LEBANON, PA — Though the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone and there is an understanding that the season could be delayed or paused at anytime, Pitt Women’s Basketball Coach Lance White cannot help but smile as his team has made great strides with Wednesday’s season opener fast approaching.
Much like his team, White has been accustomed to winning, however last year provided struggles in that area as Pitt won five games while a young roster played many minutes and had a lot to learn.
“We had very little experience last year, especially when we lost (Aysia) Bugg,” he said. “We did not have anyone who had played in the ACC. We are a year older and a year wiser and our practices have been so different. When you say something they know and can jump right in. Now how far they can go is how many of those steps we can put together. Our roster is so much more competitive and there are more options.”
Admittedly, White explained that a lot of practice last season was spent teaching the basics and understanding what college basketball was, especially at the ACC level. White believes it may have overwhelming at first, but he threw his team into the fire and in the final four games of last season, the team began to put pieces together.
Now with coaching staff and returning players alike having that year under their belts, practices have a more purposeful intent. Drills have become more competitive and there is a lot more understanding what is expected on a daily basis.
“We knew coming into Pitt that it was going to be a long-term process to do things the right way in this conference,” said White. “It was going to take time to turn the roster over and win at the highest level. You are playing against the best and it takes time. This year I believe we have more firepower and kids that can help us compete at this level, so I am excited for these kids to get on the floor and hopefully play.”
Guard Gabbie Green is one of two seniors on this year’s Pitt team with Cara Judkins the other. Both have assumed leadership roles within this team.
Addressing this year’s team, Green states that there is a lot of reasons to be optimistic and that she wants to be part of bringing a winning culture back to Pitt Women’s Basketball.
“Fans should expect us to compete more and compete to win,” she stated. “They will see a lot of maturity and growth for our teams. Our younger players will make a big difference and our newcomers already are making a difference. We’re going to score more, our defense will be better and we all have bought in. We know what it takes, now we just have to do it.”
PSN’s Zachary Weiss sat down with White for a one-on-one interview on a wide-ranging number of topics.
BECOMING 2% BETTER
Pitt has been given a clear vision from the top, that it wants to play at a faster pace and compete with its ACC opponents, now with its deeper roster it is setting out to accomplish just that.
One way it is doing that is by being more vocal in all aspects of the game and celebrating small details while bouncing back from adversity.
“We knew that we have to hold each other accountable and expect more,” said Green. “If I see someone slacking off, you can’t take it personal. What’s best is for all of us to be up front and committed to each other. We call each other out all of the time and it’s what we need… Basically it has been us fighting. It’s not going to be easy, no one is going to feel sorry for us, so we are literally all we have.”
Green also added that with roles quite possibly changing this year it makes practice more important with finding a voice or hunting down shots so the coaching staff knows they can rely on you.
“If my role has to change for us to win, then I’ll take it,” Green said. “We need to create a winning culture at Pitt.”
. It seems clear that White is excited for transfer Jayla Everett who was granted immediate eligibility following a transfer from New Mexico. White stated that Everett is an all-conference type of player that “changes everything we do” and when teamed with Dayshanette Harris, provides an exciting backcourt that provides a 1-2 punch.
. White believes there are eight or nine players vying for minutes right now. In addition to Harris, Everett, Green and Judkins, Amber Brown was a presence in multiple aspects of the game last season, Rita Igbokwe continues to improve her post presence, Emy Hayford provided depth, mostly in a reserve role, Ismini Prapa had a breakout ACC Championship game against Notre Dame and Marcella Lamark provided post depth a season ago.
In addition, Pitt welcomes four freshmen but of the quartet believes Canadian guard Taisha Exanor is furthest along. The plan is to play her at either the three or four and with her shooting ability and length, she will challenge right away for minutes. Tracey Hueston, who was ranked 73rd in ESPN’s Top 100 is coming off a knee injury but within the last two weeks is coming around to full strength.
“I’m still tossing up who will start, how many minutes we will play and all of those things, which is a great problem to have,” White said. “It’s been fun and competitive and the kids have really bought into that. A lot of minutes can go down and become quality minutes.”
. Pitt Associate Head Coach Terri Mitchell introduced a zone defense that the team will use sometimes in addition to its previous man-to-man look. By creating some defensive havoc and providing a different approach which can transition towards higher-percentage scoring opportunities, the players have completely and enthusiastically bought in.
“Defense is hard, especially at this level for 30 seconds,” said Green. “It is all about buying in and your position. It is not about speed or length, I personally am very small so I have to be intentional on my feet and hips. I have to force them baselines and get over screens. It is about knowing each other and not just being focused on your man. A lot of people take defense for granted but really that is what gets us going on offense.”
. Pitt’s season opener is Wednesday at noon against George Mason at the Petersen Events Center. Current COVID-19 restrictions allow for a total of 1,250 people to attend any home contests this season. This includes fans, players, coaches, staff, media, band and venue personnel.
Photo credits: Pitt Athletics