October 31, 2009

The promises of practice

By Judy Richter

With only a few days remaining until the Stanford women’s basketball team’s first exhibition game, I sat in on Tuesday afternoon’s three-hour practice at Maples Pavilion. I had missed the open practice earlier in the month because I was in Indiana for a family reunion.

What I saw looked very promising because, as head coach Tara VanDerveer has been saying all along, everyone has improved since last season. That includes not only the players who didn’t get much playing time but also the starters and the early-off-the-benchers. Meanwhile, the two freshmen, forwards Mikaela Ruef and Joslyn Tinkle, looked right at home on the Stanford court.

The afternoon started with a dribble drill led by senior guard JJ Hones (cleared to play after knee surgery last season), followed by passing drills. Devan McConnell, strength and conditioning coach, oversaw stretching and other warm-up exercises. Both sophomore center Sarah Boothe, recuperating from foot surgery, and junior guard Hannah Donaghe, recuperating from knee surgery, took part in these preliminaries to a large extent.

Later, as their teammates scrimmaged, they either practiced free throws and 3-pointers (Sarah has added that shot to her repertoire) or did strengthening and stretching exercises. Talking with them individually after practice, I found them both in good spirits, and they both looked terrific.

After the warm-ups, everyone gathered around Tara and the other coaches. “Details are important,” she said. As for the afternoon’s scrimmages, “go game tempo,” she said.

Before going into action, the guards went to one end of the court for a session with assistant coach Kate Paye. The bigs went to the other end to get some tips on defense from Tara, associate head coach Amy Tucker and assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey.

The basket at the south end was lowered and an inner rim added so that the ball wouldn’t go through, paving the way for a rebounding drill for everyone.

Then it was time for 4 on 4 scrimmages, followed by more dribbling.

By then, the five male practice players had arrived. One of them appeared to be nursing an injury, so sophomore guard Grace Mashore served as their point guard. She got quite a workout because she played in all of the scrimmages, while her regular teammates took turns.

She also looked good, running fast, hustling on plays and scoring. During one break, she sat with the men and diagrammed plays. Afterward, I kidded her about being an honorary guy. She responded on a serious note, saying that the coaches want her to get as much time as possible. She didn’t play much last season, but she has returned in better shape, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of her.

The first scrimmage against the men hinted at a possible starting lineup: senior center Jayne Appel, sophomore forward Nneka Ogwumike, junior forward Kayla Pedersen, fifth-year guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and junior guard Jeanette Pohlen. The first one off the bench, so to speak, was JJ, who came in for Ros. Then Joslyn came in for Kayla. Kayla later returned to replace Jayne. Eventually every healthy player got in – and the women won that 20-minute half, as they did the subsequent 20-minute periods.

Next came more free throws and 3-point shots for everyone before Tara gathered them for some closing words. Noting that there would be no practice Thursday, she advised them, “Study and dwell on your midterms. Academics come first.” She added that the freshmen and sophomores would meet with Brandon Marcello, director of sports performance, for nutritional advice.

Before rushing off to a piano lesson, Tara took a few minutes to comment on the team. “People are working very hard,” she said. She took note of the guards’ improvement, saying that Ros plays “pit bull defense,” and “we’re thrilled to have JJ back.” Nneka has improved, as have so many other players, which is good, because “we going to need everyone,” she said. “It’s extremely competitive in a very positive way.”

Everyone looked good. Besides those who played a lot last season, I was impressed with junior forward Ashley Cimino, who seemed more muscular and who not only snatched rebounds but also hit 3s. Senior guard Melanie Murphy, who played at the point during the afternoon, also was hitting 3s and running fast, as was sophomore guard Lindy La Rocque. Everyone was hustling and seemed serious.

The promise is there. Bring on the games.

October 30, 2009

Cardinal has high hoops

John Reid, Palo Alto Daily News, writes about the Cardinal's high hopes–er, hoops–for the season.

