After growing up with the NBA of Bill Russell and Bill Walton and the NCAA of John Wooden, then playing and refereeing the game into my mid-thirties, the nature of the game shifted as more athletic players broke away from choreography and evolved the game into something more akin to chess. Individual match-ups dominated the points of strategy as passing and screening became tools directing that new athleticism at the hoop 10 feet in the air instead of to an open spot on the floor.
The game wasn't diminished by this transformation. It simply became something alien to the game as I played it and to whatever the athletic skills I possessed in doing so. An alley-oop pass and a tomahawk throwdown dunk aren't within a light year of either my ability or the game I aspired to play.
Hockey offered the passing and fast break weave of traditional basketball at a breakneck pace and is in full compliance with those laws of gravity found in the hoops played on my gym floor. So it was a very easy migration. What basketball I have followed since has been centered upon the Ducks and became a new emphasis with the arrival of the two Lukes. This year was the first opportunity to closely watch the women's team. That's what I wanted to say to Coach Smith instead of something that easily could be translated into "I don't have a clue'".
Perhaps. But I've never confessed it, so I'm sure this more complicated explanation is what I really meant to say in introduction. Wrong foot firmly - though I trust harmlessly - forward with the reader and the coach, we finally arrive at what should have been the lead paragraph to this QQ.
Not far into the conversation one gets the impression Coach Smith quietly knows that twenty, thirty years down the road this will remain one of her favorite teams. For any number of reasons and for reasons diverse enough to add texture and depth to that enjoyment. Two points come to mind; the first is everyone should strive for and find some similar satisfaction in their lives, and with the second point I'll say again eight bucks a ticket is the best bargain in town.
There is also the resonance of conviction as she addresses the future. Clearly new challenges and opportunities lie ahead, but so too will there be more teams and seasons of lasting professional and personal reward. Here are a few of the points she made during my interview:
ONE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF THIS SEASON: "Our focus the last couple of years has been defensively to get better. I think defensively we were pretty good all year and I think that's what really allowed us to be in the position we were in. Our goals from spring last year were defensively we had to get much better. We had to keep people in front of us with ball pressure, and we had to cover the drive lane. We are not an incredibly quick team but we have incredible length. We can cover a lot of ground just by taking it away by being in position. The second thing to go along with that is that a defensive position doesn't end until you get the rebound. In the last couple of years we have been minus in rebounding margin. If you play good defense, if you keep people in front of you… your rebounding becomes much better."
NEW LEADERSHIP: "We are going to be young at (point guard). Kaela Chapdelaine and incoming freshman Tamika Nurse will move in to that role. Kaela had two years under (Corrie Mizusawa) and has learned a lot… she is a different player in terms of defense, she is grittier and tougher and will put more pressure on the ball as a point guard. Offensively, we just have to get her comfortable at not only being able to direct the team and making reads but also in shooting the ball, because she can shoot the ball." "I am excited about her because she has tremendous competitiveness and when you have that…"
NEXT SEASON'S LOOK "I think we are going to have to be able to score from the outside for our inside game to develop. The focus is still getting the ball inside because that is where games are won. Time will tell, but I have a lot of faith in Jess Shetters. Not a lot of people see her as making improvement, but you have to understand where she's come from. She's really making strides in her confidence." "Our look has to be as well inside with Gabe (Richards), with Carolyn (Gains) and Jess. Yadili (Okwumabua) is always going to be that kind of role player but came up big for us in terms of rebounding, in terms of defensive prowess, in terms of hustle." "Our guard play, Kaela is going to have to perform, Chelsea is a three-point shooter. Brandi – we need her to get more consistent in everything she does and I think she has the maturity that will allow her to do that. Kedzie Gunderson is going to help us defensively and rebounding wise." "Perimeter wise we are really going to have to put points on the board and find ways to do that, so that will be a focus for us going into this coming season."
RECRUITING: "With Tamika (Nurse) signed, we have two scholarships left to offer this year. Right now we are in the process of recruiting a post player that could sign late, which would be a real help to us. (We will) probably hold that third scholarship for something that might come up. Right now if we do get that post player we have got the numbers in all our areas so it is sometimes better to hold that rather than to give it just to give it. The following year we have another point guard that we actively recruiting… another power forward and then a "3" player… so those are the areas we're trying to (recruit)."
INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS AND RECRUITING: "That is always something that we've looked at. I've played in Europe for years so I do have some connections over there. The west coast is a tough sell for Europeans because it is 12, 13 or 14-hour plane ride. Australians are just a little bit more willing to leave and discover and live in new places whereas Europeans – if they can have a six hour plane ride which is London to New York and be in an (east coast) school, they are much more willing to do that." "For programs up and coming you have to go that way in terms of establishing your program because you don't get the media exposure that a Connecticut, a Tennessee and a Texas and all those teams do get where a lot of players want to go because of that instant recognition. So you really have to look at that area."
Spring football practice began last Saturday for the Ducks and continues through the spring game on April 30th. During the next month a weekly update of the team's progress will be posted, hopefully no later than Friday morning each week. It is the intent to still publish Quick Quacks as usual, either late Wednesday night or Thursday, though coverage of spring practice perhaps could impact the feasibility of that intent to some degree.
Till the next time…