Renee Ladner enters her third season as head coach of her alma mater. The first year her squad had a losing season, while last season the Rebels were an NIT team with a winning mark.
This season there are some unknowns as exhibition season begins. What unfortunately is known is that two of her players are out with knee injuries.
Veteran junior guard Alliesha Easley and senior forward Tori Slusher have had surgeries this preseason. Slusher is hopeful of a return by SEC time. Easley is out for the season and will return next year.
It is the second season for Easley to miss. Two years ago in the season opener, she also injured a knee, the other one, and was lost for the season.
"It's heartbreaking for both of those players," Ladner said.
But they have to move on. Ladner said the schedule indicates the games are here, but a little more time to get ready would help.
"If you ask any coach in America, they'd say they need another two weeks," she said. "You always need more. But I like where we are right now. We're very well conditioned. We need more work defensively and rebounding. We just need to work on team chemistry, and that will come as we play more together."
Ladner said her players are a mature group that understands the challenges ahead of them.
"They're working extremely hard," she said. "I think they'd practice four hours a day if I would allow it. I'm very happy with their work ethic. They've been the easiest group so far to work with. These seniors (there are six of them on the roster) understand the urgency of the matter. This is it. We were almost there last year.
"They've set the goal. They want to go to the Dance (NCAA Tournament). These seniors have been there (Elite Eight team in 2006-07). They've tasted it. They want to return. That's why they come in every day and work so hard. I love that about this group."
On the men's side, the Rebels are eager to play in front of their fans. Last Saturday there was a closed session against Tulane at Tad Smith Coliseum. Friday night, things are wide open for all to see.
"We just want to get better," said sophomore forward Murphy Holloway on the team's approach to Friday night's exhibition. "We want to work on the things Coach has us working on that we didn't do too good in the Tulane scrimmage."
And there are multiple areas they want to improve.
"We're going to try to keep getting better," said sophomore guard Terrico White. "Everybody's going to play, so Coach will see what we can really do."
One of the new players that coaches and fans want to see is freshman center Reginald Buckner. The Memphian is looking forward to getting on the court and playing in front of those fans. The 6-foot-8, 233-pounder said he thinks he's making progress toward substantial playing time.
"I feel I'm pretty close," said the Manassas High School product. "The pace of the game and once you get to running makes you forget a lot of things, just little simple things. If you mess up one thing, you mess up the whole play. I just need to get our plays down pat."
Friday night's exhibition game should help with that.
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