Oct. 25, 2012
Despite recording the program's 38th straight winning season last year, Louisiana Tech head coach Teresa Weatherspoon doesn't have fond memories of 2011-12.
After all, winning has a different meaning in Ruston for a program that has participated in 27 NCAA Tournaments, advanced to 13 Final Fours, played in eight national title games and won three national championships.
And no one knows that more than Weatherspoon, who led LA Tech to the 1988 national championship title while earning the Wade Trophy as the nation's top player.
"Our focus and commitment must be different this year," said Weatherspoon, who is entering her fifth season back in Ruston. "With a 17-15 record last year, people saw that as a winning season. For us, we underachieved. We weren't satisfied. In order for us to be that team we want to be, our focus and commitment must change. All the other little things will follow. They must buy into what we are asking as coaches.
"You have to have great team leaders on and off the floor. It has to be both places. Are you as a player committed to what has to be done to be a champion; study hall, classroom, eating right ... everything that goes into succeeding before you even step between those four lines."
Although LA Tech overcame a slow start early in the year as well as a roller coaster conference season to advance to the championship game of the 2012 Western Athletic Conference Tournament, the Lady Techsters fell short for their bid to a 28th NCAA Tournament appearance.
However, this year's team will be comprised of more newcomers than returners as Weatherspoon welcomes seven players to a 13-person roster.
"What we like the most about our roster is our mixture of young kids - freshmen and junior college transfers - our DI transfers and our returners," she said. "A lot of our kids have experience whether at the DI level or the junior college route.
One thing that has changed is the size of the Tech roster as this year's team boasts five players listed at 6-foot-2 or taller as well as one more listed at an even 6-foot.
"It looks good to see we have gotten bigger," Weatherspoon said. "We have become a little more talented in the painted area and more versatile. We have a mixture there. We have kids who are traditional post players and then we have some that can step out away from the basket."
Weatherspoon also feels her crop of guards will be deep and talented - something that should translate into more of an up-tempo style of play.
"They can all bring something different to the table to reach that common goal and vision," she said. "When you take a look at our perimeter kids, we have slashers, shooters, finishers. We have so many different things we can do. It will help us be successful.
"We will be able to open the floor up more and get in gaps more. We will make it difficult for any team to defend us. We want to run a little more ... get up and down the floor more. The most important thing we want is to be versatile. We don't want to be one dimensional."
Tech will be tested early and often as the Lady Techsters 11-game non-conference schedule features games against the likes of Texas A&M, LSU, Rutgers, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
"What an amazing schedule," Weatherspoon said. "We are going to have to prepare ourselves and be ready to go from the onset. It's a schedule we feel we can compete in. We don't want to just compete in the WAC but in women's basketball. In order to know where we need to be, we need to play teams like this. You have to play great teams and use it as a measuring stick. We feel like our team can compete."
Even Western Athletic Conference play will be challenging with the addition of five new programs to the league, including UTSA, Texas State, Texas-Arlington, Denver and Seattle.
"This newness is good for us. It's good for us to play different competition. We want our kids to be ready. We won't take anyone lightly. No matter what, we have a Lady Techster uniform on and everyone is shooting for us."
With the Big Dance culminating in New Orleans this year, Weatherspoon and the Lady Techsters enter the season with ONE GOAL ... ONE VISION ... and ONE MISSION.
With the graduation of three-year starting point guard Jasmine Bendolph, head coach Teresa Weatherspoon will be relying on sophomore Courtney Hayes (Las Vegas, Nevada/Centennial High School) and junior college transfer Janay Borum (Upper Marlboro, Maryland/Palm Beach State College) to serve as the floor generals for the Lady Techsters this season.
As a true freshman, Hayes saw action in 31 games for LA Tech making seven starts. The Las Vegas, Nevada native averaged 1.9 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 33 percent from the floor and 57 percent from the free throw line.
