Does anybody here like to cook? That's kind of an oxymoron asking media people if the like to cook? I know you guys better than that.
I like to cook. It's kind of a distraction for me. It's a diversion away from basketball. But there are a lot of similarities, too. When you cook something or when you're making a basketball team, it requires to have some good ingredients.
I was feeling really good about one kind of basketball team we could create, and then the phone calls began from Lindsay (Richards) and then from Jo (Solverson). (both players tore their ACLs in the offseason. It was Richards' third ACL tear).
Like any good cook, you go back to the kitchen and you revamp your recipe. You take what you have on hand, and you still make up something pretty good. After spending the last two months with the women on our team, I can say with certainty that we can whip up something pretty good still.
It all begins with our No. 1 person returning. That's Crystal Smith. Last year, she was third team all-Big Ten, and I think that's way too low. She ranked in the Top 10 in almost every statistical category. She made the second biggest leap of anybody in the country in scoring average last year.
She's a phenomenal athlete, and this year we're going to have the luxury of keeping her at the off guard position. She continues to play her great defense. She's probably one of the most athletic kids we're ever coached. And she certainly can shoot the basketball as she proved last year. This year, she traveled with the Big Ten all-stars. She had that opportunity. She is obviously going to be somebody that we build our basketball team around.
We also return Krista VandeVenter. She was on the all-Big Ten Freshman Team last year. She had the experience of playing with USA Basketball (during the summer), going through the tryout phase of that. She was the best rebounder on our team last year as a freshman. She continues just to be incredibly strong. She loves to rebound. She can run the floor extremely well. This year, she's added more of an offensive dimension. She's just a little more offensive minded.
We have great experience returning at the other positions. On the perimeter, Abby Emmert started for 13 games. Tiffany Reedy is a senior captain. She's had starting opportunities. Jenee Graham was a sometimes starter for us last year. We've got good experience at the perimeter positions.
We've also got good experience returning inside with Morgan (Kasperek) being a senior, and Stacy Schlapkohl who was a freshman and backing up (Jamie Cavey) last year. All of those players have had good experience.
I've always thought that the biggest leap in your development comes between your freshman and sophomore years for most individuals. Stacy and Abby have both proved that to be true. They've both made very good leaps for us.
Then, we have the freshmen class. Yes, we're going to be very young this year. We have 12 healthy scholarship players, and nine of them are freshmen and sophomores. We have five freshmen on the team this year. We have one at every position.
Kristi Smith is at the point guard position for us. She is a point guard from Denver, Colo.; a true point guard. She's somebody that loves being at that position. She's a scoring point guard, and truly she is almost, not quite, but almost as quick as Crystal Smith. It's fun to have that dimension out on the floor.
We have an off guard from Grand Rapids, Mich., Lindsay Nyenhuis. Lindsay can stick the three. If she's open, she's going to put the 3-pointer down. Obviously, she's going to be playing behind Crystal this year. She's going to have a very good learning experience this year, but it's nice to have that other three-point dimension.
At the small forward position, we have Wendy Ausdemore, who was Miss Iowa Basketball last year. She's good. I mean, this girl is good. It's just fun to be able to coach somebody of her talent. She's 6-2, almost 6-3. She runs the floor like a deer. She has great hands. She can put the ball in the hole. She can shoot from outside and post up. She's going to be a very, very good basketball player.
At the power forward position, we have Nicole Vanderpol from the state championship team. She's somebody that can shoot the three but also likes to rebound.
At the center position, we have Megan Scobey, who at 6-6 will be the tallest Hawkeye woman ever to wear a uniform. Megan has great hands, great footwork for a freshman. The other day in practice she got out and ran as the leader in our fast break. To see a 6-6 woman running down the floor and leading our fast break was pretty fun. It put a smile on all of the coaches' faces. We feel like we've got a great freshmen class to work with.
Once again, our schedule is going to demanding. Our non-conference schedule features Rutgers, who we're going to be bringing in to our own KCRG Hawkeye Challenge. Rutgers is picked in the top four in some of the polls around the country. Everybody is looking forward to the emotional return of Vivian Stringer back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That will be a great opportunity for us to play a top-ranked team in the country.
We're also playing at Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech has won three national championships. If you talk about tradition in women's basketball, Louisiana Tech comes to the top of your mind. It's a great basketball powerhouse. We're looking forward to Crystal Smith going back to her home state and being able to play close to home and her friends and family.
We'll also be playing Oklahoma in the San Francisco Tournament. Oklahoma had the No. 1 recruiting class in America last year. I'm sure they're looking forward to their rematch. If you remember, we beat them in the championship of the Bahamas tournament last year.
It's going to be a tremendous year for us. I've been doing this a long time now, and I an honestly say that I'm just as excited to begin this year as I have any of our basketball years. It's going to be a really fun year for us.
Do you have a little more speed this year? Will you press more?>/b>
Yeah, I think we will have a little more speed. Whether we press a little bit more, I guess that still will be decided. But we definitely have more speed when we have Crystal and Kristi on the floor together.
You stated in a preseason release that three areas of improvement must be free throw percentage, fewer turnovers and raising the three-point field goal percentage. Can you talk about those areas?
