Oct. 16, 2009
The Tradition Returns.
That's the slogan for this year's Louisiana Tech Lady Techster basketball team.
Three words and one idea that sound so simple.
However, when the tradition is as storied as the one at Louisiana Tech ... well, let's just say there are some large basketball shoes to fill.
The program's history is almost unmatched in women's college basketball as only a handful of teams can boast comparable numbers: 25 NCAA Tournament appearances ... 13 Final Fours ... 8 national championship games ... and 3 national titles.
And although LA Tech has missed three straight NCAA tournaments, Lady Techster fans have high hopes that this year's team has the ingredients to get back to the Big Dance.
Enter Teresa Weatherspoon who was named only the fifth head coach in the program's history on April 4, 2009.
Weatherspoon, who led LA Tech to a 9-2 mark down the stretch and a share of the 2009 Western Athletic Conference title after being named interim head coach in early February, epitomizes what the program has been about since its inception in 1974.
"The tradition returns," Weatherspoon said. "That fire. That drive. That mentality that we won't be beaten.
"The tradition returns. We are who we are. We walk with a swagger. We play with a swagger. That mindset that we will not be defeated.
"The tradition returns. That confidence in ourselves. That belief in ourselves.
"That's what we are embedding in our players. The mindset that it takes to be a part of this program ... of this tradition."
Weatherspoon knows. She helped build the tradition as a player.
The former two-time Kodak All-American led LA Tech to a combined mark of 118-14 during her playing days in the 1980s, including a 56-54 win over Auburn in her final game in a Techster uniform -- the 1988 NCAA National Championship game.
Now, two decades after completing her playing career as one of the greatest players to ever suit up in the women's game, Weatherspoon will patrol the Lady Techster sideline with a team that has aspirations of returning to the glory days.
"The thing that excites me the most is that everyone has come back in shape and they all understand the mission that needs to be accomplished," Weatherspoon said. "They are all willing to do everything that is asked from them. There is no complaining and there are no excuses.
"Our kids have come back with a mindset of what needs to be done to get to the NCAA Tournament. We didn't make the NCAA Tournament last year but we got postseason experience in the WNIT and that made these kids hungrier than ever."
"Everyone always says we aren't big, and we know that," Weatherspoon said. "What we do have are versatile players at every position. That's what this game has evolved to over the years ... players that can hurt you in different ways.
"We need to utilize our quickness and get up and down the floor. However, we also need to be able to execute in a half court set. We want to be smart and efficient. If we can do those things, it will be hard to defend us."
Just like LA Tech teams when Weatherspoon was a player. Just like LA Tech teams of the past.
The Tradition Returns.
Weatherspoon will have the luxury of mixing and matching during the season because of this depth as Bendolph and Holloway will get the majority of the time at the point position allowing Pringle to return to the two-guard spot.
Pringle is by far the most experienced of the trio as she has logged almost 2,000 minutes during her LA Tech career, making 66 starts and seeing action in a total of 83 games. The Meridian, Miss. native has turned into a confident floor leader over the past two years and will be a key to the Lady Techsters success in the upcoming one.
"Tiawana is like the grandmother of this team," Weatherspoon said. "She leads by example. She will be playing in her rightful position this year and that's at the two-guard spot. We will be looking for her to score more. She has the prettiest jump shot and we want her to use it more. She could also see some time at the point guard position when needed."
The 5-foot-9-inch Pringle has recorded a positive assist to turnover ratio the past two years and as a junior averaged 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 34 percent from the field, 29 percent from the three-point line and 53 percent from the free throw line.
Bendolph showed signs of brilliance during her true freshman season. After getting off to a rough start due to health issues in November and December, the natural born point guard started transitioning to the college game and by the end of the year was playing her best basketball.
"Jasmine grew up last year," Weatherspoon said. "She made an incredible turnaround from a young lady who wanted to leave and go home to a young lady who now wants to lead this program. She is a true point guard who can get everyone involved and make everyone around her look great. She can also score at any time. She does a good job of breaking down a defense and getting into the paint. She has great court vision. She is going to be a real leader for us."