"(Courtney) has great leadership ability," Weatherspoon said. "She is a great slasher to the basket. She can find people open. She has great vision. Defensively, she will defend from one end to the other.
"She does a good job of disrupting the other team's offense early and does it by hounding the basketball. She has come back with great focus and she knows what we need from her in order to be successful. She must trust herself and her teammates will trust her. "
Hayes scored a season-high seven points in a win over Hawaii in the semifinals of the 2012 Western Athletic Conference Tournament in her hometown of Las Vegas, while also registering six-point performances in wins over New Mexico State and SEC foe Mississippi State. She recorded a season-high four assists against Tulane and Mississippi State.
Borum joins the LA Tech family after playing the past two seasons on the junior college level, including her freshman year at the College of Central Florida and her sophomore year at Palm Beach State College. She is ranked as the 25th best point guard in the junior college ranks by Dan Olsen's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
"Janay is an amazing leader," Weatherspoon said. "She is a born leader. She does a good job of getting everyone involved. She does a great job of getting past her defender and running the offense. She gets the ball to the right person at the right time.
"She will defend. She is all over the place. She will take over a game when needed. She has a great midrange shot. We want her to be a scorer. I like her turnover to assist ratio. She protects the basketball. Her size doesn't matter. She is an athlete that wants to compete."
Borum ranked among the national leaders in assists, steals and assist to turnover ratio at Palm Beach State College while leading the team to the Region 8 State Tournament semifinals. She was named first team all-Mid Florida Conference while averaging 9.3 points, 5.0 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
Weatherspoon will have a plethora of options for her two wing positions, including juniors Jelena Vucinic (Nelson, New Zealand/Waimea College), Brittney Jefferson (Leggett, Texas/Angelina College), sophomores Kelia Shelton (Rock Hill, S.C./Clemson) and Kanedria Andrews (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado HS) and freshman Lulu Perry (Benton, La./Benton HS).
Vucinic and Andrews are the only two who have played a game in a Lady Techster uniform although Shelton has big-time Division I experience from playing at Clemson while Jefferson has two years of junior college basketball under her belt. Perry was named Miss Basketball in the state of Louisiana.
The sharp-shooting Vucinic should see more responsibility this year for the Lady Techsters after playing sparingly during her first two years in Ruston. The 5-foot-9-inch guard made two starts as a sophomore while seeing action in 21 games.
However, it was her production in those two starts - 21 points in triple overtime win over Prairie View and 13 points in win over Tennessee Tech - that gives Weatherspoon confidence.
"She is a joy to coach," Weatherspoon said. "She has done a great job this summer playing back home in her league and playing well. She shoots the ball very well. She showed what she is capable of doing last year against Prairie View. That was a game that should carry over with her. I would really like for her to trust herself more. If she starts to do that, it's amazing what she will be able to bring to this team. She is constantly working hard every day."
She averaged 3.6 points and 0.9 rebounds per game last season while shooting 29 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw line. However, she hit big shot after big shot while playing 51 of 55 minutes in the win over Prairie View in the St. John's Chartwell Holiday Classic.
Andrews returns for her second season in Ruston after seeing action in 23 games as a true freshman. The 5-foot-9 guard showed signs of being a defensive stopper last year but must work on her offensive game to take the next step.
"She could definitely be our best defender," said Weatherspoon. "One thing she does well on offense is get to the rim. We would like her to work on her outside shot ... catch and shoot. It is all about her confidence level and believing in herself. There is no reason she shouldn't be out there, giving us time and defending the best offensive players on the other team."
Playing in 23 games as a true freshman, Andrews averaged 1.3 points and 0.7 rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free throw line. She scored a career-high seven points against NCAA Tournament foe Fresno State, hitting a pair of three-pointers in that contest. She also scored six points and grabbed four rebounds against Memphis at the St. John's Chartwell Holiday Classic.
