Melanie Balcomb talks about practice

The college basketball season officially began on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. With the Commodore Quake on the main floor of Memorial Gym and the men's team practicing in the practice gym, the women's team opened the season on a court in the Student Recreation Center. After practice, VandyMania caught up with Head Coach Melanie Balcomb.

Moving the official beginning of the basketball season from midnight to 7:00 p.m. was just one of the major changes in the NCAA rules this year. In the past, prior to the official start of the season, coaches could work with no more than four players at a time for a maximum of two hours a week for individual workouts.

For the first time this year, the limit on the number of players in the individual workout was removed and the amount of allowed time increased to four hours per week. The maximum amount of time allowed for required activities remained at eight hours, just as it has in the past. All mandatory activities, including individual workouts and strength and conditions workouts are still limited to those eight hours.

In this interview, Coach Balcomb talks about the changes in the rules and also shares some other thoughts about the upcoming season.

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VM: Can you talk about the changes in the NCAA rules on pre-season practice and how you utilized them, and now that you're here on your first day of practice, what the impact has been?

Coach Balcomb: I didn't change much. I know a lot of other programs practiced a lot whole and used those hours. With our team, I think our strength is individual improvement and development, and I don't want to take away from that. And we were not in shape enough to take away from conditioning or strong enough to take away from lifting, so we stuck to what we've done in the past.

We did use some of the time to move ahead and learn some of the drills, so I think our first practice was quicker and better than we've been in the past. But I could be wrong but the rule wasn't written really to practice, but it states you can have more people on the court so therefore you can practice. I'm afraid of burnout physically and mentally, and I'm hoping to play till April, like the back of their shirts say. I want them to be hungry, and I want them to be excited about practice, and I didn't wear them out.

As we got better individually, as we got better in the weight room and conditioning, then as we determined we could start to do some more, instead of two people in individuals, we went to four, then actually to go some five on five. We did it about once a week. I'm hoping down the road that we want to keep playing farther along.

I've always dared to be different, and I think a lot of people changed, and I chose to be different by staying the same with what we've done because I think the season is already long enough. And I know where we were at, most of our kids stayed all summer in summer school, and we needed to get stronger, we needed to get in shape, and we needed to develop individually. Without that, we can't be a good program. So I didn't want to move things much quicker than I have in the past. Now, I did some, and it did change some with the rules, but not a lot.

VM: In terms of positions, from what I saw out here, it looks like you have Liz Sherwood, Rachel Brockman, Nicole Jules, and Carla Thomas in the post, and Tina Wirth some of the time.

Coach Balcomb: Yeah, Tina's gonna swing back and forth between guard and post, depending on our health. A lot of the players that were not healthy in pre-season were in the post and couldn't do the workouts. That's why we started her out in the post, but she's also done guard work, and tomorrow she's going to do a lot of guard. We're going to swing her like we did Hillary, but we're going to do it right away.

VM: Is there anybody else who will swing between the two positions?

Coach Balcomb: Everybody else is going to be either a guard or a post. But with Tina, that'll give us a lot more versatility. We can be really big because that gives us a big "3" or we could put her at the "4' and use three quicker guards. I think it gives us that versatility right away that could really help us, and I think she's smart enough where she can learn them both at the same time.

VM: In terms of individual improvement, what has caught your eye about individual players since last season?

Coach Balcomb: I think the biggest thing just from watching individuals in practices is that Caroline Williams has improved and is much more of an all-around player than just a shooter, and she works really hard at that. I think she's much more confident. And I think she's going to be able to do a lot more things than she's done

VM: Are you looking at her to be on front of the defense, pressuring the ball?

Coach Balcomb: We're going to have to use her some just because of the minutes Dee plays and the injuries that she's had built up in each season because of the minutes. We try not to use her on the basketball and wear her out. Therefore you've gotta go with Cherish and Caroline up on the ball.

VM: That's a role you'll be expecting Caroline to take on defense?

Coach Balcomb: Well, we need her to play defense, period. She's never been out there for her defense. She's been out there for her 3-point shooting. We need her to defend, and we need her to attack the basket more, and be a better post passer. We need her to be able to do more than just catch and shoot. And I think she's working very hard on those things, and I've seen a lot of improvement. A lot of it's just mentally, she's a lot more confident, and therefore it allows her to do a lot more things than she's been able to do in the past.

VM: Unlike the past couple of years, you're starting the season off with a bang. Your first opponent is an expected Top 25 team, and that's less than a month away now, and you've got three more in the non-conference season.

Coach Balcomb: Oh, I know! And that was the tough part with our injuries. We needed to get healthy as well as get strong and in shape before we really could do much. We were at a point where pickup was three-on-three, and we pulled back on pickup and did other things. So we're going to be a little behind in conditioning and strength because a lot of people were pulled for injuries. I'm hoping that we can catch up real quick because we play a lot earlier, and we play quality opponents on the road all pre-season.

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Photos copyright 2005 by Whitney D for

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