Oct. 18, 2010
The Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters will be hosting their own reality show this year.
Just call it "Life without Shanavia Dowdell."
That's what the Lady Techsters are facing after graduating the two-time Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and second round WNBA draft pick following last season.
Although she acknowledges Dowdell's physical presence and all-around game will be missed, it's not something that head coach Teresa Weatherspoon is losing sleep over.
"Life without Shanavia Dowdell will be challenging at first," Weatherspoon said. "Our style of basketball will change from that traditional inside-outside style to a more up-tempo one. She brought so much to us in rebounding, scoring and defending.
"It will be tough, but it gives other people the opportunity to step up and do great things. We are not looking for anyone to be Shanavia Dowdell; we want each kid to be the best they can be. If they are able to do that, we will be a good team."
Good or great. That is a question that many Louisiana Tech fans are wondering heading into the upcoming season as Weatherspoon enters her third as the head coach.
A program that is so rich in tradition that it almost seeps from the 13 Final Four and 3 national championship banners that hang from the Thomas Assembly Center rafters found its way back into the NCAA Tournament last season.
It looks for the same - if not more - this year.
"Hopefully last season's success built some confidence and gave our kids an idea of what it takes to accomplish their goals," Weatherspoon said. "Hopefully, it built a hunger in each player to get back (to the NCAA Tournament). We don't want to fall off the ladder, but instead we want to continue to build."
As Weatherspoon continues to build, she does starting with a solid foundation as Louisiana Tech is still considered one of the most storied programs in the history of the women's game.
A program that has experienced 26 NCAA Tournaments, 13 Final Fours, 8 national title appearances and three national championships ranks second to only Tennessee in most of these categories. That's not bad company.
LA Tech will also look to join the Lady Vols in another column this year as the Lady Techsters need only 24 more victories to become only the second program to ever win 1,000 games in its history.
So as a roster that includes eight letter winners, one red-shirt freshman and four newcomers prepares for the upcoming season, it does so with all eyes focused on one ultimate goal - returning to the NCAA Tournament.
The ending to "Life without Shanavia Dowdell" won't be determined until March.
However, one thing is for sure. This reality show will be one that Lady Techster fans won't want to miss.
No one knows the value of the point guard position better than Teresa Weatherspoon.
Considered one of the greatest floor generals in the history of women's basketball, Weatherspoon has the luxury of coaching a pretty good one in junior Jasmine Bendolph.
The two-year starter has overcome health issues during her college career to lead the Lady Techsters, and time after time, she has shown she has ice in her veins. During her sophomore campaign, Bendolph averaged 7.8 points, 3.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and the three-point line and 87 percent from the free throw line.
"If Jasmine Bendolph is healthy, she will be one of the best point guards around," Weatherspoon said. "She has great composure which is what every coach wants. She can score at will, but she also does what most traditional point guards do and that is get everyone else involved. If we have a healthy JB, we will do great things."
While scoring in double figures 10 times last year, Bendolph saved some of her biggest games for the postseason. During the Lady Techsters run to the WAC Tournament title (and eventually the NCAA Tournament), Bendolph scored a career-high 24 points in the opening round win over Utah State.
She then recorded a career-high eight assists in Tech's 80-77 win over Nevada in the WAC semifinals and then hit the game-winning shot with only 34 seconds to play in the championship game victory over Fresno State.
Holloway saw action in 30 games last year while averaging 1.8 points, 2.2 assists and 1.1 rebounds. She ranked second on the team with 66 assists and shot 40 percent from the field and 36 percent from the three-point line.
"Martina came back in great shape this year," Weatherspoon said. "She lost 17 or 18 pounds and really dedicated herself to having a better senior season. She has come back with an entirely different mentality and has been incredible in individual workouts. We are looking for great things from her. She passes the ball well and has done a great job of getting better defensively. She has made herself an all-around better player."
The Albuquerque native showed her talents during an 86-76 win over Memphis last year when she scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded five assists against the Tigers.
Felton is a junior college transfer from Gulf Coast Community College where she helped lead the program to a 32-1 mark and the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association title.
