Oct. 30, 2013
Louisiana Tech head coach Teresa Weatherspoon knows the storied history of the Lady Techster basketball program as well as anybody.
After all, Weatherspoon led LA Tech to its last national championship title as a senior in 1988 when the Lady Techsters fought back from a double digit halftime deficit to defeat Auburn 56-54 at the Tacoma Dome in Washington.
The former two-time Kodak All-American will lead her beloved Lady Techsters into the inaugural season as a member of Conference USA as the University made the all-sports move on July 1.
It will be a new conference. She will have an entirely new coaching staff. However, it will be the same old goals for Weatherspoon and Co. - competing for a league title and postseason play.
"It will be a difficult challenge as we have stepped up in the talent level of the teams," Weatherspoon said. "When you talk about competing in C-USA, we have to have players who can be effective and productive on a nightly basis. We need to make sure we compete on that major level every single night.
"The one thing I like the most (about C-USA) is we will be able to develop regional rivalries. It is also an opportunity for our fans to follow us on the road. Recruiting is a major plus. Also it helps our kids with their studies as they won't miss as much class time. It's nothing but a positive for our entire university.
"It has definitely helped us in recruiting. We have been able to get some talented recruits who want to be a part of our program. It's a stronger conference, and it gives us more exposure for our university and players. That has meant a lot to the recruits. It gets us into homes."
In addition to learning a new league, Weatherspoon, who enters her sixth year at the helm at her alma mater with a record of 87-51, will also be developing a coaching chemistry with an entirely new staff. During the offseason, Weatherspoon added assistant coaches Drew Miller, Mike Ekanem and Tomekia Reed as well as director of basketball operations Ronnie Barney.
"The major challenge is getting the kids to buy into the thoughts and ideas of others, especially when you have a brand new staff. So the challenge is for each one of them to make sure the kids trust and believe in them... it is all about buying in. We all make sure that the energy we bring on a daily basis is positive ... the kids see it. They don't see anything splintered. It's been very positive for them."
The Lady Techsters return seven letterwinners and three starters from last year's team while welcoming five newcomers to the mix. Their 2013-14 schedule is loaded with 13 postseason teams from a year ago, including six NCAA Tournament teams.
The Lady Techsters marquee match-ups include starting the season on the road at South Carolina on Nov. 10 and then traveling to face ACC foe Virginia Nov. 16. Tech then opens its home schedule with a Nov. 23 afternoon tipoff against LSU, a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Tech also faces Ole Miss Dec. 4 in Oxford and Texas A&M Dec. 28 in College Station.
In addition to its contest against LSU, other in-state games pepper the non-conference schedule, including home games against New Orleans (Nov. 29), UL-Lafayette (Dec. 7) and Northwestern State (Dec. 11) and road contests against Nicholls State (Dec. 2) and McNeese State (Dec. 17).
Tech also hosts two former Sun Belt foes in Arkansas State (Nov. 25) and UALR (Dec. 20). The Lady Techsters open C-USA play Jan. 8 against Southern Miss in Ruston. The C-USA Tournament is March 11-15 in El Paso, Texas.
It will mark the third consecutive year that Weatherspoon will be grooming a new leader and the odds-on favorite to see the most significant amount of time at point guard this year will be transfer Chrisstasia Walter.
"She is an unbelievable athlete," Weatherspoon said. "Her motor never stops running. She is our most vocal player. She will play the (point guard position) for us. She understands she can be a leader for us at that position. She will put the ball in the basket. She is a slasher who can make everyone around her better. She is a great defender who will guard you for 94 feet. We need her leadership and scoring ability."
Coming out of Arkansas High School where she was a two-time all-state selection, Walter signed at the University of Arkansas. As a freshman she averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds while seeing action in 26 games. She scored a career-high 26 points in a win over Oral Roberts in the WNIT.
Following that season she transferred to Hutchinson Community College, leading the program to a 36-2 record and a No. 3 national ranking. She averaged 13.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. She was ranked as one of the Top five players in the junior college ranks by both All-Star Girls Report and Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Perry, who will most likely start at the two-guard for Tech, saw action in 29 games as a true freshman, averaging 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
"Lulu is a gifted athlete who needed to understand DI basketball and how it works," Weatherspoon said. "It is not the same as high school; you can't come in with the same game. She has really turned her game around and become a leader with her actions. She has worked tremendously hard. She is healthy; she wasn't healthy last year. We definitely need her to score the basketball."
