CCU Women’s Basketball

LeForce hopes the time is now for CCU women

ryoung@thesunnews.comNovember 7, 2012 

  • Season opener Who | Coastal Carolina at College of Charleston When | 4 p.m. Friday Where | TD Arena, Charleston Radio | www.goccusports.com
  • Projected starting lineup PG Shatia Cole Year | Sophomore Height | 5-5 Last season | Started 20 games while averaging 10.5 points, 1.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds and led the team with 50 steals. LeForce says | “Shatia played a lot as a freshman. She has matured, she’s gotten stronger, she sees the floor better. She’s making other people better. ... She has a chance to be a really, really good basketball player.” G AJ Jordan Year | Sophomore Height | 5-8 Last season | Averaged 5.4 points and 16.6 minutes per game while primarily coming off the bench. LeForce says | “AJ was a scorer in high school. She was an excellent shooter in high school and that’s one of her strengths is being a scorer. Last year, we had some injuries and she started some games and she sort of hit a slump where her shot wasn’t going. ... So she got down and lost some of her confidence and didn’t have the fire that she has now.” G Kayla Cook Year | Junior Height | 5-10 Last season | Made two starts and played in 27 games while averaging 5.2 points and 15.2 minutes. LeForce says | “I don’t think since I’ve been here I’ve had any person in the summer time work as hard as she did. We can walk out of the office and see kids working. She worked every day on her shooting – worked and worked and worked. ... I believe she’s going to have a good year because she spent so much time this offseason preparing for this season.” F Alexx Puckett Year | Junior Height | 6-1 Last season | Played in 18 games off the bench, averaging 2.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 9.2 minutes. LeForce says | “Alexx is probably IQ-wise as smart a player as you’re going to have. She understands the game. She knows how to make the play. The only thing that hurts her is her strength. ... If we can get her stronger – and I don’t know if we can – she can be a double-figure scorer for us around the basket.” C Katelyn Connor Year | Junior Height | 6-2 Last season | Saw action in 22 games with two starts, averaging 9.3 minutes, 2.6 points and 1.5 rebounds. LeForce says | “The biggest surprise for us has been Katelyn Connor. She played very little as a freshman, didn’t play a lot last year as a sophomore and in fact, I thought maybe that we just missed on her. ... But she spent the summer [improving]. She runs the floor as good as anybody in the league [among] post players, I’ll guarantee you that, and her moves have become very strong. She’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

— For all intents and purposes, the process of rejuvenating the Coastal Carolina women’s basketball program started a few years ago.

Eyeing a run to the NCAA tournament that had eluded his teams throughout his now 16-year tenure with the Chanticleers, coach Alan LeForce decided it was time for a youth movement. He didn’t want to allocate any more roster spots to patching holes here or there with junior college transfers. No, the Chants were going to bring in full freshmen recruiting classes to replenish the talent in the program, and they were going to tie the team’s prospects to how well that group could develop together.

So here the program is, without a single senior on the roster but with a core of players that have now spent a year or two growing together – and with an optimism that their collective maturation is ready to translate into some tangible progress toward those NCAA hopes.

“It’s not a quick fix,” LeForce said. “... This is the third year. These juniors have played pretty well. We’ve had probably the best preseason camp I’ve had. The competition has been good, our people have worked hard, so we’re shooting the ball better, we’re playing with more confidence.”

Of course, there is still plenty to prove for this team.

After finishing last in the Big South Conference standings during the 2010-11 season while going 10-19 overall, the Chants were 13-15 a year ago – including a dismal 1-11 road record.

They were picked seventh in the conference’s preseason coaches and media poll this season, meaning there isn’t much expectation around the rest of the league for the Chants to be much better.

But there is such hope internally. LeForce doesn’t see why this team can’t win at least 16-18 games and begin to climb up the standings, and regardless of outside opinion, the team’s young core believes it is indeed ready to make a leap.

“I think this year we have leaders and people that actually want to work hard and influence the younger players to work hard as well, and I think that’s going to carry on to the games,” junior forward Alexx Puckett said. “I think we just [don’t] want to repeat what we did last year or the year before that. Us being juniors, our two years being here have not been great and we just don’t want to repeat that.”

This remains a young team, though.

Only sophomore point guard Shatia Cole, the Myrtle Beach High School product who ranked second on the team in scoring at 10.5 per game, returns as a regular starter.

Puckett and junior Katelyn Connor, who combined for two starts last season, take over as the team’s starting post players and will carry a large burden for the Chants without much depth behind them.

Sophomore AJ Jordan and junior Kayla Cook will be the team’s starting wing players and will both need to take on a much larger role in the offense after averaging 5.4 and 5.2 points per game respectively last season.

Junior Angelica Henry will serve as the team’s backup point guard and an overall offensive spark while playing significant minutes, and the Chants will hope for some of the team’s other reserves to emerge as consistent contributors.

“We’re a young team, but we’ve all learned how to play together,” Cole said. “Our chemistry’s good so we should be pretty good this year.”

Looking back, this is kind of what LeForce envisioned when he and his coaching staff launched into this roster makeover three years in the making. The results on the court, though, will levy the ultimate verdict.

“I think it’s going to pay off,” LeForce said. “We’ll know this year or next year if it has or not.”

Notes

The Chants are still waiting for promising freshman Megan Pittman to start practicing with the team. The 5-foot-11 newcomer from Liberty, Ky., sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during her senior high school season and then suffered a stress fracture in her opposite foot back in September. But there remains a lot of optimism in what she can potentially bring to the program.

“She was picked the No. 10 basketball player in the state of Kentucky,” LeForce said. “We thought we got a steal. Everyone was telling us, ‘We can’t believe you all got [her]. You got a steal.’ ... We need her. We need to get her. She’s a good scorer, good shooter.”

Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.

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