"Angie Felton will be a combo guard for us as she will play both the one and the two," Weatherspoon said. "She is a good shooter; a great slasher as she really attacks the basket. People might not see the flashiness or quickness, but she plays smart basketball. She uses her knowledge to get where she wants to be on the court. She is a very smart player."
Like Bendolph, Felton has proven to be a big-game player as she scored 20 points in Gulf Coast's 83-61 win over Jefferson College in the NJCAA title game. On the year, she averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists while also earning all-tournament honors during the national tournament.
LA Tech will have plenty of depth at the off-guard position this year as Weatherspoon can turn to seniors Whitney Jones, Brietta Thomas and Tarkeisha Wysinger-Mackey, junior Kiara Young and freshman Jelena Vucinic.
Jones returns for her senior season with something to prove after struggling during her junior campaign. Despite averaging 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while starting 30 contests, Jones shot only 36 percent from the field and only 31 percent from the three-point line.
"We are glad to have Whitney back," Weatherspoon said. "I think she will have a better season than last year as she feels she has something to prove. She is a great shooter for us, and probably our best defender. She has come back ready to take on the responsibility of scoring for us and being our defensive stopper."
Jones is an explosive scorer at times as proven by her 31-point outburst against Utah State as a sophomore. She scored in double figures 19 times last year including 13 points in the WAC championship game win over Fresno State - a game in which she hit four three-pointers.
Thomas took huge strides during her junior season and is considered arguably Tech's top three-point threat as the lanky 5-foot-11 guard is primed for her best season yet.
"Bri started to come on during her junior year," Weatherspoon said. "She has better understanding and vision of what it takes to be great at what she does. She is a great shooter who gives us such a three-point threat. Bri has done a really good job of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. She needs to do a better job of rebounding and being a little more physical and aggressive. She's worked hard on getting better defensively."
Thomas made four starts while seeing action in all 31 games last year for Tech, averaging 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest. The Baton Rouge native shot 40 percent from the field, 35 percent from the three-point line and 77 percent from the free throw line while scoring in double figures six times, including a career-high 22 points in a win over Centenary.
Wysinger-Mackey is finally 100 percent healthy after battling injuries during each of the past two years as the senior is also sporting a new last name after getting married in early October. Considered one of the most versatile players on the roster, Wysinger-Mackey will play at both the guard and forward positions this year.
"Tarkeisha is who she is," Weatherspoon said. "She does basically everything for us. We are asking a lot of her to play multiple positions, but she is capable of doing it because of her versatility. She can get down in the paint and play with the best of them because she likes to get physical. She will also play the three for us because of her ability to defend. We will do a lot more with her through the course of the season."
During her junior year, TK averaged 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 41 percent from the field. Never known as a prolific scorer, she scored a career-high 25 points in an overtime loss to eventual NCAA Tournament participant Fresno State while also scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds against Final Four participant Baylor.
Young will get an opportunity to move back to her natural position after playing the first two years in the post for the Lady Techsters. The 5-foot-9 showed her grit by battling down low but will take her game out to the perimeter this season.
"Kiara is going to be a tremendous surprise to a lot of people," Weatherspoon said. "We played her out of position last year and she took on that challenge. I think this year by putting her at the three position, she will definitely be more productive for us. She is an incredibly strong young lady. She goes to the rim hard. She has great jumping ability. She needs to be more consistent with her jump shot, but I think she will be another scoring threat for us this year."
Young averaged 3.0 points and 3.3 rebounds last year while shooting 38 percent from the field. She started the year by recording her first career double double with 10 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Centenary and added nine points in a come-from-behind win over Southern Miss in early January.
True freshman Jelena Vucinic is a long way from home as the New Zealand native becomes only the second foreign born player to ever don a Lady Techster uniform (joining former Techster Margaret DeCiman). Vucinic is a southpaw who has already shown that she has deep range and a tenacious work ethic.
"Jelena is an unbelievable kid," Weatherspoon said. "She came in here in great shape. She works so hard and doesn't like to lose in anything we do. She is a lefty who shoots the ball very, very well. Her range is outside of the gym. She is probably one of the hardest workers I've been around in a long, long time."