Perry earned Western Athletic Conference All-Freshman team and LSWA all-state honorable mention honors last year after scoring in double figures 16 times, including a career-high 23 points in the season finale against Seattle. The 5-foot-7-inch sparkplug also scored 18 points at LSU and 16 points against Top 25 South Carolina.
Jackson is one of two true freshmen on the Lady Techster roster after signing with Louisiana Tech following a stellar prep career at Harker Heights High School in Texas.
"She is a freshman who doesn't know she is a freshman," Weatherspoon said. "She is an amazing ball handler. She can handle it, shoot it and get into the painted area to score. She doesn't play like a freshman. She has a great deal of confidence in her ability; a great deal of energy. She just needs to understand the college game."
The 5-foot-8-inch guard was a two-time district MVP selection during her time with the Lady Knights and a four-time all-district selection. As a junior she averaged 12.2 points and 4.9 steals per game while helping Harker Heights to a 35-2 record and a second straight Region II-5A quarterfinals appearance. As a senior she averaged 14.8 points and 3.8 assists per game. She was ranked a Top 150 high school recruit by ESPN HoopGurlz, Bret McCormick's All-Star Girls Report, Dan Olsen's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and Brandon Clay's JumpOffPlus Report.
In addition to Perry and Jackson, Louisiana Tech has plenty of pieces to the puzzle at the off-guard position, including seniors Jelena Vucinic and Brittney Jefferson, juniors Whitney Frazier and Kanedria Andrews, and sophomore walk-on Ruby Richie.
Vucinic is one of the odds-on favorites to start the three-guard spot after making 14 starts as a sophomore. The Academic All-WAC selection averaged 4.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game last year while seeing action in 28 contests.
"Jelena has gotten so much better," Weatherspoon said. "Her confidence has really grown. We need her to be the shooter we know she can be in order to stretch the defenses and allow our post players to work down low. She has come back this fall with a tremendous amount of energy and a renewed confidence, and she is always in great shape."
Vucinic struggled with her stroke last season, shooting only 30 percent from the field and 15-of-67 from the three-point line. However, she has shown her ability to score points in bunches at times during her college career, including a 17-point, 13-rebound effort in a road contest at San Jose State. She also added 17 points in a two-point win over Central Arkansas and 12-points in a come-from-behind victory at Idaho as a sophomore.
Frazier, who will split time between the three-guard spot and the four position, returns as one of the Lady Techsters most experienced players and the undisputed leader of the squad after starting every game as a sophomore.
"She is my leader," Weatherspoon said. "She definitely has to be the leader of this team. She has done a tremendous job from the summer until today. We need her to be effective in the post area. We will use her more in the guard area as she gives us a bigger lineup when she is at the three. She is one of the most versatile players on the team."
The 6-foot athletic forward earned second team all-WAC honors and third team all-state accolades after averaging 11.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game as a sophomore. Frazier led Tech with 20 double digit scoring games, and came up with some of her biggest plays late in close victories. She scored a season-high 21 points, including a conventional three-point play with 11.9 seconds to play, in a one-point win over Oral Roberts. She also scored 17 points and hit the game-winning three-pointer with less than a second to play in a victory over Idaho.
Jefferson came out of Angelina Junior College with a reputation as a scorer, but struggled at times with the transition to the Division I game. However, the No. 2 ranked scorer in the history of Texas prep basketball should take steps forward this year.
"Brittney Jefferson is a scorer," Weatherspoon said. "I think the one thing we need from her is to score. She has gotten a lot better defensively. She has taken on the challenges of what we asked her to work on during the summer. I think last year was a confidence issue. She now understands how this level of basketball works."
During her first season in a Lady Techster uniform, Jefferson averaged 4.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game off the bench, seeing action in 17 contests. She shot 31 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line while scoring a season-high 10 points in a win over UTSA in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals. Jefferson also
Andrews came to Ruston two years ago with a reputation as a defensive stopper and has proven that true at times throughout her collegiate career. In order for the El Dorado native to take the next step, she has to become more of a consistent threat offensively for the Lady Techsters.
"Kanedria is our best defender," Weatherspoon said. "She is going to make a great coach one day as she is always coaching the younger players on the side during practice. She will defend the best offensive players for the other teams; however, we need Kanedria to score some for us too. She is a very, very smart basketball player."
