"We've had nine workouts in the last five days, which is the most that we've ever done at this point in the season," Gray-Miller said in her opening statement. "We are much further ahead than we've ever been since I've been here, in my five years. I'm really excited about that. We are really going to depend on our upperclassmen this year, which is a first. In years' past we've played a lot of freshmen and a lot of sophomores. This year I just really am excited about being dependent on juniors and seniors. Our leadership is really strong. I think we've put together a schedule that's going to benefit us in many ways. I feel like this is the best schedule that we've had since I've been here, from top to bottom. I'm really ready to get going."
The first question asked was about the loss of Theresa Lisch, who decided to forego her final season of eligibility after being selected first-team all-conference and leading the team in scoring as a junior.
"We've moved forward," Gray-Miller said. "Theresa made her decision and we're very, very happy for her and we're very supportive of that decision. But once that decision was made, then we made plans and arrangements to move on. We picked up a guard from the junior college ranks, her name is Ayriell Robinson. She's actually a 4-2-4 transfer because she started at Fairfield University in Connecticut, so she's not like a true junior college kid because she understands what it takes at this level. She's a bigger guard and she's shown a great deal of promise. Do I think she's going to come out and score 19 points a game like Theresa? No, I don't. And she won't. But that's OK, we don't need her to.
"The returning players on our team have all gotten better. Janisha Gearlds, my point guard, who started last year for us alongside Theresa. She's picked up a great deal of experience in the summer. She went to point guard college and she's really come back a completely different player than she was when she left. She's shown a great deal of promise. She's shown a great deal of leadership. Lauren Woods has really worked hard on becoming more of a scoring threat. I've got an all-conference center in Amanda Kemezys and then I've got a great complimentary guard in Katie Paganelli, who is another senior. So, as far as one player stepping up and scoring 19 points and doing the things that Theresa did, that's not going to happen. But this team, this team has stepped up and we've already replaced Theresa and I feel very good about that."
Kemezys, a 6-foot-4 fifth-year senior from Belleville (Ill.) East High School, will be a focal point for the Billikens this winter. She averaged 12.6 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds during her junior season and was named to third-team all-conference after averaging 13.9 points per game during league play.
Gray-Miller lauded her senior for her work ethic and determination.
"Amanda has come a long way and I have not been more proud of a player that I've ever coached," the coach said. "She puts in the work. She puts in the extra work and then the extra work on top of that. She's really redefined herself as a leader and a player. She's gone from just being pretty soft and passive to now she is just an absolute beast and that's how I can describe her. She's very, very aggressive. She's dominant. She wants the ball, which is a change, a big difference in years past with her where she was just complacent and letting other people score. She's also developed into a pretty good defender. There were times last year where we had to do some switching on defense and she ended up guarding someone on the perimeter. I remember when she was a sophomore that there was no way that would have been able to happen. We would have had to take her out the game for defensive matchup issues, but that's not the case. She's one of my best defenders now.
"She has a motto this year and that's the John Wooden quote: ‘Make every day your masterpiece.' And that's what she is trying to do. We're just trying to keep her healthy. Last year it really hurt us not having her for those first five or six games of the year, just like the year before when it really hurt us when Theresa Lisch was out and missed the first eight games of the season. We have to keep Amanda healthy and she has got to produce. I know my role, she knows hers and we're both gonna get after it."
Kemezys will be the centerpiece of the Saint Louis U. squad, but because of her coach's successful recruiting efforts, the center will have more size around her than she's had previously in her college career.
"In the past we've been perimeter-dominated; we've relied a lot on our guards for our scoring," Gray-Miller said. "And this year that is going to change. We've put in some sets specifically for our post players. We've got Amanda Kemezys at 6-4. We've got the transfer who sat out last year and she'll be ready to this year, 6-2 Kathryn Hester, the transfer from Miami. Nicole Johnson is a junior this year. She is 6-3 and I feel like she'll be able to contribute more this year than she did last year. She has really developed in the offseason. The two sophomores, Kaelin Reid at 6-2 and India Warfield at 6-feet, and then I have a freshman, Mallory Eggert, who is a legit 6-2 and who I would describe as a 6-foot-2 version of Heather King, who was a senior that we had last year. So it's really nice having such a tall, big, front line. It's really different from years past. I remember my first year where I was actually the tallest post player on the team, which is never a good thing. So we're going to throw some things at the post players and see what we can do."
NOTE FROM THE SLU SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT: The Billikens will host Southwest Baptist (Bolivar, Mo.), an NCAA Division II team and member of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, in an exhibition game Thursday, Nov. 5, at Chaifetz Arena. Admission is free, and tip time is 6 p.m., which is a change from the previously announced starting time of 7 p.m. Saint Louis welcomes Southern Illinois to Chaifetz Arena for the regular-season opener Friday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. The Billikens-Salukis clash is the second half of a doubleheader that begins with the nationally ranked SLU volleyball team taking on Rhode Island at 6 p.m. A ticket purchased for either the basketball game or the volleyball match is good for admittance to both events.
Atlantic 10 Conference
Predicted Order of Finish
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Xavier (12)
t3. Dayton (1)
8. George Washington
9. Saint Joseph's
10. SAINT LOUIS
12. Rhode Island
13. La Salle
2009-10 ATLANTIC 10 PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAMS
LaKeisha Eaddy, Temple
Amber Harris, Xavier
Casey Nance, Dayton
Ta'Shia Phillips, Xavier
Brittani Shells, Richmond