One-on-One with Marsha Sharp

With the season opener just days away I sat down for a conversation with Lady Raiders Head Coach Marsha Sharp. Coach Sharp talked about this year's team, the strength of the Big 12, the changes to the NCAA tournament, Louisiana Tech, and few other subjects. Read on for the complete interview.

JS: The Lady Raiders are currently ranked 7th in the polls, and there are some high expectations for this team. How do you feel about your team right now?

MS: Well, I think we're ready to play. You always wish you had a little more practice time, but on the other hand I think you do get to a point where you're only going to get better when you have a opportunity to play someone besides each other, and give yourself a chance to find your strengths and weaknesses, and find some areas that you think you can improve. I think the beauty of playing someone as early as we're playing Louisiana Tech is two fold. First of all, they're a great program that we have a lot of respect for, and it will be a really competitive game, so we'll probably find some things that we can work on. Second, after that game we have two weeks, with two exhibition games, where we can really go back to the drawing board and work on some things before we play Washington. So I think all of that together makes it a really good situation for us.

JS: What do you think the biggest strengths of your team are right now?

MS: I think we're pretty athletic. We run the floor really well. I think we have two people who have kind of emerged as go to players in Pierson and Perkins. Then I think, you know, we're a year older than we were last year. So we have some experience, some people who have played in some really important games for us at Tech who are now in our junior class, and Plenette in our senior class. We feel like from an experience standpoint, that we have a lot more on the table than we've had in a couple of years.

JS: You mentioned experience, but you also have 2 new point guards this season. How do you feel about that situation?

MS: Well the good news is that they're both great point guards, and that we've got two choices there. I think they have both done a great job of coming in, and taking control of our offense on the floor. I've been really impressed with both of them. Particularly in Erin's case, to be a freshman, and come in and have the mentality that you can run a team that has some outstanding players on it. I think it's a big credit to her. They're both winners, they've won everywhere they've been. Erin won four state championships. Mik won state championships and a national championship on the junior college level. Above everything else you like in a point guard, you like that kind of mentality. They both bring that to the table, and I've been really impressed with both of them.

JS: Do you think the high expectations this year are having an effect on your players?

MS: I think it's helped us. Some years it hurts you, and people may be afraid of that a little bit, but I think this team already felt some urgency to come back and play well after last season. I think the high expectations have first of all, made them feel like people in the country still had some respect for them. Second, I think after what we went through last year it's real important to them that we come back and make a statement about our team, and about our program. I've felt a certain sense among our players that they are really excited about that opportunity to start that process.

JS: Do you think the Big 12 conference is going to be one of the best conferences again this year?

MS: I'm probably a little prejudiced, but I think no question we've proven that we are going to be one of the best conferences year in and year out. I've said before that probably the only thing left for us to do was to play in the final four. Oklahoma took care of that for all of us last year. I think from a national perspective they gained a lot of respect for our whole conference with that step. Now I think people across the country view us as a conference that is really strong from top to bottom, and that really brings a lot to the table in terms of exposure for women's basketball. I don't think this year will be any exception to that. There may be some questions about our teams being as strong as they were a year ago, but as I've told some other people, programs in the big 12 don't really rebuild, they reload. They have a good enough reputation now that they're always going to have quality players. I think this year will prove that to be true.

JS: What will it take for the Lady Raiders to win the Big 12 championship this season?

MS: Well, it's a big task, and we've been fortunate enough that we've been there or shared a title three times since the formation of the conference. Just thinking back on the experiences I had with those teams I think first of all you have to convince your players it's not a one game deal. In some conferences, honestly, you could probably circle one game on your schedule and know that if you won that one you might could not play up to your full potential in other games and win, but that's not true in this conference. If you're not playing well every time you go on the floor, anybody is capable of winning a game against you. So you have to be ready for that. With that in mind, it's not a one game win that you're looking for, it's 16 games of consistency. I don't think that there's any question that the team that is most consistent, for the longest period of time, will have a chance to win it. I hope we'll be strong enough, deep enough, and have a good enough mentality that we can be the ones. But there hasn't been a champion in the big 12 conference, on the women's side, yet who has gone undefeated. I think that talks about the strength of the conference.

JS: This year the NCAA changed the selection process for host cities for the first and second rounds of the tournament. How do you feel about these changes?