Bendolph averaged 3.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists while making six starts and seeing action in 30 games. The Mobile, Ala. native recorded a positive assist to turnover ratio and finally flexed her offensive prowess by pouring in 18 points in the WAC Tournament semifinal loss to Nevada.
Holloway comes to Tech after spending her sophomore year at the College of Southern Idaho and her freshman season at Stephen F. Austin, where she actually helped lead the team to a win over Louisiana Tech.
"When you talk of vision on the court, Martina has it," Weatherspoon said. "She is one person who is always communicating with her teammates; encouraging them. A coach loves to see that out of their playmakers. It will be great to see her and Jasmine going at it every day. She has two years under her belt and she knows exactly what it takes to succeed."
Holloway averaged 9.0 points, 9.4 assists and 3.1 steals while leading the College of Southern Idaho to a 26-4 mark last year. The Albuquerque, N.M. native shot 36 percent from the field, 38 percent (59-155) from the three-point line and 71 percent from the free throw line while leading the country in assists.
Louisiana Tech has a plethora of versatile off-guards that can play other positions led by the likes of junior Tarkeisha Wysinger, junior Whitney Jones, Pringle, junior Brietta Thomas and sophomore Kiara Young.
Pringle is the most experienced of the group after starting almost every game the past two years for the Lady Techsters at the point guard position. However, this year, Weatherspoon hopes to be able to play the senior mostly at the shooting guard spot with the emergence of sophomore point guard Jasmine Bendolph (see Point Guard).
Jones is a scoring machine at the off-guard spot as she averaged 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game last year after coming off a freshman campaign that saw her play only seven games before suffering a season-ending injury.
"I think we got a taste last year of what Whitney is capable of doing," Weatherspoon said. "She is healthy now and she is in shape. You will see her do the same things she's always done but at another level. She was our best defender at times last year and she is always looking for a challenge. Offensively, people will have trouble guarding her. She can get to the basket at any time. We want her to mix up her game; to not be afraid to take the jumper."
Jones flexed her offensive muscle game after game last season, including pouring in a career-high 31 points in an overtime win at Utah State in January. The West Monroe native barely missed out on all-WAC honors following her sophomore season but should be one of the top scoring guards in the league this year.
Wysinger returns for her third season after suffering through a injury-plagued sophomore campaign that saw her miss significant time, including 16 games. However, according to her coach, Wysinger is back and ready to show the same ball-hawking ability she did as a true freshman.
"T.K. is just an outstanding athlete," Weatherspoon said. "I'm glad she is finally healthy. She had a rough time last year health-wise, but she always gave us everything she had. She looks strong and very confident now. She is one person who can defend anyone on the floor from the one through the five position. She is a one woman pressing crew. Her versatility is what we need since we are not very big inside and she can play in the paint for us."
Wysinger saw action in 18 games last year after starting 22 as a true freshman. After missing the first half of the season with knee injuries, she returned and averaged 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds a contest while averaging only 13 minutes per game. She also totaled 16 steals one year after leading the team in that category.
Thomas is a sharp-shooting guard who started to show signs of maturing as a college player last year after seeing very little time as a true freshman. However, as much as improvement as she showed last season, Weatherspoon feels she is on the verge of a breakout year.
"Brietta is back this year with a different frame of mind," Weatherspoon said. "Everyone knows that she is a shooter, but now she is putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. She is really handling the ball better and pushing it up the floor. She has so many aspects of her game that she is afraid to utilize. She has finally realized that she has to let it go. We want her to shoot it, but also mix it up. She worked hard in the offseason, and it has definitely paid off. She is really starting to believe in herself."
Thomas averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds last season while shooting 35 percent from the field, 31 percent from the three-point line and 74 percent from the free throw line. The Baton Rouge native poured in a career-high 19 points in a win over PAC 10 foe Arizona in a game that saw her hit 7-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-5 from the three-point line.
Young saw zero time at the off-guard position last year as the Lady Techsters lack of depth in the post forced the 5-foot-10-inch sophomore to spend her playing minutes inside. However, Weatherspoon said she hopes she can get the physically gifted Young out on the perimeter some this year.