Vucinic comes by her athleticism and basketball ability honestly as her mother, Tatjana, and her father, Nenad, both played for the New Zealand national teams. During her time at Waimea College (high school in New Zealand), Vucinic was named team MVP four straight years while helping the program to the 2008 and 2009 South Island Premiership championship titles. This summer she also was selected to the Tall Ferns, the New Zealand women's national team.
Southern Miss transfer Kassietta Brown will sit out this year due to the NCAA transfer rules but will then have three years of eligibility remaining.
"Kassietta has to sit out this year, but I think it will be a great learning experience for her in learning the game and our philosophy," Weatherspoon said. "She will be another threat for us shooting the ball. She can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim and knock down jumpers. We just want her to get better defensively for us."
As a true freshman, Brown averaged 4.0 points a game while shooting 37 percent from the field, 34 percent from the three-point line and 61 percent from the free throw line. She scored a career-high 15 points in a win over Marshall and added eight points in the loss against the Lady Techsters.
Weatherspoon has the luxury of relying upon the best post player in the Western Athletic Conference in senior forward Adrienne Johnson.
Johnson, who has played alongside of Dowdell for the past three years, will now shoulder an even larger role in the Techster game plan as she looks to become the first LA Tech player in more than a decade to earn three straight first team all-conference honors.
"Adrienne is on a mission this year," Weatherspoon said. "The one thing that she wants to do is put this team on her shoulders. It's something we don't want her to do, but she is capable of doing it. She has truly changed her game during her career, putting her back to the basket, facing the rim, stretching defenses. She has gotten better at handling the ball and can play the three though the five position. With that type of versatility, she will really be able to put other teams at a disadvantage."
Johnson, who eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau last season, averaged 16.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free throw line. She scored in double figures 26 times, including a season-high 29 points in an 80-77 win over Nevada in the WAC Tournament semifinals, and recorded six double doubles.
Red-shirt freshman Tavasha Anderson will provide LA Tech its biggest body as the 6-foot-3-inch forward looks to return to the hardwood after missing the majority of her senior year of high school and her freshman year of college due to injuries.
"Tavasha is the kind of back-to-the-basket player we need," Weatherspoon said. "She could be the Venus Lacy that everyone knew. She takes up a lot of the paint, using her strength and length. She is one player we will go to in the paint because of her size. She can also stretch defenders by stepping out. We are working with her on putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. She has a big body which will help her defend the painted area. She blocks shots so well. I think last year was a great learning experience for her."
Anderson was a McDonald's All-American nominee at Grenada High School in Mississippi where she averaged almost a double double her junior year.
Sophomore Reina Kempt returns for her second season after playing a limited amount of minutes as a true freshman behind both Johnson and Dowdell. Weatherspoon said she has been pleased with what she has seen from Kempt this fall.
"Reina did a tremendous job of working during the off-season," Weatherspoon said. "She didn't get to play much last year, and I think people will see a difference in the work she put in this summer. Everything she learned from last season she has implemented in her game. She is getting to the rim and using her body to finish at the rim. She has come back ready to contribute."
Kempt saw action in only eight games last year, scoring a career-high four points in the win over Centenary.
Shantale Bramble-Donaldson begins her first season at LA Tech after signing out of Indian River State College in Florida where she led the program to back-to-back Southern Conference championships. The 6-foot-1-inch forward should see significant action for Tech immediately.
"Shantale is just an incredible athlete," Weatherspoon said. "You can play her anywhere. To have her alongside Adrienne will create such a difficult matchup for opposing teams. She has nice range as she can step out and shoot although we would like her to become more consistent on her jump shot. She defends well but we want her to learn to defend even better. She is a great rebounder; has a nose for the basketball. We are looking for her to put up some big numbers."
Bramble-Donaldson averaged 14.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore while shooting 54 percent from the field and 60 percent from the free throw line. She ranked fourth nationally in rebounding while being named the Southern Conference Player of the Year.