MS: I'm not a proponent of the changes. I don't think that it really creates as fair a playing field as we should have. I don't necessarily disagree with the point that we need to be off of home sites, but I do think the fair thing to do if you're going to take it away from sixteen people who have earned the right to do that, is to take them to neutral sites. I am a proponent of neutral sites, putting eight teams at one sub-regional, similar to what the Men's tournament does. Let us try to draw our crowds there. I'll give you a great example of how I feel it's going to be unfair. When you think about two of the top rated teams in the country right now, let's take Tennessee and Duke because there is a good comparison here. Tennessee can get to the Final Four of Women's Basketball this time, and never leave Thompson-Boling arena. They can play sub-regionals and regionals both at home. Duke on the other hand, who has been picked as a preseason favorite in the country, will not play any games at home. They go on the road for sub-regionals, and they don't have a regional site either. So in order for them to get to the Final Four they've got to go on the road and play four. To me that's not an equal playing ground. I think we have to, as quickly as possible, change that. I think most coaches in the country are proponents of that.

JS: What factors do you think played a role in Texas Tech being chosen as one of the host sites for those first two rounds?

MS: The only thing that's a factor right now is how much money you can put on the table. I think the fact that we've had such great fan support, the fact that we've made some money for the NCAA, and that they obviously feel like we have a chance to be in the tournament, all were major factors in the fact that we were chosen. I think again that we're really pleased to be able to host it here. We can do that a couple of years and then if it stays in the same system we have to go away a couple of years automatically. So we'll see how it works, and how the NCAA feels about it after a year or two

JS: You're playing a pretty highly ranked Louisiana Tech team this weekend. What can you tell me about their team?

MS: Well they have a lot of newcomers, and it's made it kind of hard for us to get ready for them. They have nine new players on their team, and a new coach. I have a feeling Coach Budke will do similar things to what Coach Barmore did because he was there with him for a couple of years. We'll be in a situation where we'll probably have to make some on the court adjustments pretty early because this early in the season you don't have as good a picture, or as good a scouting report as some of the people we'll play later. They have four returning players that were a big part of what they did last year. One that was the player of the year, in Cheryl Ford. Amber Obaze, who made the trip to Brazil with Jia and I this summer, and played on the USA team. Those will be the two most explosive players they have. Another post player that's 6'2" by the name of Frierson, who is a big body. We'll have to deal with her, particularly when Louisiana Tech is on the defensive end because she will be a really good defensive player. Then the freshman of the year in the WAC last year, a kid by the last name of Smith, who is a perimeter player, that really is a great athlete. So we know those four are going to be a part of it, and we're not sure who's going to step up from their newcomers and be a big part of it. They'll do a great job. They have a lot of tradition in that program. They always have great athletes. Kurt Budke will do a great job. Obviously they'll be interested in trying to win that game for him because it's the first game he will have coached as a head coach in Division I basketball.

JS: What do you think some of the pros and cons are of sites like

MS: I think that the pros are that it gives our fans a way to stay in touch, and to be in a situation where they can hear some things about basketball. Honestly, from my perspective the cons are the fact that sometimes there's a lot of information on there that's not exactly accurate. That concerns me a little bit because sometimes our players read it, and they may think that something went on in coaches minds, or fans minds that actually never was part of our practice, or maybe a game situation. I don't think there's any question that it was really a negative with one of our recruits. She and her parents read a lot of things that were on the internet last year when we were struggling as a team. I think she chose another university based on some information that was on the web site, that was actually not accurate. That concerns me a little bit. Not just for our program, but for all women's basketball programs. Certainly you never want to be in a situation where you get on there and read negative things about kids on your team, or even members of your coaching staff. We do pay attention to that because our players read it. So we've got to make sure that we're able to calm any fears down, or settle anything from our perspective that they may be worried about or thinking about. I think it was a major factor in some of the things that went on with us last year. We spent a lot of time talking to our players about their involvement in reading that, and what they need to be able to sift through and look at. I'm always glad when there's attention to our sport, but I also want to make sure that it's accurate information, honestly.

JS: Is there anything else you would like to say to the Texas Tech fans out there?

MS: We're excited about the season starting, and we hope that they'll all come out and be a part of what we're doing. We're always thrilled to be involved with them in any we can. Certainly if there are any questions about our program, or things that they would like to know, we're always glad to talk with people, and try to handle that. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to have this interview. We'll look forward to doing it again.

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