VU's Puleo pumped about season potential

When Vanderbilt takes the court November 4 for the season's first exhibition, basketball fans will see a familiar face in Black and Gold. For a year, guard Angela Puleo sat on Vandy's bench waiting out a transfer year from Georgia, watching and learning and counting down the days when she could do more than practice and cheer.

There's a slight head shake and a sigh followed by a grin and an answer. Although Angela is more than ready to put questions about Georgia or her time with the squad to rest, her first two years of college ball were noteworthy and she endures the process.

The sharpshooter from Maryville, Tenn., started 60 of 64 games for the Lady Bulldogs, contributing 8.1 points per game her first year and averaged 7.4 points as a sophomore. She was named to the All SEC Freshman team for the 2007-08 season.

Those hours of pushing her teammates in pickup and practice and observing from the bench were not in vain. They gave Angela insight in transitioning from one coaching philosophy to another.

"It makes you pay much more attention to detail," Angela said of watching the ‘Dores put moves to outlined plays. "I really tried to listen to [Assistant] Coach Tom [Garrick] a lot and just get his coaching style and Coach [Melanie] Balcomb's coaching style and just really observe the game. I hadn't done that before. It's a whole different perspective when you're on the sideline as opposed to playing. I tried to envision myself in different situations and try to learn from it even though I wasn't able to be out there."

The sacrifices of sitting out as a transfer included not suiting up for any games, not traveling to away games with the team, and not being in the locker room to celebrate wins over LSU in the SEC Tournament and DePaul in the NCAA First Round. But she was actively engaged in Memorial's sideline seats when Georgia came to play, when Andy Landers' unbeaten squad was No. 6 in the country and holding the nation's fourth-best defense. Vandy was without ace point guard Jence Rhoads, benched with a broken hand, but no matter - the ‘Dores drove to a decisive 66-44 win.

"I was just so proud of our team the way they stepped up. That was a huge win for our team," Angela said.

The transition from one team to another was significant considering the need to embrace a whole new system. But the differences end in one essential area, Angela said. "The name of the game is to win and that was the ultimate goal of both coaches."

As No. 4 runs, lifts and drills in pickup games before official practice begins in late October, Angela said it's easy to see the progress the 2010-11 team has made in the off-season. "It makes you appreciate your teammates even more. We're working hard, coming in everyday and although we're in preseason, we know this is getting us prepared for a great season. We've really stepped up from seniors to freshmen. We want to work hard not only for ourselves but also for our teammates. You can see that we're we're there for each other and it will pay off in the long term."

Any fan of the game knows the 3-point shot is a strength Angela brings to the table. She points to passion as another. "I want all of us to be fired up for each other. Not only can we be great, we can have fun doing it." Team spirit is on a high note, she adds. "Everybody here loves the game, but showing our emotion and enjoying playing with the people you love, that's what we have."

Team dynamics and success are now and will continue to be shaped by senior leadership. "Jence and Hannah Tuomi are going to have great senior years. They're leading us in pickup right now. They're great people and great ballplayers. They bring it every day. You can always count on them. They're going to play their hardest and I look for them to have even better seasons this year than last."

With the foundation set and expectations soaring, the guard is restless for the opening tipoff. "We're all really excited for this to get started. I'm so pumped about this team, so pumped about the new people coming in." In case her point wasn't made earlier, she beams: "I'm excited."

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