Aug. 26, 2000
Looking for a case study in the art of patience? Attempt managing a squad comprised of nine first- and second-year players as head coach Beth Burns did a year ago.
Now with the onset of the 2000-01 campaign, Burns is moving beyond that “diaper dandy” season and preparing to guide a unit that exudes talent and unparalleled energy, and is better yet — a year older and a year wiser.
“Patience is a challenge to any and everyone,” Burns said. “No one wanted to be more successful than our team. You can’t rush experience no matter how badly you want to.
“We made great strides and overcame two very tough injuries (Jamie Lewis, LaToya Turner). During the bulk of the season we sometimes started three freshmen and two sophomores together.
“We have learned and will apply this season not from what we watched a year ago but from what we experienced,” Burns adds.
“There is no dwelling — it was a season of growth.” ” The best is yet to come.”
Building On Experience
For Burns, effort is the quintessential to success. “We are thrilled with the makeup of our team,” she said. “For us, there are two types of people, those that give energy and those that take it away. Effort supersedes any other quality, because its something everyone is capable of. That is our No. 1 requirement. Our team is filled with energy-givers.”
The potential of the Ohio State program is enormous with 10-of-12 letterwinners returning, including four starters, from a 13-15 campaign. Battling their way through 15 games against teams that enjoyed life in the postseason, the Buckeyes are ready to embark on a season touting unwavering confidence and the benefits of one of the most competitive and intense spring training sessions.
Sizing up the Buckeyes begins dead center with 2000 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honoree LaToya Turner. Turner continues to beat all odds, persevering through preseason knee surgery, prevailing as the team’s leading scorer (11.3 ppg), rebounder (5.9 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.3 bpg), only to close her inaugural campaign with a season-ending sprain to the same knee in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Combine her wing span of 6 feet 8 inches and an 8-foot-1-inch reach with her extreme level of competitiveness and Turner creates a dominating presence which impacts play at both ends of the floor. In Big Ten action, the 6-4 phenom was the only frosh who ranked on the Big Ten Top 20 scoring ladder (12.8 ppg), establishing single game career highs for points (22), rebounds (12) and blocks (5).
“`Toya’ (LaToya) did a great job last year earning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor, frankly on one leg, and playing in a league where post-players have been top picks in the WNBA draft for a couple of years,” Burns said.
At power forward, sophomores Courtney Coleman and D’wan Shackleford join Turner to form one of the most revering trios emerging in the league. Both tout tremendous talent as rebounders and defenders, but will need to become more offensive-minded in the season ahead.
Coleman didn’t miss a game and posted one of the most consistent performances of the season, shooting a second best 50 percent from the floor and a team-leading 52.9 percent in conference action. Her 6 foot 2 inch, 170-pound frame and physical temperament aided the Buckeyes at the free-throw line where she recorded the second most visits to the stripe behind Turner (45-of-75).
Shackleford competed as a freshman in 27 games, including 10-of-11 starts during the Big Ten campaign. What Shackleford lacks in size, a 6-footer, she makes up for with her athleticism and tenacious effort.
“Courtney and `Shack’ (D’wan) practice everyday like they’re playing for their dinner,” Burns said. “Just when I walk off the court and think they can’t play harder, they take it to another level. They don’t know anything but that. That sets the tone for a great practice.”
Freshman forward Emily Haynam will reap the benefits of such a system.
Haynam, a 12-time letterwinner at Westerville South, will compliment the athletic and power-oriented crop of post-players Coach Burns is cultivating.
At 6 feet 3 inches tall and 200 pounds, Haynam is a natural addition to the squad. She led the competitive Ohio Capital Conference in rebounding as a junior (8.7 rpg) and averaged better than 8.0 rpg over three seasons. In addition to the size and strength she brings to the roster, Haynam touts good hands, excellent mobility and a competitive spirit as an all-state soccer goalie and shot-putter.
Lending the voice of reason and the wisdom of experience will be senior Courtney Bale. A 6-foot-2 inch senior, Bale’s finesse play and talent as a left-hander adds a fresh dimension to Coach Burns’ strategy on the block.
“Our post game is like watering a garden,” said Burns. “They grow a little bit more everyday.”
Returning to the wing are three-point specialists Lauren Shenk and DiDi Reynolds.
Shenk, a 5-foot-10-inch junior, is well on her way to becoming one of the most prolific long-distance scorers in Buckeye Basketball history. Last season, 44 percent (51-of-115) of the treys registered by the team were launched off her fingertips.
On the conference level, she ranked seventh in Big Ten 3-point FG percentage (.329) and eighth in 3-point FG made per game (1.77). As her success as a distance shooter soared so did her talent as the Buckeyes’ top free throw shooter (.726).
Keep a close eye on Shenk in 2001. Last season, she worked her way out of a mid-season slump with more aggressive play and closed the year averaging 25.5 points in the last three games.
Coached by her father in high school, Reynolds, 6 feet 1 inch, knows all about making adjustments, moving from power forward to the wing in her first collegiate season. She played a significant role in securing the Buckeyes’ first conference win of the season at Minnesota and vs. then defending National Champion Purdue, shooting 78.8 percent (6-of-9) from the arc in the two-game stretch. Reynolds shot a team high 41.4 percent over the 16-game Big Ten schedule.
“DiDi has a terrific shot and ability to run the floor,” Burns said. “She had a huge adjustment coming from a high school post position to facing the basket. She will be much improved.”
