Gray-Miller Excited For Billikens' Future

The first word that coach Shimmy Gray-Miller used to describe her Saint Louis University women's basketball squad for this season was "young."

Then, the coach added, "very young."

"We have 12 players on the roster," Gray-Miller said. "Eight of the 12 are either a freshman or a sophomore. The effort has been there every day and the intensity has been there, but the focus has not always been there."

Gray-Miller enters her third year as the Billikens coach with five players returning who started 10 or more games for last season's team that went 13-17 overall and 4-10 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Those five players — Theresa Lisch, Katie Paganelli, Maggie Hennegan, Amy Klotz and Amanda Kemezys — accounted were among the Billikens' top seven scorers last year, but all are entering their sophomore seasons.

Lisch, a 5-foot-9 guard from Belleville, Ill., was SLU's leading scorer last season and started 28 games. She averaged 15 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3 assists per game and made 83 percent of her free throws and 33 percent of her 3-point attempts.

Paganelli, a 5-9 guard from Cincinnati, started 16 of the 30 games she played in and was the team's third-leading scorer, behind Lisch and Tyler McIlwraith, averaging 12.3 points per game. She made 80 percent of her free throw attempts and led the team with 50 3-pointers made.

Hennegan, a 6-0 forward from Cincinnati, started all 30 games she played in last season. She averaged 10.5 points per game and was the team's leading rebounder at 7.4 rebounds per game.

Kemezys, a 6-4 center from Fairview Heights, Ill., started 10 of 19 games and averaged 10 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Klotz, a 6-3 forward from St. Louis, started 12 games and averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

The Billikens have four upperclassmen on the roster with senior guards Jackie Gilbert and Hayley Leake and junior forwards Heather King and Jameela Haynes.

SLU was expected to bring in three freshmen, which were ranked as the No. 38 recruiting class in the country by, but recently lost highly touted guard Tatiana King when she left school and returned home to Chicago.

Freshmen Hope Elam and Lauren Woods both bring needed size at the forward position.

The 6-1 Elam, from Champaign, Ill., averaged 22.6 points and 13 rebounds per game as a senior at Central High School. The 6-0 Woods, from Belleville, Ill., averaged 15.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season at Belleville East High School.

Gray-Miller said that just one week into preseason practice the team looked like it did in January when they were about to tackle the bulk of the A-10 season.

"We're already better right now than we were last year," she said.

But the coach does not know how many victories that will translate to. She does know that Saint Louis U. is headed in the right direction, but they will likely take some lumps and bruises this year because they lack experience.

"Next year will probably be our best year, without a doubt," Gray-Miller said. "I expect to see a huge jump in everything next year. Our first (recruiting) class will be juniors next year. Hopefully they'll be third-year starters."

The Billikens also have commitments from four players for the 2008-09 season: 5-10 guard Alisha Goodwin from Belleville (Ill.) Althoff, 6-0 forward Devonna Smith from Kirkwood (Mo.), 6-1 forward India Warfield from Chaminade-Julienne School in Dayton and 6-2 center Kaelin Reid from Taft High School in Cincinnati.

SLU is also trying to add a fifth player to that recruiting class.

Janisha Gearlds, a 5-6 point guard at Bolingbrook (Ill.) High School, is still considering the Billikens. One of Gearlds' high school teammates, Miranda Tate, recently committed to play in the A-10 at Temple.

If Gearlds commits to SLU, Gray-Miller would have a five-member recruiting class that could rival the first full class for new SLU mens' coach Rick Majerus. Both squads could bring in a new recruit at every position on the floor.

Gray-Miller recently received her first commitment from the class of 2009 when 5-5 shooting guard Ashley Hanlen from St. Joseph's Academy in St. Louis committed to the Billikens over Indiana State and interest from others.

The third-year SLU coach continues to try to build her program with top local talent and area coaches and prospects have definitely noticed.

"When I first got here, we were begging high school programs to let me come out and spend some time with me and begging them to come to our games," Gray-Miller said. "… Now I've got schools calling me and coaches calling me about their players."

The program is in good hands with Gray-Miller and has benefited from the changes made since Majerus was hired, including a strength and conditioning coach and academic adviser to work specifically with the men's and women's teams and a full-time director of basketball operations for the women's team.

The coach said SLU is the only program in the A-10 with a strength and conditioning coach who works just with the men's and women's team at the school. That gives her another advantage in recruiting.

With the construction of Chaifetz Arena, the added resources and the recruiting success they've had, Gray-Miller sees everything coming together for her program.

"The potential of this program is awesome," she said. "Everything is in place. There's no reason you can't have a successful basketball program here. The last thing was the upgrade in the facilities. … If we can't build something special in the next few years, then I deserve to be fired. Everything is in place."

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