Interview: Jim Foster

VandyMania sat down and talked with women's basketball coach Jim Foster at the recent SEC Media Days.

VN: There is really a lot of excitement about this team with all these starters returning. How does this team compare with the 1993 team, which I guess was your signature team?

Foster: Well, I would say that the 1996 team was right there too. The team in 1995 won the SEC, won 28 games, and was a very good basketball team. Heidi Gillingham was the mainstay on that first team, and Sheri Sam was the mainstay on the second team. On this team there are a couple of players-- so this is more than that. We have two first-team All-SEC players returning in Zuzi [Klimesova] and Chantelle [Anderson]. And arguably Ashley McIlhiney, if healthy, would have been a legitimate candidate. So I think we have a nice returning cast, and we're trying to fill in some depth with our additions.

VN: With so many returning players, do you expect that there will be opportunities for some newcomers can contribute?

Foster: Oh, yeah. We had a very good recruiting class, and we have a sixth-year player, Candice Storey, who's back after an injury. We've got some additions-- where they fit in is to be determined.

VN: Last you played mostly 7 players-- do you anticipate that changing with this influx of talent?

Foster: Our players determine playing time. We're going through the process of determining that as we speak. Every coach plays his best players.

VN: But it's too early to say how big the rotation might be?

Foster: Yes. We've been practicing two weeks. Sometimes people are better in practice settings than game settings, and vice versa. We don't know any of that yet. We're fortunate to be in the Preseason NIT, and the timing of that is good for a team that's trying to figure out who plays, and who improves. One of the things that's interesting with depth is, you never know when an opportunity is going to happen. You just have to be prepared.

VN: Have any of your freshmen really shined brightly in practices so far?

Foster: Well, Tia Battle for about 20 minutes had my eyes wide open. Then she got injured. She just came back on the practice floor the day before yesterday, and my eyes opened again. She's very athletic... soft touch... she's going to be a good college basketball player. Ashley Earley is a player. Abi Ramsey shows some signs. Katie Smith, who transferred in, is as athletic and quick a player as we've had. We've upgraded our athleticism, and that should allow us more flexibility in style.

VN: Tell me about Katie Smith, and how she landed on your team.

Foster: Well, she's a Tennessee kid, and after a year at Louisville expressed an interest in transferring, and we had some scholarship opportunities. She ended up having surgery two weeks into practice, and didn't get that daily practice in the gym that you'd like a transfer to get. But she impressed us those first two weeks.

VN: What does having Candice Storey back do for your team?

Foster: You're talking about a kid who will be taking PhD courses in the spring. I mean, if this keeps up, we may start starting her just so we can introduce her as "Dr. Candice Storey" running out on the floor. But she's finishing up her master's in counseling, and will soon be going on to the next phase of her educational process. So I know for sure there's at least one person smarter than the coach on the team! She's a pretty sharp kid, and it's fun having her around.

VN: You start the year out with a tournament. Do you approach that with your team like, pretend we're in the Sweet Sixteen and go from there?

Foster: No. We're a one-game-at-a-time operation. We play Eastern Kentucky.

VN: Has it come up or entered your mind that you might end up in the finals with Connecticut?

Foster: No. That would be insulting to 14 other teams, and we're not in the business of insulting people.

VN: How does the added athleticism affect your flexibility?

Foster: You can be more diverse on defense. It makes your team better because you get to practice against it. Last year we couldn't even simulate quickness. This year we can practice against it on a daily basis. If we're playing against a team that's going to press us, we can put a very athletic team out there against the press. Before we might have to put 7 players out there.

VN: As good a season as Chantelle Anderson had last year, can she be better this year?

Foster: Sure. She can be a better rebounder, she can be a better defender, she can be a better passer. If you're asking me, can she shoot better than 72%, now that would be a little unrealistic.

VN: Talk about what's happening to Memorial Gym right now.

Foster: We're getting a tremendous upgrade in facilities across the board at Vanderbilt. We're getting a new practice gym. We're getting a new baseball stadium. It's sort of a fun time to be walking around campus. You're walking by something that's improving your work environment no matter where you walk.

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