Oct. 20, 2011
Q: Is Penn State back?
A: Yes, it's a new season and we're back and ready to play.
Q: Is this program back at the level that people expect it to be?
A: I think we're back at a point we want to be, in terms of being a nationally relevant program and certainly being a program that's in the conversation for competing for the Big Ten championship and being in postseason play and hopefully making a run to the Final Four. We're back in that sense and it's good to be there.
Q: How's the attitude of the kids coming back with the success you had last year?
A: They have a very business-like approach to things, but not giddy or overconfident. I think they have a "we've got a lot of work to do" attitude. So they come in practice every day with a sense of, "what do we need to do to get better?" We're not there, we're not where we need to be, we have a lot of room for improvement. They've been very coachable and very focused on coming together as a team.
Q: There's a change this year in the three-point line. Do you think that will help you or hurt you?
A: I don't think it will help us or hurt us more than anyone else in the country. I will say, there's a difference. The move back has; you see it in our makes and our percentages. We've got to get in the gym and put a lot more shots up, so we get more comfortable shooting behind the arch.
Q: What do you expect from Maggie Lucas' role this year? How has she developed over the summer?
Q: Will Maggie start or come off the bench?
A: I don't see Maggie's role changing. She's going to play the same way she did last year. She's going to play on the wing and put shots up when she's open. She's going to get some time at the point guard position. I think what's going to change for her is her experience. I think she'll be more comfortable in her role. I think she's certainly gotten stronger. Her body physique has changed. She's put on some more muscle. I think she'll be able to take on the physical play throughout the season. In terms of will we do anything different? Her role will be the same.
A: I won't know that until we finish. We've practiced a week. It's too early to see that. I'll know that by our first exhibition game, November 5th. Then, I'll be able to know who will start or not.
Q: Can you talk about the impact of losing Julia (Trogele) and how you replace her on the court and off the court presence?
A: That's a big loss. She gave us so much leadership, both on the court and off the court and direction. The team really looked up to her and followed her lead with everything from pre-practice to game preparation to getting your rest and how you eat and all of those things. She just provided so much leadership in those ways. We'll miss her and her confidence. She had a confidence that rubbed off on the rest of the team. And then we'll miss her on the court in a lot of ways. She provided a mismatch for us. She was a big guard and she rebounded the ball very well. She could shoot the ball from the outside and lead our fast break. She did so many things for us and one person is not going to replace her rebounding. We've got to get a little bit better from every one. The guards, in particular, have to get better at rebounding. Our leadership, I think, has been really good so far. Our captains are Mia Nickson and Marisa Wolfe. They've done a pretty good job of providing the leadership that we need, especially off the court. On the court, I've seen some growth from Alex Bentley and a little bit from Maggie in terms of leading on the court. I think we'll be fine, but it will take us some time to adjust to not having Julia around, especially in the locker room and the voice that she had with this team last year.
Q: Do you think your schedule is as tough as it needs to be when you think ahead to post-season?
A: I think our schedule's pretty tough. We play, in particular, when we go on the road. We play a lot of tough teams on the road. Going to Delaware, that's not an easy place to play, especially when you've got arguably the best player in the country (Elena Della Donne) suiting up for the other team. We've got some pretty tough road games in our non-conference. Hopefully, that will get us ready for Big Ten play and post-season play.
Q: Coach, what do you expect from Nikki (Greene) down low and how has she grown since her freshman year?
A: Her confidence level is night and day from two years ago when she first walked on campus. She's got a confidence about herself and about her play that you can really see. I'm hoping that she continues to be the defensive presence that she was for us last year and get even better in that respect. Also to provide a little bit more consistency and dominance for us on the offensive end down low.
Q: Is there a reason for Nikki's confidence growth?
A: She's about to be 21. She's getting older. I just think she's been here and she's in a groove and I think its maturity. Nothing magical, we didn't put any pellets in her water or Gatorade. She's just comfortable being a college player.
Q: Given where you guys are in some of the preseason things. Is there a difference between last year being the hunter and this year being the hunted?
A: There is a difference and I like being the hunted. It's a good place to be in. In terms of preparation, there's no difference. We don't prepare any differently in terms of respecting your opponent, there's no difference there. Certainly, we understand that we're not going to sneak up on anyone this year that people have a high regard for what they have to do to be successful against us when we play. There's that difference that we need to be mindful that night-in and night-out that we're going to get another team's best effort and we have to come ready to play.
Q: Alex Bentley was named to a pair of preseason watch lists as national player of the year. What are your expectations for her this year?
A: I've said she first got here that she has the capability and the ability to be one of the best point guards in the country. I'd like to see her play like that consistently this year. I think it's an honor for her to be named to those lists and it speaks volumes to her growth as a player. I'd like to see her play that out and play with a consistency that she is one of the best point guards in the nation and show that night in and night out and not take any games off or any plays off, but playing at a high level consistently.
Q: As a former point guard, how have you been able to let her grow?
A: I yell at her all the time, all the time. From the minute she walks in the gym and picks up a ball in pre-practice, I am riding her like we're at the Kentucky Derby. She gets no break and she knows it. When I call her name, she's like "What now?" I'm just on her all the time.
Q: Coquese, from what I've read, you had open tryouts. Did anything come out of that?
A: We haven't had them yet. We're going to have them, but we haven't had them yet.