While Burns couldn’t be more pleased with the effort generated from this crop of players, there are still areas of concern.
“A big area of improvement will need to be our offensive rebounding. We just did not give ourselves enough second chances,” Burns said.
Sizing Up The Backcourt
In short, the Buckeye backcourt will be faster, stronger and quicker as a result of the commitment its demonstrated in weight room and on the practice floor.
Each spring the squad participates in its own “heptathlon”, a rigorous 10-week strength and conditioning training session designed to help set the tone for individual training over the summer months.
In past seasons, one or two individuals dominated the event but the backcourt raised the bar with guards Tanya McClure and Jamie Lewis coming to the forefront.
“Tanya and Jamie had phenomenal springs,” Burns said. “They shattered records and have been great for each other both as challengers and supporters of one another. They’ve done extra and that’s how you get good. They have really invested.”
McClure, 5 feet 4 inches tall, enjoyed 13 games as a starter in conference play. She won the “2000 Heptathlon” sharing first place in the vertical jump (28.5 inches), clean (165 pounds), and bench press (150 pounds).
In addition to the added strength and stamina she’ll bring to the playing floor, McClure also possesses a natural ability to lead and an unmatched level of competitiveness that is infectious. Averaging 16 minutes per game last year, she finished second in team steals (36) and assists (67).
The 5-foot-5-inch Lewis, who moved from point to shooting guard last year, is one of the most respected guards in the league. She started every game as a freshman and sophomore, and despite undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in July 1999, competed in every game of her junior campaign.
Starter or not, Lewis’ unique instinct to find the open player has been unscathed. For the third consecutive year, she has paced the squad in assists, totalling 105 for the season and 386 for her career which ranks fourth in Ohio State’s career record book. The 4.38 assists per game she distributed over the course of the Big Ten season ranked seventh.
Lewis championed the mile run (6:02) and dips (34) events, and was a top finisher in the leg sled (460 pounds), en route to being selected “The Most Improved Lifter”.
Burns added, “Jamie has come full circle since her injury. With both she and Tanya we’ll be quicker and have more versatility, playing them together as well as independently.”
That versatility is possible, in part, to the incoming talent of guards Caity Matter, 5 feet 10 inches, and Kit Savage, 5 feet 9 inches.
Matter, the two-time Division III Player of the Year out of Bluffton (Ohio) High School, is regarded as one of the top guards in the country. Her 22.5 ppg average will jump-start the Buckeyes’ perimeter game in addition to her versatility and staggering strength. The reigning state champion in the shot put and discus for the second consecutive year, Matter has the ability to play four different positions.
“Caity has the kind of body and physical skills that just gives us a wealth of options. She can play as a point guard and down on the block at power forward,” Burns said.
Savage has competed at the highest level, co-managing the backcourt for the 2000 National Champions of Tyler (Texas) Junior College. A native of Arkadelphia, Ark., Savage’s mental toughness and hunger for defense makes her a natural fit for the Buckeye program. She’ll bring a complete game, averaging 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.6 steals and 3.5 blocks in her final season.
“I like adding a junior who just won the national championship, playing at the time with a fractured bone in her left hand,” Burns said. “That kind of person fits well with the trademark of our team being toughness and effort. I expect her to compete right from the beginning.”
Practices will get interesting once you add junior Tomeka Brown into the mix. Brown, also 5 feet 9 inches tall, enjoyed a tremendous sophomore campaign. Her contributions were significant, particularly over the course of the Big Ten season as the squad’s No. 3 scorer (7.4) and No. 2 rebounder (4.0).
Brown is a special talent because of her superior athleticism which diminishes whatever size disadvantages she may face. An honorable mention all-Big Ten selection, Brown administers suffocating defense, clears the rim (28.5 inch vertical jump) and attacks the basket like no other. Burns will look to challenge her this season with consistency.
“It’s exciting to watch Tomeka,” Burns said. “She carried us for a stretch during the season. Her next challenge is playing on the road and sustaining what she is capable of doing throughout the season.”
Senior Mandy Stanhope, 5 feet 6 inches, completes the lineup. She is the consummate role player who can play both the point and shooting guard. She makes a difference in every game.
“Toughness and Stanhope are synonymous,” Burns said. “I have such trust in Mandy. She is as unselfish as they come.”
While the physical challenges have been met, Burns recognizes the need for a backcourt run with authority.
“If decisions are not made correctly in the backcourt, it doesn’t matter what your frontcourt has the ability to do,” Burns added. “We need to have consistency in how we run our team. Consistency, dependability, and leadership.”
The Buckeyes will play a few old but a lot more new opponents on their non-conference slate. Ohio State will meet Rhode Island, Valparaiso and host Alaska Anchorage in the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, in addition to hosting Big East representative Seton Hall, Pac-10 foe UCLA, Big West runner-up Long Beach State and a first-time meeting with Wisconsin-Green Bay. Ohio State will also enjoy rematches with in-state rivals Cleveland State and Bowling Green, in addition to playing Akron for the first time since 1990.
The Big Ten 16-game regular season schedule features single matches with Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois. The Big Ten Tournament, however ,will take on a new look in a new venue, debuting in the VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., March 1-4.
“Last season, it was a greater challenge to be successful because we were so young,” Burns said. “We play in a league, where for the past two years, we’ve had a team in the Final Four. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“Now that everyone has had a chance to play and gain experience, they have a better idea of what’s out there, how to prepare for it and an understanding of how to set goals. The secret to being confident is preparation — I really believe that.”