WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After stacking three successful recruiting classes on top of each other Jen Hoover was finally able to at least partially overcome the injury bug that’s plagued her program by leading the Deacs to a winning record and a WNIT appearance last season.
There’s reason for even great optimism as this season is set to begin, with the Deacs returning nearly all their production. They’ve also added three more highly-touted freshmen who figure to contribute in 2016-17.
They begin the season at 4 p.m. Nov. 11 against Navy at Joel Coliseum as the opener of a women’s/men’s basketball doubleheader. Danny Manning’s men’s team faces Radford at 7 p.m. that same night.
Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover chatted with Demon Deacon Digest earlier this week about the upcoming season.
On health and depth
Hoover: “I think we do have pieces and parts, but we’re still looking at probably nine suiting up when we start. But there’s some variety and diversity in those nine. I think one of the things we love about this team is that there are kids who can play multiple positions. We can score in a variety of ways. They’re hard-working and love to come to practice. They’re an eager bunch.”
On what she did during the summer
Hoover: “We go to visit my husband’s family over the summer. We take two trips to Indiana to visit with him mother, father, nieces and nephews. That was pretty much it other than July recruiting. I did get to go to Spain with the FIBA ‘17. I did get to see a lot of basketball in Spain. I tried to watch a lot of film, and try to put the pieces together. We have experience coming back really for the first time in our tenure here. We have a lot of starters back and the bulk of our scoring back, but also want to bring our young ones along.”
On having so much production back from last season
Hoover: “We have six of our top seven scorers back. We’ve got 92 percent of our rebounding back. We have about 85 percent of the scoring. It’s exciting to know. They’re already known and proven. They’re confident with each other, like playing with each other, and know how to play off each other. Now we get to mix in an Alex Sharp, Tyra Whitehead and Ona Udoh. Our other freshman (Raegyn Branch) is going to miss the year with an Achilles tear and surgery that she’s already had. It’s kind of exciting to have that experience return and we derive a lot of confidence from that.”
On recruiting well both at home and abroad
Hoover: “It’s been great for us. We never want to forget where we’re located in the state of North Carolina and take care of our own backyard. But at the same time, when you have the ability to add players of the caliber of Elisa (Penna), Alex (Sharp) and Clarisse (Berranger) who come in with so much experience. They’ve played with 28-30 year old women in the way they’ve grown up playing basketball in their country. They’ve played against older competition their entire life, so their experience level is at a different level when they get here. Then you look at Alex’s situation, where she’s been involved in elite-level training at their Center of Excellence for three years. She’s come in as good of shape as anyone on our team because she’s been going through typically college training. They’ve been a great addition off the court as well. They’re a lot of fun, and our kids like getting to know more about their cultures, their countries and where they’re from. It’s been a neat experience and our kids have appreciated it.”
On what has her excited about the upcoming season
Hoover: “We finally took a step forward last year. At the end of the year we were playing well. We fought through a lot of adversity and injuries. These kids never gave up on each other, and they believe in each other. They believe in our staff and this university. They really want to make everyone proud. Everyday we come in here, they’re excited to be here. I joke all the time that in year’s past it was two minutes before practice and the entire team would come in at one time. You come now, as a staff our goal is to be here at least 30 minutes before practice. When we walk in here, there’s already two, three or four of them working on shooting or their game in some shape or form. That’s 13 practices in, and they’re still doing it. They are as anxious and excited about the season as we are. As a coach, you always come into a season believing you have a chance to be special. But when your players are setting that tone as well and having those types of conversations, it’s a nice change for us. It’s the culture we want to create and it’s where we want to take this program. They all want to leave their legacy."