Ross: It's hard to believe that year number three has rolled around for our coaching staff. We're excited as much as we were the first time we sat here. Our expectations are higher, and we're excited about that too. Again we bring a team to the 05-06 season that will carry on the quality and the characteristics of the last two teams. We're going to have to be a little gritty, a little tough, and then we're going to have to drag some people down to our level and then whip ‘em. But we're excited about that. We know defense, rebounding, and hard work will take us a long way. We don't have to sell our players on any of those qualities and the importance of them. I think they've experienced what hard work can do for them, what being tough and aggressive and competitive can do for them. They have a reputation in our league and across the country as being a pretty fiercly competitive bunch. I don't see this year as being any different.
Q: How did the devastating 60-57 loss to George Washington in the NCAA Tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C., last March after your team held a double-digit lead in the second half set the mood for this year's team heading into the season?
Ross: Anytime you get your heart broken, one of two things can happen. You either don't want to step up and risk getting your heart broken again, or you can't wait to get back to that same situation and do better the next time. If you have a competitive bone in your body, you want to get back to that as quick as you can. I expect that the returners much like the coaches want to get back to March Madness to fix that. We can't fix that in November or December. That's all about the NCAA Tournament. The only place we can get back into that situation and environment and win is in the NCAA Tournament. That's what you spend November, December, January, and February doing, getting ready for March and those type opportunities.
Q: Do you feel after two years that you've changed this program and the expectations for it?
Ross: I think we've changed it. I don't think we're through changing it. Certainly in two years we have people talking about March Madness now. People talk about us being happy on Selection Sunday. We do too. We've changed the culture in the locker room, and we've changed the culture within the Ole Miss family and in this community to expect us to be a part of the Big Dance. We're not finished by any stretch. Our quest is to make this a championship program, and we've not yet put ourselves in a position to play for championships. That's something that we would like to do. I would like for my players to know what that feels like, to experience that. As coaches, we've done it. This isn't about us, it's about them. It's about them for one moment feeling that they're the very best at something. The only way you can feel that is to compete for a championship and win one. We hope we can push ourselves into that position. Whether that's this year or down the road, I don't know. But we will be constantly striving to put these players in this program in that position.
Q: You always talk about your seniors and how they are so important to your teams each year. Talk about the three you have this year – LaTanya Jones, Ashley Johnson, and Ellen Buchanan.
Ross: I believe the seniors stamp the personality on the team. I always put a lot of responsibility on the senior class. I don't think there should be anyone in the locker room more dedicated than the seniors. This is their last hurrah. This is their legacy. This is what they will be remembered by. I know that Ashley Johnson, Ellen Buchanan, and LaTanya Jones are three players that have given a lot to this program. I think they are very aware of what their legacy can be and their responsibility to make sure everybody is moving forward. It's called leadership. It's doing the right things and have everybody else follow. I think they want to put their own stamp on things, and this is their chance.
Q: Your schedule is tough again this year. Is playing that type schedule part of the rebuilding of this program?
Ross: Anytime you make a schedule, you have to decide what you want out of that schedule. Personally when I played, I hated playing games you knew you were going to win before you ever stepped on the court. That didn't change when I became a coach. I've inflicted that feeling on my own players. I've always scheduled hard and competitive. As a coach I believe it's all about the SEC, it's all about January and February. I don't want us to be thinking then that we're good and we're not. I want to know what we're good and bad at and what we need to work on so when SEC play tips off, we'll know who we are. We've got a schedule that will expose us to be good or not so good. I want that and welcome that, and I believe our players do too. I also create a schedule like this so we can think bigger. We need to play a national schedule so that Ole Miss is a national name, not just some regional school. If you want to think big and do great things, then you've got to go out there and risk it. We're more than willing to do that (with scheduling). If we beat some of these people, then we've hit a home run and we've gotten the attention of not only people around here but across the nation. If we lose, then it's a growing experience for us and we go try to get ready for the next one.
Q: Talk about the two new players in the program – 6-2 Brandi Tipton and 6-3 Shawn Goff.
Ross: Brandi Tipton is a forward from Clopton, Mo. She's versatile. She's not physically imposing but she has great skills. She has had to overcome some physical issues since she got here. This is the first week she has gotten her legs back under her and her conditioning better. So she is behind but she has a good upside. She has a very good IQ on the court. She's unselfish. She's a very able passer. She has good skills. She can put the ball in the basket. She will get better day by day. Shawn Goff is from Tallahassee, Fla., and is a post player. She will be thrust into a ready position, ready or not, with the departure of Amber Terrell and Amber Watts. I think she is capable and able to do some things early. Like any freshman she will have growing pains. There's no way around that. But I do believe you learn faster by doing than watching. So she's going to have on the job training. I think she can have some success early. She's bright and learns quickly and will continue to get better day by day.
Q: Talk about returnees Ashley Awkward and Jada Mincy.
Ross: Ashley Awkward will be our most experienced point guard coming back. Ashley brings a lot of tempo to the game. She also brings scoring to the court since she can score from the point position. She has played in enough games that she brings game experience to the team. In SEC play she's had some tremendous moments and played well. Jada Mincy has a real toughness about her. She plays with no fear. She doesn't hold anything back. Her teammates like playing with that type personality. I like coaching that type personality. You can depend on her for production. She's going to get some rebounds, and she's going to get some points. So she brings a lot of positives, and she too has a lot of game experience. Those two will be important to us moving forward and having success this season.
Q: Talk about Armintie Price (who had knee scope surgery in September).
Ross: She's good to go. She's been running around pretty good for about a week or two now. She's not clicking at 100 percent yet. She hasn't been able to get in good shape as she will be. Armintie is a fairly gifted athlete and will recover quicker from injury. Her surgery was more preventative. She had some issues in her knee. Because she has some good ball in front of her, we wanted to be aggressive there and get her good to go. Obviously Armintie will receive a lot of attention this year, but she's used to that. She has the reputation across the league and across the country of being a player. She led the SEC in rebounding. She set an SEC record as being the only player to lead the league in both rebounds and steals (in one season). That shows her versatility. She has effort and passion and determination. She's leading but she's done that from day one since she's been here, how to play hard, how to play with passion, how to have fun playing hard, and playing with great enthusiasm. It's fun to coach her and I'm sure it's fun to play with her.
Q: You and Armintie both were involved with Team USA this summer, correct?
Ross: We were both there together. She was trying out for the under-21 team and I was coaching the under-19 team. I watched her practice some. One of the great things and one of the things I was most proud of was that USA basketball is thinking about Ole Miss basketball again. Armintie opened the door for a lot other players who will wear the Ole Miss uniform to have the opportunity. It was great to see her teammates there respond to her like her teammates already do here. She was like a magnet. They all wanted to be around her and her energy. She made alternate, but the kids that made the team were terribly disappointed Armintie didn't make the team. They wanted her to make the team and they wanted her to be their teammate. The coaches, who do not actually select their team, also were disappointed. Armintie was a great ambassador for Ole Miss, Mississippi, and the Southeastern Conference. My experience was great. We won a gold medal. I got to work with talented players and coaches. I got to go back to my roots as an assistant coach. That was fun. I learned a lot and hopefully our players will benefit from that experience.
Carol Ross preseason Q & A
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