New Terps Assistant Director of Basketball Performance Coach Lanie Deppe arrived on the job at College Park on June 20. And the former Indiana University crew standout and longtime S&C coach has never seen such a collection of athleticism PLUS motivation from the stellar group that she inherited.
"Coach [Brenda] Frese told me we have a well-oiled machine in here when I came in, and she was right. Wow, one hundred percent she was right," Deppe said. "Every day there is never a head hanging, never a complaint, never 'what else, what else?' Every day it is the discipline to do it day in and day out and even when we're a couple weeks in now. And you'd think you would hit that wall, but you can't even tell that and even from the freshmen."
And what a freshman group it is, a six-woman signing class rated as the nation's best.
And what better way to kick off a two-part summer series today with Deppe than to get her initial impressions of the star-studded rookie crop, led by five-star point guard Destiny Slocum of Meridian, Idaho.
The women, who leave for Italy Aug. 5-13 for a summer exhibition tour, are allowed 10 days of practice between this month and next, and it’s no better way for Deppe to get a quick crash course on them as players, too.
Leppe worked most recently at Old Dominion, where she handled sports ranging from basketball to soccer, field hockey, swimming and crew, while before she served at LaSalle after being a decorated student-athlete at IU (Class of 2007).
She has the luxury of working in the rookies (plus Baylor transfer guard Ieshia Small) along with a talented young nucleus returning from last year’s team, as well as All American upperclassmen center Bri Jones and wing Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Small, a combo guard, sat out last year and practiced with the team, and is ready to go.
Deppe said what stands out most about the freshman class/newcomers is how well “they all complement each other. And step up each day in their own ways. There is not really a weak link in the chain really,” she said.
Leppe broke things down beginning with Small, who helps a Terps’ backcourt that was very thin last year, and needed more perimeter defenders as well.
“Ieshia, she is another one of them doing a great job along with Shatori, settling in and helping with all the freshmen,” Deppe said of the 6-foot junior out of Miami, Fla. “What she brings is intensity, discipline….you know, you can’t even tell that she sat out last year. She is just stepping right in. It is so great to watch her in her element and what she can bring.
“And just like the freshman group overall, I have never seen a group of them come in…and drills they don’t even know, plays they don’t even know…but there is no flaw with them, no slip-ups. And a lot of that has to do with the upperclassmen and people like Ieshia, as she has helped make everything so seamless so far.”
The most heralded rookie is the powerful lead-guard Slocum, who is a force of nature already in workouts and pick-up, and could go down as one of the best ever to play the position at UMD. She is a likely starter, the only one of the freshman group for now, barring injuries, etc. Slocum has all the moves and a very physical game, and rated among the top 2-3 prep senior point guards a year ago. She is one of three McDonald's All-Americans in the class.
“Destiny Slocum, Destiny is like a mini Bri Jones to me. Just so bubbly and happy all the time and just won’t stop,” Deppe said. “She will run through a brick wall, that girl just won’t stop. She is 100 percent all of the time, and she is so, so strong.
“And so hungry to get to that next level, that next level. She’s asking me about everything she can possibly do to improve her game, be it from a nutrition standpoint, an extra conditioning standpoint, an extra recovery standpoint. She is looking at the bigger picture, and that’s exactly what you want, that kind of athlete. It’s not just about showing up and expecting to be good, as she gets it, and all at her young age. There is not a day she is not hungry. And it makes it fun because it challenges me to think of even more things for her to. She just wants everything out there.”
Deppe said she has unusual “point guard confidence,” for her years, “and it’s great for the rest of the freshmen. The kind [of confidence] you typically do not see in a most freshmen.”
Next up, 6-1 freshman guard Kaila Charles out of Glenn Dale, Md, who has one of the best motors Deppe has seen. Charles is a tremendous athlete, hailing from a family of track athletes.
“She’s got a motor to her. She is winning every full conditioning rep we run, every single thing she is moving non-stop and pushing the envelope. And I have never seen someone come in as fit as she is,” Deppe said. “She has got the whole package: she is a taller guard, she’s got her shot, she’s got the fitness level and her strength. She is just going to get a little more mass on her, which is just going to make her a more physical player.”
Then there is 6-6 freshman center Jenna Staiti out of Cumming, Ga., the tallest Terp on roster, who is gaining bulk and confidence every day.
“Jenna as a freshman is another one….she has just come light-years in her focus,” Deppe said. “I think more so for her, as a freshman, you know hard leaving home and everything and coming into your own. And her being so tall, it will be a little harder to control her body. But she is really working on her mobility, her flexibility. But really the mindset is probably the biggest thing for her, and I have seen a very, very fast turnaround in this amount of time.”
Deppe added that Staiti’s strength improvement “is night and day from three weeks ago. And Jenna is going to keep moving [on the floor as a player], as she has such a quick body down in the post.”
Next up is 6-0 freshman guard Sarah Meyers, also out of Cumming, Ga., who has been the effort/hustle leader of the pack so far.
“Sarah is just like everything we do it’s, ‘okay, okay, okay.’ There is doubt, or I’m not sure about this,” Deppe said. “And she is another one that if there is something she has to work on…now, she is going to put a couple pounds of lean mass on her, and she is aware of that. That’s probably one of the biggest things for her. She is right up there with Kailia Charles in every single run we do, just pushing, pushing, pushing. And just so positive all the time.”
Deppe said Meyers, because she is so fit, has brought great quickness and intensity to the floor already in workouts, and that has helped raise the level of play of the entire team.
The final two rookies, shooting guard/sharpshooter Blair Watson (6-0) out of Nutley, NJ, and 6-2 forward Stephanie Jones (Bri’s little sister, also out of Have de Grace) are coming off off-season shoulder and knee surgeries, respectively, and easing into training and are not full-go yet. Both will travel with the team next month overseas, as well as rehabbing upperclassmen Kiara Leslie, the 6-0 junior guard, and 6-3 junior forward Aja Ellison, those two further to go in their rehabs than the freshmen.
“They have been working with our athletic trainer individually on the court, with more movement stuff and more shooting. And every week it has been more and more. On the court I have not seen that much yet from them, but with me they work hard and they are go-getters. But I have heard all about Blair’s shooting, and I am pretty excited. Hopefully I will be able to see more of her soon, and Stephanie as well,” Deppe said.
Today, Deppe will have individual meetings with all of the Terp players to assess their summer goals and progress so far.
“It’s been a 100 percent buy-in with this group, every one of them, which makes my job that much more satisfying having just arrived here,” Deppe said.