Shelton will return to the floor this season after sitting out last year due to the NCAA transfer rule after leaving Clemson and coming south. The 5-foot-8-inch guard is a physical specimen and should be one of the Lady Techsters top offensive and defensive threats during the season.
"She has a professional body frame," Weatherspoon said. "She is an athlete who can do it all. I don't say that very often. She has everything that you would like in a player. She has the competitor's mentality. She will take over games when needed. She can finish above anyone. She can shoot it deep, has a great mid-range game and has great quickness. She makes everyone around her better."
As a true freshman at Clemson in 2010-11, Shelton averaged 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while playing in 30 games, earning seven starts. She scored a career-high 14 points against North Carolina and added 13 points against Georgia Tech. Shelton also pulled down 13 rebounds against South Carolina State.
Jefferson was a Texas high school basketball legend after finishing her high school career as the second all-time leading scorer in state history with 4,258 points at Leggett High School. She played the past two years at Angelina College in Texas where she averaged 15.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during her sophomore season.
"She is quiet," Weatherspoon said. "I look at her like a Vickie Johnson, who was a quiet assassin. She shoots the ball well. When you score as many points as she did in high school, you know you are doing something right. She shoots well, defends well and jumps well. She will help us spread our offense and make life easier on our post players. She can finish at the rim in many different ways. She is very athletic."
Jefferson was named all-Region XIV and all-conference as a sophomore. She is ranked as the 10th best shooting guard and 65th best player in the junior college ranks by Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Perry travels 60 miles down I-20 to come to Louisiana Tech after starring the past four years at Benton High School where she broke numerous school and parish scoring records while being named Miss Basketball in the state of Louisiana as a senior.
"Lulu is beyond her years," Weatherspoon said. "She has an amazing understanding of the game. She is confident in herself and fears no one. You won't notice that she is a freshman. She has tremendous range. She has tremendous offensive moves to get off any shot. It was great to get Lulu into our system. She is one kid that will be an immediate impact to the success of this team."
Perry, a 5-foot-7 water bug, averaged 29.1 points per game as a senior at Benton while leading the Tigers to the state semifinals for the first time since 1997. While earning all-district, all-city and all-state honors along the way, she finished her high school career with 3,563 points, shattering a 10-year-old Caddo-Bossier scoring mark.
Louisiana Tech has more size on its roster this season then it has had in some time as the Lady Techsters enter the year with six players on the team listed at 6-foot or taller, including five listed at 6-foot-2 or taller.
Weatherspoon, who played with the likes of Erica Westbrooks, Venus Lacy and Nora Lewis during her days in a LA Tech uniform, knows that a productive, dominate post game is one of the main keys to returning to the NCAA Tournament.
Tech lost its leading scorer and rebounder from last year with the graduation of Shantale Bramble-Donaldson, but Weatherspoon should have more than enough weapons at her disposal in the painted area with the likes of senior Brittany Lewis (Orange Park, Fla./Temple), juniors Jasmine Bryant (Bossier, La./Southern-Shreveport) and Tavasha Anderson (Grenada, Miss./Grenada HS), sophomores Whitney Frazier (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado HS) and Savanna Langston (El Dorado, Ark./Parker's Chapel HS) and freshman Veanca Hall (Monroe, La./Richwood HS).
Anderson possesses the most intimidating build in the lane for Tech as the 6-foot-3-inch center boasts a strong physique but must prove that she can have success on both ends of the floor in order to log more minutes.
"She has to dominate the painted area for us to be successful," Weatherspoon said. "She has years under her belt, and she knows what we need. She must be a dominate player in the paint for us this year. She should be known as one of the best post players around."
As a sophomore, Anderson made two starts while seeing action in 29 games for LA Tech, averaging 4.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per contest. The redshirt junior scored in double figures five times, including a career-high 17 points in wins over Houston, Nevada and New Mexico State. She also added double figure scoring games against LSU and Idaho.