Whichever, the hoops aren't too high for the Cardinal's talented frontline: Jayne, Kayla and Nneka. And now Joslyn too, of whom Tara says, "If you put Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen into a blender, you would have Joslyn. She has better perimeter skills than Jayne and is stronger on the block than Kayla. She's talented, physical and can pass well."

Elsewhere on the court, Tara speaks highly of Ros' defense, "Ros is a pit bull in practice. The players are coming out with scratches on their arms. She has also really improved her outside shot."

Tara is expecting fierce competion at the guard spot. Jeanette is penned in at the two-guard position, with JJ or Ros at the point. But Lindy and Mel are pushing them. Tara is looking for the guards to assert themselves this season. "If they're turning the ball over, they're not going to be out there." Read more...

In another story, Jake Curtis focuses on Nneka's jumping ability during the preseason. Her ability to go above the rim is one of the reasons she looks like Stanford's next star. “I do feel like I’m jumping higher, but I can’t explain it,” she said.

She is also working on a new shooting technique, with guidance from Mel, to improve her shooting. Read more...

October 29, 2009

Best wishes for the season

By Judy Richter

As the start of the 2009-10 season draws nigh, here are some wishes for the team, the fans and the season:
  1. First and foremost, good health, happiness and good luck to everyone connected with the team
  2. Successful rehabs and speedy returns for Hannah and Sarah
  3. Immediate returns to 100% for JJ and Jayne with no more injuries to them or anyone else
The rest are in no particular order:
  • An early Christmas gift straight from Storrs in Connecticut (Stanford at UConn, Dec. 23)
  • Lots of 3-pointers to limit the crowds around Jayne and the other posts and to fatten my tournament travel fund. After the Cardinal opened last season with 15 3s against Chico State, I decided to put $1 for every 3-pointer into a travel fund. By the end of the season in St. Louis, I had accumulated $246 to cover meals, cabs, etc. It sure would be nice to double that this season.
  • Fewer turnovers
  • More rebounds on both ends of the court
  • Fewer fouls
  • More free throws made
  • Enthusiastic, sell-out crowds for every home game
  • Softer music before tip-offs to allow fans to chat with each other
  • Return of the agility dogs that were such a hit last season
  • Victories to reward Tara for coming up with one of the team’s toughest schedules ever
  • Singers who perform our national anthem the way it was written
  • Good officiating
  • Pac-10 championship
  • The NCAA championship trophy for the Cardinal in San Antonio
  • And last but not least, lots of fun for everyone

October 28, 2009

Stanford women studying hard for title run

Susan Slosser, Chronicle staff writer, writes about the Stanford women's basketball teams's extra class work on the court in this article.

See also Jake Curtis' stories about Kate Paye's point-guard college and Jayne's escape from the dungeon.

October 23, 2009

Coaches pick Stanford to win Pac-10!


In a near unanimous vote, receiving nine first-place votes (a coach may not vote for her own team) and 81 total points, nine-time defending Conference champion and 2009 NCAA Final Four participant STANFORD was voted the clear favorite to win the 2009-10 Pac-10 women's basketball title, according to a vote by the Conference head coaches.

Here is the complete report from the Pac-10.

October 17, 2009

Stanford at Full Strength for First Practice

Michelle Smith reports on Stanford's first official practice of the season on Friday night.

Everyone except Sarah and Hannah are cleared to play and took part in drills and scrimmages. Judging from these comments, they're all eager to get started on another successful season.
  • JJ said she felt strong and, "I know how it's going to go, that there are going to be setbacks. I've been through it before and I'll do it again."

  • Jayne is absolutely ready to play. She said, "I feel good, it's exciting. It's the first day and everyone is going 2,000 miles an hour."

  • Jeanette said, "I can't even imagine losing before the Final Four, because I don't know that. We have so much potential and not to live up to it would probably be pretty hard, so we are improving each day so that doesn't happen."

Tara's intense offseason

Jake Curtis reports that Tara worked harder than she ever has in the offseason in preparation for the Cardinal's toughest non-conference schedule ever. Read more...

October 16, 2009

Tara's best team ever?