"Kiara is really growing," said Weatherspoon. "What people don't realize is that we asked her to play out of position last year; however, she took on the challenge and said, `Coach, I will do what it takes to help the team.' I hope to give her a chance to play on the perimeter more this year. She has a very quick first step and she is so powerful. She uses that strength to offset her height inside."
Young saw action in 23 games as a true freshman, averaging 1.7 points and 2.3 rebounds. And despite being undersized and playing out of position in the post, Young showed an uncanny ability to rebound, leading the team in rebounds prorated over 40 minutes (averaging 12.8).
Simply put, Louisiana Tech is undersized in the post.
Without a doubt, the key ingredient to Louisiana Tech's 20-plus win season last year was the dynamic duo's ability to score and rebound with anyone in the league on a nightly basis as the two ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the WAC in scoring.
Dowdell earned the WAC Player of the Year award as a junior after a stellar season that saw her take the next step forward in her basketball career. Night in and night out, the 6-foot-2-inch forward was asked to lead and even overcame a bout with anemia to lead the WAC in scoring.
"Shanavia is a workhorse," Weatherspoon said. "She has come back this fall believing in herself more than ever before. She is not placing limitations on herself. Being named the WAC Player of the Year last year wasn't enough for her. She is showing us that she wants more. She is the true leader of this team and she wants to end her career on top."
Dowdell averaged 16.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game last season while shooting 53 percent from the field, a team-best 36 percent (10-28) from the three-point line and 59 percent from the free throw line. She led the WAC in double doubles with 18 and is the active leader in the league with 1,024 points.
Ironically enough, Dowdell's main competition for the player of the year award was her own teammate Johnson. The 6-foot junior has a thin frame but uses her incredibly leaping ability and versatility to step out and knock down the outside shot to overcome her lack of height in the post.
"Adrienne is just an incredible, incredible athlete," Weatherspoon said. "When you talk about athleticism, you talk about her. She brings so much versatility to this team in the paint. She can knock down jumpers, shoot the three-pointer and take people off the dribble. She has really developed her inside game more during the offseason. She is capable of dominating in the paint."
Johnson ranked second in the WAC in scoring last season, averaging 15.5 points per game along with 7.1 rebounds and a team-best 1.8 steals per game. She shot 47 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free throw line while leading the WAC with 11 performances of 20-plus points for the year. Johnson scored a career-high 31 points in a win over Conference USA champion SMU in the first round of the WNIT.
Anderson enters her first season with the Lady Techsters after signing out of Grenada High School in Mississippi. The 6-foot-3-inch power forward will give LA Tech some much needed depth in the post.
"Tavasha is a big post player that brings help to us inside," Weatherspoon said. "She can step out and knock down a shot, but what she really brings to us is size inside. She can go down to the post and play with her back to the basket. She loves to bang. That's what we need. She has good size and has actually gotten bigger since we signed her. She'll do the dirty work. And when she gets the ball down low, she can finish around the basket."
Anderson, who missed a large part of her senior year at Grenada with an injury, was named all-state last year despite the injury. Also a member of the Grenada track and field team (she competed in the shot put and discus), Anderson will have an opportunity to adapt to the college game and learn from the more experienced Dowdell and Johnson.
Kempt is another true freshman that will suit up for the Lady Techsters this year after signing with Tech out of McKinley High School in Baton Rouge. Much like Anderson, the 5-foot-11-inch forward will have the chance to get her feet wet in the college game while playing behind a pair of first team all-conference forwards.
"Reina is a very, very crafty player," Weatherspoon said." She is one of those players that can slip in, pull down an offensive rebound and make the putback. Those are things which are very important. She loves playing in the paint. She has a small frame but she is crafty and will bring a lot to us inside. I'm excited to see her develop."
Kempt was named first team all-district as a junior and senior while averaging 15.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game last year. She helped lead the Panthers to the state playoffs all four years and received the George E. Meiner Athletic Awards, given to the top scholar-athlete at McKinley High School each year.
Young and Wysinger (see off-guards) will also see some time in the post for the Lady Techsters this year.