The three-point percentage and the free throw percentage we really challenged our team with this summer. I think they've really taken it to heart. We've shot free throws extremely well in practice since the beginning of the year. So, I think that they really took that for real, and they worked on it very much this summer.
I think that we are going to be able to improve our three-point percentage with Crystal being locked in at the off guard position, with Lindsay being able to hit the three when she comes in; also Wendy Ausdemore being able to hit that three. Kristi Smith can hit the three as well.
We have more shooters from the 3-point range than we did last year. We're going to be a threat from there where maybe last year we weren't as much or maybe they had to worry about just one person.
It's probably too early right now to judge our turnovers in practice. We've only officially had a few days of practice. I do feel that we're doing a better job with that, but it's something we definitely need to improve on.
Is there a chance you could have three true freshmen in the starting lineup?
There's that possibility. And as you know we haven't come up with our starting lineup at this point, but there is the possibility. And even if they're not in the starting lineup, they're going to play so much time. Again, we're going to be an incredibly young basketball team, but sometimes that's fun. Sometimes, they don't know what they're in for, and so it's kind of fun to watch them go through that.
The fact that Crystal is not going to be going back and forth between the two and the one that should open her up for having an even better year than last year.
Oh, I absolutely think so. And Crystal is so fast but we could never really get her out on the fast break because she was always worried about "Am I playing point guard or am I playing off guard? Do I have to get the outlet pass or am I supposed to be getting down the floor?" That's a hard adjustment to make because those positions are quite different in the fast break pattern. Now, she can just get out and fly. That's all she has to worry about.
She continues to play great defense, but for her to be locked in that position is going to be really good for our basketball team.
The Big Ten had three teams reach the Elite Eight last year. How do you see the Big Ten shaping up this year?
Most of the polls that I've seen have four teams from the Big Ten ranked in the Top 25. Ohio State, I've seen them ranked as high as No. 2in the country. Michigan State playing for the national championship last year what a great boost for their program but also for the Big Ten. The last two years we've had two teams from the Big Ten playing in the Final Four. It just shows the strength of our conference.
Do you like playing such a tough non-conference schedule with so many young players?
Well, I'll be honest. When we made that schedule, We thought that we were going to have two senior starters (Richards and Solverson) in our lineup. That's just reality. You make that schedule a year ahead of time. You don't count on injuries.
When we invited Rutgers to come back, Cappie Pondexter wasn't coming back to their team and now she is and she could be one of the top players in America this year. When we put them in the schedule, she wasn't.
Maybe there were a couple of things that we would have adjusted there. But truly, we've always challenged ourselves with what I think is a tough non-conference schedule, and this year is no different than that. But going to play at Louisiana Tech and Rutgers are pretty good opponents.
Can you update us on Jo and Lindsay, how they're doing?
We're just rehabbing right now and both won't be playing this year and that's really the only thing I can tell you about it. They won't be around. They'll be around our team, but they won't be playing.
You're bringing in good talent from the state of Iowa. Each year you bring in one or two. Are you looking at that for the long term?
Yeah, you're at the talent level of what the state is producing. You're at the mercy of that. We're not going to create Iowa players that aren't of this caliber, but certainly when they're there we're going to go after them. We hope to get the great Iowa players.
How do you see your front line holding up against some of the bigger girls in the Big Ten?
Well, Ohio State has one of the best centers (Jessica Davenport) in the country. If you're asking us if we're comparing our freshman or Stacy to her, that's tough comparison. She is the best in the country.
I think that our players will hold up very well against most of the teams that we face. They've got great size. They've got great agility. Both of them are strong and they've got beautiful touch and hands around the basket. Even though we lost Jamie Cavey, and that was a huge loss to us, we always seem to have somebody step up in that inside position. We fully expect to do that again this year.
What expectations do you have for this group?
We really haven't talked about specifics. I expect us every year to try to contend for the Big Ten championship. That's what we want to do. That's where we have our sights set. That's where we want to go.
We know it's going to be a tough challenge. Absolutely.
You guys were kept out of the tournament last year, which you guys thought was a bit of a slight. Do the players have any type of chip on their shoulder this year say, "Hey, we were good enough last year. Let's go out and prove it again"?
We all felt a little bitter. When the announcement was made, every one of us had a pit in our stomach. Hopefully the team used it as motivation throughout the summer. I know that the coaching staff used it as motivation during the summer of we didn't want to be back in the NIT. I think we proved to everybody that we should have been in the NCAA Tournament. When you make it to the Final Four of the NIT, and there were eight teams that were selected to the NCAAs that had RPIs lower than ours, we proved that we should have been there.
We tied for fifth in the Big Ten conference, and the team that we tied with went to the tournament.
Can you talk about Tiffany a little bit?
Tiffany as a senior, she's one of those kids that grew up wearing the Hawkeye sweatshirt and watching all the games on television. She can recite former Hawks from 15, 20 years ago, which is really kind of fun. But she's also a great kid. She's a good student. She's a great role model. She's fun to have on the team. She works really hard. She's got a great work ethic.
I can tell you this about our team, the chemistry is so outstanding that you look forward to getting in the gym. There's an energy in the gym. Your seniors really lead that. We have three outstanding seniors in Crystal, Morgan and Tiffany. Your seniors set the tone for what kind of chemistry you have.