Frazier had a productive rookie campaign for the Lady Techsters, earning all-freshman and all-defensive team honors in the WAC while also being voted the Freshman of the Year in the state of Louisiana by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
"What an amazing year she had last year," Weatherspoon said. "That experience will carry over to this year. She is an inside-outside player. She has great quickness to the rim, but she needs to finish more consistently at the rim. She stayed positive and focused last year. She is a very coachable kid. I really believe she will be a great player because of her desire to want to be great. She will be one of our go-to players."
As a true freshman, Frazier started 26 games while seeing action in all 32 and averaged 9.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest while shooting 42 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free throw line. The 6-foot-1 forward recorded 10 double digit scoring games, including a career-high 25 points in a road win at Utah State. In that contest, she scored all 25 points in the second half becoming only the second LA Tech player to ever score 25 or more in a half (Sheila Ethridge).
Langston gained some valuable experience off the bench during her freshman season as the 6-foot-2-inch forward saw action in 19 games, making one start. Despite her size, Langston is very versatile with her ability to knock down the perimeter shots.
"She is a tremendous shooter with great form," Weatherspoon said. "She is consistent in her shooting. Last year was a learning experience for her. She now understands the strength she needs in order to defend in the post and play in the post. I like to move her around on the perimeter because she feels comfortable out there. She has great vision for a post and can find her teammates. I'm looking for her to really be a contributor."
Langston averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest last year while shooting 27 percent from the field and hitting a pair of three-pointers. She earned her first career start in a road win at Houston and scored a season-high four points against Utah State and New Mexico State.
After graduating from Temple and enrolling at Louisiana Tech to pursue her master's degree, Lewis will have one year of eligibility remaining for the Lady Techsters. The 6-foot-2 forward started her career at Virginia Tech before playing the past two seasons for the Owls in the Atlantic 10.
"She will be big for us," Weatherspoon said. "She is skilled in every aspect of the game. One thing she does well is she can stretch defenses. When she gets in the painted area, she understands the little intricacies of being a post player. Her footwork is excellent. She demands the ball and when she gets it, she will demand double teams. She has good vision and can locate teammates. Her experience (at Virginia Tech and Temple) is invaluable."
During her junior year at Temple, Lewis averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while making 18 starts and seeing action in 31 contests. She proved her versatility when she came one assist shy of recording a triple double (11 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists) in a WNIT first round win over Quinnipiac. She scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in an A-10 semifinal loss to Dayton.
Bryant signed with LA Tech after playing the past two years for Southern of Shreveport as the 6-foot-2-inch forward comes from a family of athletes. Her father, Larry Robinson, spent time with eight different NBA teams from 1990 through 2002 while her brother Justin plays at North Texas.
"Jasmine is tremendously energetic," Weatherspoon said. "She has a great pedigree. I like her constant communication on the floor. She is always motivating her teammates. She needs to work more with her footwork and post work. She is relentless on the boards. She is constantly moving. She runs the floor like a guard. She demands the basketball. She will be important for us."
Bryant was named first team all-Mississippi-Louisiana Conference last year after averaging 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game and shooting 49 percent from the field and 65 percent from the free throw line. She was ranked as the 24th best power forward in the junior college ranks by Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Hall is another versatile interior player as the true freshman signed with LA Tech after a stellar prep career at Richwood High School in Monroe. The lanky 6-foot-2 forward also lettered in track and field in high school, competing in the high jump, long jump, triple jump and hurdles.
"Veanca is someone that I think some people will take lightly," Weatherspoon said. "This kid is excited to be a part of the program. She has strength and power in the paint. We will work on her footwork. When she gets a rebound and kicks it out, you will think she is a guard running the floor. She has shown she can be a great help-side defender. Her teammates will be comfortable knowing she will protect the painted area. She is not afraid of anything."
The two-time all-district performer averaged 25.0 points per game as a senior while earning second team all-state honors for the Rams. She was ranked as the 48th best power forward in the country by Dan Olson's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.