August 11, 2019

Good Vibrations in August

Warren Grimes

It’s still a couple of months until women’s college hoops takes center stage, but August is an appropriate time to think about what’s coming.  Stanford has an amazing group of returning veterans, eight of whom started three or more games last season.  Oh, ----
 and those four amazing incoming freshmen.

Let’s start with one of those freshmen – Fran Belibi, who just returned from Bangkok, where she played on the FIBA U19 USA team that won the gold medal in the 16-team tournament.  Belibi is not yet the complete player.  She had no dunks, did not start, did not excel at the free throw line, did not garner lots of assists, did not take or make a single three point shot, and did have some turnovers.  She played the post much of the time, but did not demonstrate a consistent ability to cash in on post moves.  Belibi was not a go to player in crucial moments, and had her most impressive performances against lesser opponents.  But just about everything else about Fran Belibi was impressive.  No, actually,  it was
VERY impressive.

Averaging just 16.1 minutes off the bench, Belibi was still the team’s fifth highest scorer with 7.7 points per game.  She was also, by a wide margin, the team’s most efficient rebounder.  FIBA keeps statistics on how many boards a player averages in a 40 minute span of time (the length of a game).  Belibi averaged 18.2 boards in 40 minutes, well above team USA’s second place Hillman Baker, who averaged 12 boards over a 40-minute span.  There’s more.  Belibi’s 18.2 rebound average was actually the best of any player in the 16-team tournament (there were well in excess of 170 players in the tournament).  In addition to snatching more than her share of boards, Belibi leaps to keep the ball alive in other instances, allowing teammates an opportunity to capture the ball.   

Steals are another indicator of Belibi’s strengths – she averaged five steals during a 40 minute period, well above Hailey Van Lith’s second place three steal average.  This team leading stat is a good indicator of Belibi’s impact.  She has a long reach, leaping ability, and quickness that makes her a very effective defender.  She is all over the court, she is disruptive, she blocks shots, she alters shots, she is a giant headache to the opposing team.  Belibi’s steals often led to fast break conversions.  Although still lacking consistent post moves, Belibi is a very opportunistic scorer, with lots of putbacks from offensive boards.

FIBA also keeps statistics on a player’s efficiency rating (a measure of how well the team performs when the player is on the court).  Belibi’s rating of 13.9 was second highest on the team, just below starting point guard Page Bueckers 14.3.

Belibi’s shot blocking average (she was fourth on the team with an average of 2.1 blocks over a 40 minute span.  But that that's not all.  Belibi’s quickness and long reach results in altered shots that are not included in the blocking total.  On the subject of blocks, the team leader in blocks per minute was Cameron Brink (an average of 4.1 blocks in 40 minutes).  Brink is a rising senior in high school who has committed to Stanford for the Fall of 2020.  She averaged only 8 minutes per game in the FIBA tournament, but her performance was impressive.

Let’s get back to Stanford’s veterans.  Even without the highly touted freshman class, Stanford would be an impressive team with the potential to win the conference and more.  Nine players started three or more games for the team last year, and eight of those are returning.  Also returning is Jenna Brown, a high school All American guard who averaged 8.1 minutes last year.  That's nine players with substantial experience.  The big losses for Stanford are in the post positions.  Alanna Smith’s leadership, three point shooting, post moves, boarding, shot blocking, and defending cannot be replaced by one player.  Another substantial loss in the post is Shannon Coffee, who did not start a single game but was a key contributor in the rotation.

To replace these two post players, absent the freshmen class, Stanford would have to rely on three players who started in the post positions last year: senior Nadia Fingall, and juniors Maya Dodson and Alyssa Jerome.  Last season, Fingall and Dodson both were hobbled by injuries.  Neither played a complete season.  Their healthy return will be crucial.  Both Fingall and Jerome can convert from the three point line and help to offset the loss of Smith’s outside shooting.  Dodson is an athlete who could become a very effective offensive post player.  Her defense is already impressive.  I loved watching her defend the post in the conference championship game against Oregon.

The perimeter players that Stanford returns include already established all conference contributors Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington.  They were the second and third highest scoring players last season.  They know how to convert when it matters.  Then there’s Anna Wilson, who keeps battling  injuries but whose game really stepped up at the end of last season.  Last, but hardly least, three sophomores are likely to be in the mix.  The Hull sisters started games and had an impact last season.  They are focused players with talent and intensity.  The Hulls are unlikely to take a back seat to anyone in terms of hard work and basketball smarts.  They will contribute, as will their sophomore teammate Jenna Brown (who participated this summer in the trials for the U19 team).

Honestly, even without the freshman class, Stanford would have reason for optimism for the coming season.  The biggest question mark would be post play.  Health permitting, Stanford veterans could have a very productive post game.

Imagining Stanford without its highly touted freshmen is a way to focus on the talent of Stanford’s returning veterans.  They will show the way for the exciting new freshmen.

Stanford may be unique in its ability to recruit high school all Americans and keep almost all of them on its roster, even if some never achieve starting roles.  That’s a tribute to the academic reputation of the school and to Coach VanDerveer.  This year, the challenge of giving everyone a role may be greater than ever.  I expect VanDerveer will continue doing what she has done in the past: Give playing time to any player who plays hard and contributes in practice.  And when a player enters a game and does contribute, give that player even more playing time.

Imagine the intensity of Stanford practices during the coming season.


Tim Mann said...

Thanks for the article. It's Belibi, though. Only one e.

Warren Grimes said...

Thanks for the correction.