Women's Basketball Season Preview

2,406. That number will forever be a mark that will be nearly untouchable by any woman ever in the history of the University of Miami women's basketball program.

That number is the number that Tamara James left as a staple on her career as a Hurricane, one that saw her compete to the utmost of her ability night in and night out against some of the nation's best.

It's the career record for points that James set in her final season at Miami, but for the 2006-2007 Lady Hurricanes it remains a number that the team will have to figure out a way to account for now that the greatest player in the history of UM women's hoops is now gone.

That's the challenge that coach Katie Meier has in front of her with her team that includes five newcomers and only ten total players.

But according to Meier is the type of season that excites her because there are no expectations from the outside. The experts don't think much of the ‘Canes. Most people who watch the ‘Canes won't expect much from them. But with half the team being brand new, it gives the players the chance to make a name for themselves.

"I am very excited for the season," Meier said. "It's a real opportunity for me and my staff to show what we can do with our kids in the gym. We don't have a lot of proven returning in terms of scoring and rebounding, but as a coach those are my favorite seasons when you are truly challenged."

The challenge will be there for the Lady ‘Canes as they play in the toughest conference in the country with the National Champion Maryland Terrapins on the schedule, along with runner-up Duke and Final Four team North Carolina all on tap.

Breaking down the team by position is a little sketchy because women's basketball is not like men's basketball where most players play a set position or two. In the women's game players move around generally, but for the ‘Canes it will be even more evident because they will have a team that surely won't be a traditional half court squad.

GUARDS

Leading the Lady ‘Canes will be senior point guard Renee Taylor. She's basically the only player returning to the team with major playing experience from last year's team. She will be the motor of the team and will control the tempo of the squad which will be played in fifth gear.

The team's second leading scorer last year behind James at 15.6 points per game, one of the goals for Taylor this year will be to increase her assist totals and lower her assist-to-turnover ratio that wasn't great last season.

But Meier acknowledged Taylor got better and better as the season went on. Her scoring went up from non-conference games to conference games, something almost unheard of when playing in the ACC.

"Obviously Renee Taylor is someone that helps me when we talk about the team. Renee's scoring went up in the ACC. That doesn't usually happen. Teams start scouting you and you get locked down. Her scoring went up significantly in the ACC. It's a testament to her maturation and ability to adapt. I am putting her with the fresh faces in practice to dictate tempo. I think she is very special," Meier said.

So special that Meier watches film on Allen Iverson to find ways to get Taylor more shots because of the difficulty in getting a point guard a lot of good shots.

Joining Taylor is sophomore LaToya Cunningham who was voted as a team captain along with center Amy Audibert. The fact that Cunningham was voted captain by her teammates shows the type of character she has considering she is only a sophomore.

"When we describe what we want from a captain, we put some scenarios out there, who do you want to be the voice to your coaches," Meier said. "Our players vote for captains. That's LaToya. She's very vocal, but absolutely leads by example. She comes from a very, very good high school program. Toya understands greatness. There's a freshness about her that you are drawn to her. She has real solid character."

A major addition to the back court will be Maurita Reid from Monroe Community College. She was a teammate of Taylor two years ago when they won a National Championship together. Last year Reid led Monroe to the school's third straight National Championship.

She joins Taylor again who she refers to as "sis". But what will make her and Taylor on the court together a special thing is the chemistry that Meier says they have. Even more astounding is that Taylor is fast, but Meier says Reid is faster.

"She is without a doubt the fastest player I've ever coached and I've coached some fast ones," Meier said. "She's scoring now, she's going to learn a lot in practice and hopefully her scoring will come back in practice."

But what impressed Meier about Reid incredibly was her character. After committing to Miami in January, the national powers came calling and Reid stuck to her commitment to play for Meier and the Hurricanes.

"She gave us the commitment in January and then blew up," Meier said. "They (Monroe) were then No. 1 after she committed. They only lost 1 game and then won the National Championship. Tennessee had come in right after Maurita's visit here. It was a kid who stuck to her word. It says a lot about her character."

Add in Albrey Grimsley who Meier calls the best defender she's ever had and Meier has a back court that will have the ability to push the ball up and down the court with defense, speed and pressure.

FORWARDS

The three and four are totally wide open on this team as they include the likes of Miami native freshman Eboni Sadler who is the player with probably the biggest name locally.

At 5'11 and very athletic, she will garner immediate playing team because she'll present some challenges for defenders because she has some great jumping ability, a pretty decent jumper and can get up and down the floor.

Charmaine Clark is another newcomer who is expected to make an immediate impact. While Meier didn't go as far as to compare her to James, she nearly did and called her a steal of a recruit because Meier found her in the final week before signing day last November.

"She's a great story. A year ago today, recruiting is wrapping up for us. We were in the last window for evaluation and I am at this recruiting event looking at younger kids and this number 47 popped up. She wasn't in the book. I asked some coaches and they didn't know who she was and I was told she was a senior. I did my homework and in a week she was down here for a visit and committed. We found a very special player. She's very versatile. She can swing 4/3, one of better shooters and finishers in the paint. She has some very special qualities."

Add in Kathyrn Hester who Meier called someone she loves because she loves to hit people and Lamese James and the ‘Canes will have an athletic mobile front court that will be able to run the floor as well.

CENTER

This might be the position the ‘Canes have more depth at and will see many of them moving over to the four when Meier runs with two bigs at the same time.

Senior center Amy Audibert, one of the team captains, is 6-foot-3 and very thick. She has the ability to get good position in the post and Meier has raved about her summer work outs.

But the key is Brittney Denson, the 6-foot-3 sophomore who tore her ACL midseason last year.

Denson provided that post presence the ‘Canes were lacking. She played bigger than her 6-foot-3 frame and brought a ferocity the ‘Canes sorely missed once she was gone.

"In the offices, we were devastated by that injury," Meier said. "Had Brittany Denson not been injured we were not only an NCAA team but a second or third round team according to a number of coaches in our conference. I don't think we got a rebound after she got hurt. She's brought back a ferocious warrior's mentality. It's the quickest I‘ve ever seen someone come back from that injury.'

Another major addition is the 6-foot-4 Carla Williams who played net ball nationally for Jamaican and was at Broward Community College last year. Meier had seen her when she was at Charlotte and was lucky enough to have her in her back yard when she got to Miami.

But Williams is not your average 6-foot-4 player according to Meier. She can run the floor with the guards.

"Carla is going to surprise a lot of people. Carla has played 2 years of organized basketball, was the MVP of the Jamaican net ball team, 6'4 perfect for our style, very thin, but for our full court game, she's in stride with our speedy guards. She's a phenomenal rebounder and she wants to learn. She says teach me more, teach me more, and I really enjoy that. She's very raw, but learning at a pace that I am pleasantly surprised with."

OVERVIEW

With all that being said, this team is young and inexperienced. It will have its work cut out for it. With five of the ten players being new to the squad, everyone is going to play.

Taylor will clearly be the leader of this team, but she and Reid could be a deadly back court combination that challenges the likes of Ivory Latta at North Carolina.

It should be interesting to see where the scoring will come from on this team with James now a graduate and a member of the Washington Mystics following being draft in the first round of the WNBA Draft earlier this year.

This team could be really good if it's able to control tempo pushing the ball down the floor, but it could also struggle a lot if it's not able to push the ball up the floor.

It starts with defense as Meier has said. She says this is a much better defensive team than it was last year. If the defense does its job, it could be a nice surprising season for the Lady ‘Canes.

Rudy Rodriguez-Chomat can be reached at rudy@canestime.com

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