As a sophomore Andrews saw action in 28 games, averaging 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds per contest while leading the team with a 75 percent mark at the free throw line. While normally guarding the best perimeter player on the opposing team, she scored a career-high 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in a win over UT Arlington. Andrews also pulled down a career-high seven rebounds in a loss to Utah State last season.
Richie transferred back home to Louisiana Tech after playing one year at Ouachita Baptist following a stellar high school career at Calvary Baptist and Cedar Creek. "She is our hometown girl," Weatherspoon said. "She is a hard-nosed worker. Ruby has an amazing body frame. She is super strong. She works hard to understand what is asked of her every day. She can shoot the ball, and she has great strength to score with contact. She will be asked to do the same as everyone else."
During her high school career, Richie was a four-time all-district selection and two-time all-state honoree while also earning accolades in the classroom as a two-time academic all-state selection. Richie was named the co-MVP of District 2-1A as a senior at Cedar Creek and played for the East team in the Louisiana All-Star game. She also lettered in golf, softball and track and field.
Louisiana Tech boasts more size on its roster than it has had in some time as the Lady Techsters added 6-foot-4-inch freshman Kevione Moten and 6-foot-3 transfer TyJae' Chenevert to a front line that already included 6-foot-2 Veanca Hall and Savanna Langston.
At 6-foot, Whitney Frazier (see backcourt) is the smallest of the frontline players but she is also the most versatile. Frazier will be utilized at both the three and four positions by Weatherspoon and has the skillset and athleticism to guard almost any position.
With the exception of Frazier, Langston is the most experienced post player that LA Tech possesses as the junior has made five starts and seen action in 41 games during her first two seasons in a Lady Techster uniform.
"We need Savanna to be more confident in herself," Weatherspoon said. "That's the most important thing as she looks to move forward. She will be very good for us at the high post because of her vision, and her ability to pass the basketball and shoot. It's important for us that Savanna is productive this year."
Langston, who is a two-time academic all-conference selection, hasn't seen major minutes during her first two years. However, she has shown the ability to score from the perimeter and stretch the opposing team's front line defensively. The El Dorado native averaged 2.0 points and 1.7 rebounds last year while scoring a career-high six points in a home win over San Jose State.
Hall saw little action as a true freshman for Tech but has already caught the eye of Weatherspoon this fall.
"Veanca has turned her entire game around," Weatherspoon said. "I think she understands her freshman year was a difficult one. She has a better understanding of what Division I basketball is about; the physicality. She has added some things to her game that will make her very productive for us. It will be all up to Veanca on how much time she wants to play."
As a rookie, Hall played in 19 games averaging 1.0 points and 0.7 rebounds per contest. She shot 38 percent from the field for the Lady Techsters and scored a season-high four points and grabbed four rebounds in a road loss at UALR. However, the Monroe, La. native has an opportunity to log some major minutes as a sophomore.
Chenevert is a big, strong bodied post player that signed with LA Tech after splitting her two years of junior college basketball between Diablo Valley JC and State Fair Community College.
"She reminds me some of Venus Lacy with her frame and ability to control the painted area," Weatherspoon said. "We need her to score for us. She has some areas she needs to work on, but she has the ability to be a very good post player in Conference USA."
Chenevert averaged 6.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game as a sophomore at Diablo Valley where she played in 27 games, making 18 starts. She was ranked as the 36th best junior college player in the country and the 7th best at the power forward position by Dan Olsen's Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.
Moten will be the tallest Lady Techster since 6-foot-6-inch Margaret Deciman lettered for the program in 2005-06. Although Weatherspoon feels that she will be able to contribute immediately on the defensive end, she still has to work on developing her offensive game.
"Kevione's upside is unbelievable," Weatherspoon said. "At 6-foot-4 she can really run the floor. She rebounds well. She has a strong lower frame, and we are working on getting her upper body stronger so she can finish at the rim. She is learning post moves. She is a good defender and great shot blocker. She will give our perimeter defenders confidence knowing we have someone in the painted area defending the rim."
Moten, who moved to Monroe from New Orleans after Hurricane Gustav in 2008, lettered the past four years at Ouachita High School in Monroe. As a senior she led the Lady Lions to a 30-3 record, the District 2-5A title and the third round of the state playoffs. She averaged 16.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.6 blocks as a senior while earning numerous accolades, including first team all-state and the District 2-5A MVP.