Q: It's year two for you as head coach at your alma mater. Are you more at ease this time around?
RL: I'm not sure if you ever feel more at ease, but I do feel more comfortable in my role as head coach. When you are coming off a year of 13-16, you have a lot to build on. I feel very fortunate that we are a year wiser and have a year of experience, and our kids have an idea of what we are trying to do. So I'm real excited about the year and the group of kids that we have together.
Q: Your team is bigger and taller. Talk about having a team with more size.
RL: We are real excited about that too because for the very first time since I have been at Ole Miss, we have a post presence, and it's one that you can see coming out on the floor. I got in the huddle today and stood in the middle, and it was like an umbrella. So we are big. For the very first time, we have Kayla Holloway back who is 6-4. She's been out two years with a knee injury. We have Shawn Goff and Nikki Byrd who are both 6-3. We have Katorra Lewis and Tori Slusher who are 6-2. When you look down the floor, we aren't all the same size, and we plan to utilize that as well. We have been so guard oriented for so long, that we are trying to create a lot of shots for them: two-man games, high-lows, opportunities that put them in position to rebound weak side. We are just trying to get the guards to understand that you throw it inside now, relocate and expect a shot and have two people in position to score at all times. This is something that we aren't used to, and at the scrimmage on Sunday, it was almost as if we had a Christmas present. We went from the small bite to the large bite is how I feel right now.
Q: What did you learn from last year?
RL: Everything. You can be in an assistant position for a long time as I was, six years, and so I called myself an old rookie. I learned from the best. I sat beside Carol Ross for a number of years. When you change hands and become head coach, you have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together very quickly. At the time, I don't think I was as prepared, and I don't think I had my kids as prepared as they should have been. There were some variables: the schedule was much too challenging for a team that had not played, and they were a group of youngsters where two people had experience and no one else had any. If I could turn back the clock, I would have changed the schedule, I would have changed the pace at which I prepared us, we would have played less games on the road and I would have settled them in a comfort level where they felt good about themselves. They also had the added weight of being the Elite Eight team, and the bulk of that team left. They could never grasp why they couldn't get it done, myself included. I learned to delegate a little better. I have learned my role as head coach better because for a long time I was still the assistant and we were all in this thing together. I think I'm better and I think they are better, and I'm just excited about this group of kids because their work ethic is phenomenal.
Q: What is point guard Alliesha Easley bringing to the team, and is she 100 percent over her knee injury and surgery?
RL: Yes, she is 100 percent back. What Alliesha brings is competiveness and a swagger you missed drastically. She plays to win. Fatigue is never a factor for her. She may get tired, but she will continue to play until that last horn blows. She also plays with confidence, and our kids who played a lot last year didn't have that because they were thrust into that role. She is vocal, verbal, competitive and can score. Scoring can always help when you have a player on the wing that you can depend on.
Q: You almost finished conference play .500 after a tough start in the non-conference. Can that positive finish carry over this season?
RL: That is one of the things that we talk about a great deal. We try not to talk about last year, but through the discombobulation of the year where we would be in the game for 36 minutes and lose it in the last four, and we just kept putting our heads together and point fingers about who is not doing their job, ultimately it came back to the player who was in the right position to carry that load. This year, you see a nucleus of kids that are working toward a common goal. They know that they got better as the season went on, but at one point during the year, I was fearful that we would not win a SEC game or that we would quit working. They did not ever let that happen to them. They kept pressing on and pushing. So I think they are hungry. I think we can build on being a contender again during postseason play.
Q: How will you keep on pressing and running the court with more post players?
RL: For the most part, our posts are pretty quick. Shawn Goff can run like a guard. We can get her down the floor quickly. The key is getting the ball. Where we used to have to fight to get the ball and have five people in the paint, now I think we can get up on the glass, fan out and hit our spots in the fastbreak and move. Surprisingly, some of our biggest kids have pretty good speed. Naturally, this is an all-points bulletin, if Nikki Byrd, Shawn Goff, Kayla Holloway or Tori Slusher need us to wait, we will, especially if they are in double figures midway through the season. We will change our game to suit those players that put the ball in the hole.
Q: Talk about this year's schedule?
RL: We have 13 teams that made postseason play. We are not playing a soft schedule by any stretch. We are going on the road early and play three teams, two of which made it to the WNIT and one scored 74 points on South Carolina. That immediately gets my attention. That alone is a little bit daunting. We do have 16 home games, and we tried to put our kids in situations where they could build from each game. It is almost pro-like. We will get back from a game, have two days of practice, play, day of practice, play, day of practice, play. We are gong to have to be prepared early, and I hope we are prepared with a lot of people so that they can get into the rotation. We ran Shawn Goff into the ground last year. She played 39 minutes a game, and that is asking a lot from a post player. So where I have depth at all positions now, I think that we can stay fresh and play an up-tempo style of game whether it is defensive or offensive.
Renee Ladner talks Lady Reb hoops
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