingers, and stay together when things get tough...I was proud of our effort. I was disappointed in some of the things we broke down on, but I was really proud of our effort.

"Obviously it's early, the first three games of the year, and I'm a strong believer that your true character is going to come out in adversity," Perry continued. "I don't think you get anything from playing (weaker opponents) 4 or 5 times in the preseason. I just don't think you get anything out of that. You get a false sense of security...This season's (young). We're far from done."

True freshman forward Mike Kale (6-8, 220) drives the lane against BSU.
Perry played his entire roster in the three-game tournament as part of the early-season evaluation process, and he said he feels the younger Vandals rose to the occasion. "The last two games against Southeast Louisiana and against Ft. Lewis we started two freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and a senior both games...The core of our team, in my opinion, is our young guys, and boy did they lay it out there. We're going to go through these growing pains with this team."

In a reversal of form from recent squads, this year's Vandals are shooting 45% from the floor as a team after three games. Last the season they shot 41%. "That's the highest field goal percentage we've had in 3 years combined," Perry said. "We shifted a little bit, and we're a little bit more offense-minded...I think offensively we're a better basketball team." On the other hand, the Vandals were plagued by turnovers, but Perry put things in perspective. "We didn't take care of the ball in this tournament. We're averaging 20 turnovers a night, but that's going to happen when you have young kids in the game. I'm going to continually put these kids in these games...I'm really proud of what we're doing, We're in great shape. It's a little adversity. We'll be fine."

Perry quickly added that the adversity may extend a bit longer: "This is not to say things are going to get better starting Wednesday (at Gonzaga), but after Wednesday, or maybe after next Tuesday (the Vandals face Washington State in their home opener) things are going to be fine. This is going to shake out right. The numbers could look ugly early, but...I will get this team to play its best basketball as this year progresses, and these young kids are no longer going to be looked at as freshmen. We're looking forward to it."

Junior post Emily Faurholt led the nation in scoring last season as a sophomore. This year she has been named a James R. Wooden Award Preseason All American, recognizing the top 30 women's basketball players in the nation. She was also featured on ESPN, nominated by the Atlanta Tipoff Club as one of the top 50 women's hoops athletes, and is a Naismith Trophy Finalist (prestigious Cingular Wireless Men's and Women's player of the year).
Divilbiss is returning the core of last year's 22-7 squad, but the Lady Vandals are likewise going through a building process with an eye on the latter stages of the season. He echoed Perry's sentiments.

"You've got to love the fight, the journey, the battle. Adversity is what makes you stronger," he said. "The struggle is necessary if you're going into grow to what you want to be. The first guy who climbed Mt. Everest didn't just all of a sudden decide one day, 'Well, I'm going to go climb Mt. Everest' and then got to the top. I'm sure he failed several times first. I'm sure there was a lot of groundwork that went into learning how to climb Mt. Everest. I'm sure there were a lot of failures that went into that one success.

"I think people see teams on TV playing at the end of a season and think, 'Why aren't we playing like that?' I guarantee you they didn't look like that the first game of the year. Most of the teams that did look like that at the beginning of the year had seasoned veterans on their team," Divilbiss continued. "I think we in America are so spoiled in that we expect things to be there now. We live in a 'right now,' immediate gratification society, and sports can't ever fall into that."

Friday the Vandals face #3 Georgia in the opening round of the Rainbow Wahine Classic. The Bulldogs moved up from the #5 position after they defeated #2 Texas 78-64 last week. "We're looking forward to going to the tournament to play really good competition, he said. "We could (lose) our next 3 but be a better basketball team than we are right now, and it could really help us. We have a plan. Debbie (assistant Debbie Roueche) and I talked about it this morning, and she said it very succinctly: 'We have a plan to be as good a basketball team as we can be in March, not in January.' It's the process for us to be where we want to be in March."

The Lady Vandals return 7 letter winners from last year including starters Lelani Mitchell, Emily Faurholt, and Karly Felton, but guard Emily Halliday is still out with a back injury placing more weight on the shoulders of redshirt freshman Ticey Westbrooks and true freshman post players Jessica Summers (6-1) and Lauren Frazee (6-0). Ideally Devilbiss would like to use an 8-player rotation. "I've got to find a way to get Emily and Lelani a little bit more rest than I'm getting them right now.

"Jessica is a big, strong physical player. Lauren is too. That was our hope," the coach said. "That way Emily doesn't have to guard the low post player defensively all the time. That'll really help a lot. Jessica played really well (against Boise), went up and got some big rebounds for us. She had 9 on the night. We got 14 rebounds and 13 points out of that spot with those two against some pretty (physical) players."

Capsulizing the overtime win over Boise State, Devilbiss said, "I thought for a second game of the year that was a very, very high level basketball game. BSU is going to be quite a bit better than they were last year. We're proud of what we've done to start with. It's a fight right now. Make no mistake about this. It's going to be a war. We're got a long way to go until March."

After completing the Hawai'i tournament, the Lady Vandals will be at Eastern Washington Dec. 5. Next home action will be Dec. 8 against Montana.

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