Q: The team brings back a lot of experience from last year. How has the team dynamic changed from last year to this year?
A: What's different is we're able to get through things a little faster this year, because the team is familiar with what we want to do conceptually. We're able to progress a little faster through things. We're able to gel as a team. I think it's coming along a little faster than maybe it did last year. That's a positive. I think everyone got better over the summer. We got better individually and now we just have to put that together and play and gel as a team. The confidence in each other is different. There's not the uncertainty of how does Maggie (Lucas) play or what does her game look like or how Ariel (Edwards) plays. There's none of that uncertainty when you bring the core and the majority of the team back. I think they're comfortable with each other and that makes it fun.
Q: How has Tori Waldner fit in so far?
A: She's fantastic. She's got a very bright mind. She picks up things pretty well, pretty quickly. She has a very high basketball IQ. You can see she has no clue what she's doing, but she's going to be very good. I like what I'm seeing out of her right now. In a few weeks and months, the game is going to slow down for her and she's going to be able to do some good things for us out there. She's a very skilled player and I'm looking forward to watching her growth once we start playing games.
Q: You've got a solid non-conference road schedule and you play North Carolina here. Is that something, especially with the road games you have, to prepare the team for Big Ten play, to get some tougher opponents?
A: Well, we want to be competitive every year. Scheduling is much, much harder than people understand. You have to find people who want to play you and if you can find a date that works for both of you or if you have facility issues. It's just an incredibly complex thing to make happen. We always try to schedule pretty competitively. When we're able to get teams to come in that works. Next year, we'll be able to start some different series where we're bringing in some good competition or going on the road for some good competition. I like our schedule. I like who we're playing. I think our non-conference schedule is definitely going to prepare us for conference play. Our conference is tough and competitive from top to bottom. I said this all last year, who knows who's going to win our conference? I think it's going to be probably a more tightly contested conference race this year than it was last year.
Q: How exciting is it for you and the team to enter the season with such high expectations?
A: It's fun. It's fun to come into the season and feel like you have a chance to do something special; to come into the season and feel like we truly have a shot at being Big Ten Champions, we truly have a shot at advancing pretty far in the NCAA Tournament. That makes it fun and exciting. That's what all of these kids came here for. They didn't sign to come to Penn State to be middle-of-the-pack. They came here because they're competitive. They're a competitive bunch and they want to be the best. To come into the season and be in that position at this moment, it's exciting for us. We embrace it and we're enjoying it.
Q: Can you talk about what people can expect from this team this year?
A: In some ways more the same, we want to play fast, we want to get up and down the court. We want to be a better defensive team this year than we were last year. We want to score a lot of points and put pressure on teams to try to stop us. We want to do that a little bit better than we did last year.
Q: What are the things you feel like you need to improve on? With the heartbreaking loss last year, what are the things you need to improve on to get over that hump?
A: We want to be become a more solid defensive team, more consistent defensively. I think we have to rebound the ball better, especially after losing Julia (Trogele). We have to make the concerted effort to be a good rebounding team. I think we can stand to be a better executing team, especially down the stretch of games. Hopefully, with our experience coming back, that stuff will work itself out.
Q: How much more motivated are you guys this year to get over that hump?
A: I don't know that we're more motivated. I wouldn't say that it's that, but I will say that this is a very competitive, driven bunch. They're the kind of group that they got a taste of it last year and having a little taste was not enough, they want a bigger bite. They're focused on being better than they were last year, but last year they were focused on being the best they could be. It's a fun team to coach; it's really fun coaching this team.
Q: Coach, this is the first year that the whole team has been brought in by you. Is this where you expected the team to be after five years?
A: I like where we are. I like where the team is. I like the camaraderie. I like the competitiveness. I like the talent. I like the work ethic. I'm happy with where we are and we'll see how things play out during the season. We know we've got a lot of games to play. It's October 20, I like where we are, but we've got to get better. We've got to get a lot better. We look like it's October in practice. We clearly look like it's October. Though we have a lot of positive things going for us, we've got to keep getting better. We can't get complacent. We can't fall in love with (the media) with your interpretations of who we are and what we accomplish. We can't let that be the best thing of our season. We've got a lot of work to do to reach our goals and expectations.
Q: Going back to the DePaul game, is it your philosophy to draw back to that game and remind them how it tastes? Or do you say, we got to the NCAA Tournament last year; we got a little progress during the tournament? How do you coach up the emotional impact that can have?
A: I think this team, in particular, Alex (Bentley) and Maggie (Lucas), won't forget it. I don't need to remind them about that. They won't forget. They won't let that go. Again, this is a very competitive bunch. They hate to lose and the way that we did. This is a team, that if they lose a scrimmage in practice, they want to play again and again and again until they win. They're not going to forget about that. I don't need to beat them over the head with it. It lives within them. It lived within them all summer. That was definitely a fuel for them to get better, because they want to get that taste out of their mouth.
Q: Have you noticed a difference in recruiting since last year's NCAA Tournament berth?
A: I wouldn't say there's a difference. Recruiting is going well.
Q: Do you have any health concerns about the team as you begin this season?
A: Not really. A few bumps and bruises, but for the most part, we're in good shape.
Q: Is there maybe one key that this team has to do better than past teams?
A: Defend. We have to defend better. We have to be a better defensive team. We have to get stops. That's the biggest thing, no question.