Even though Tara knows that what a team looks like in October means "squat", she compares this season's team favorably with her best teams at Stanford.

She's excited about the team's versatility — the various combinations she can put on the floor. She can go big, she can go small and she can do almost everything in between.

Read more in this report by Jake Curtis.

October 14, 2009

Offseason boost for the Cardinal

In a interview by Jake Curtis, Tara discussed two things that have given this Cardinal team an offseason boost heading into Friday's opening practice — the extra practice and playing time acquired by having a foreign trip and the completion of the practice facility adjacent to Maples Pavilion.

She has already seen improvement in the team's outside shooting, in particular Kayla's.

Read Jake's complete article here ...

October 04, 2009

Interviews & photos from USA Basketball training camp

The USA Basketball Women’s National Team returned to Walter Reed Army Medical Clinic on Saturday afternoon to host an open practice and clinic for members of the military and their families. Here's the full report from USA Basketball.

Here's a brief interview of Jayne ...

How difficult has it been to sit out this week and what have you gotten out of it?
I definitely think it’s a good idea to be out here. It’s been really hard to be on the sidelines watching, especially when I’ve been so close to playing. I think it’s been a great experience for me to come out here. I’ve learned a lot just from talking to the players and picking their minds about the next level. Watching them on the court almost has its advantage. It’s definitely been worth it.

Has it helped having other injured players out there with you?
Yeah, it would be a lot harder if I was the only one. We were saying that if we all got healthy we’d have a full squad.

On today’s clinic (at Walter Reed):
It was fun. They were really excited to be interacting with us, playing with us. It wasn’t so much about basketball as it was about having fun with them, letting them get out there and bounce the balls around a little bit, get their minds off of other things for an hour.

... and an interview of Candice ...

How has training camp been for you the past three days?
It’s been great. It’s been nothing but great since day one. Geno is the man. It’s my first time playing for him and he’s probably one of the easiest people I’ve ever had to play for my whole life. That’s a compliment because there are a lot of great coaches out there, but I think he’s the perfect guy for this. He’s going to get the best team together. He’s going to have everybody playing hard. The offense is brilliant to me. It’s very reminiscent of our offense at Stanford. Everybody’s playing hard, playing together, playing smart. We’re our biggest competition. Whatever our national team looks like, whoever’s on it, the first five is going to be the best team in the world. The second five’s going to be the second best team in the world. It’s just been great, a lot of fun.

How different is your confidence level in this training camp from the first USA National Team you were on in 2007?
Night and day. I think that’s just how it is. That’s what experience does. It makes you more confident. It makes you more aware and able to do things that you weren’t able to do before. Because now you know what works and you’re more sure about what you need to do.

Do you feel this is your chance to help mold the future of the USA National Team?
I think so. I’ll take on that responsibility. I know that obviously it’s the national team, it’s not about just one person, but I know that me, Candace (Parker), Sylvia (Fowles), Crystal (Langhorne), we have such a tight connection and rapport with each other. Obviously with other people, too, but seeing them you have that sense of family a little bit. I think that that are the same characteristics that Dawn (Staley) and Lisa (Leslie) had. All of the great teams of the past have had. What Sue (Bird) and Diana (Taurasi) have. Those kinds of things are important. It’s more than just playing basketball on the court. It’s also having that sense of family and making it that special experience.

... and more photos of Jayne and Candice ...

October 01, 2009

Jayne & Candice at USA Basketball training camp

Jayne and Candice are in Washington, D.C. this week at the USA Basketball Women’s National Team training camp. Here is a team photo — that's Candice (#30) in the back row and Jayne (#16) in the front:

AP sports writer Doug Feinberg reports on the three collegians at camp — Jayne, Maya Moore and Tina Charles. Although Jayne isn't able to play yet, coach Auriemma is impressed with her. He said, "We're not really deep at that spot and I think her game is well suited for a team like this because she's such an unbelievably difficult player to guard in the lane and it would open up so many more opportunities for us." Read more...

Here are photos of Jayne and Candice at today's practice session:
After practice, the team visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as reported in this article.