Q&A With Coach Joye Lee-McNelis
July 28, 2000
Q. With all but one starter returning from last season, what are your immediate expectations for the 2000-01 season?
A. Yes, we are going to miss Yolanda Reed. We are going to miss her leadership on the floor and her ability to create for herself and her teammates as well as her defensive ability. For the returning starters and the returning players that we do have coming back this year, we have very high expectations. We must raise the bar, and it is our players' responsibilities to reach that level. They have worked very hard this summer in preparing for the upcoming season. I think the attitude and the expectation of our players, as well as our coaches, is to get back to the NCAA Tournament and to win the conference championship.
Q. Do you expect the returning starters (Adkins, Abraham, Bush, Collins) to remain in their starting roles, or do you expect some of the younger players to challenge for the starting positions?
A. Each year, we begin a new season and all of our players know that everyone has an opportunity to earn that starting spot which is based on work ethic, production, attitude and the eagerness and willingness to do the little things to make a difference in our team. All they have to do is step in and prove themselves. I do believe that the younger players will come in and make a difference in our program. I believe that Princess Swilley and Danielle Barnard will add some depth to our perimeter position, as they are both very talented players. Kaneshi Hart will bring tremendous strength and size to our lineup. She has a great ability to score, and will be an asset to our program.
Q. Who do you expect to fill the role that Yolanda Reed left empty as the starting point guard?
A. This position is wide open. Tiffany Collins would no doubt have a little bit of an edge just because she has had three years of experience playing that position. This position is going to boil down to the point guard that will show the leadership and the commitment to help run this team. I really and truly believe that position is up for grabs, but Tiffany should have the upper-hand as long as she steps in and recommits herself and is ready to make a difference in her senior season.
Q. What would you say are your team's strengths heading into this season?
A. I think our number one strength is our experience that our players gained from last year by getting the quality minutes that they were able to get throughout the season. I also think that the European tour we played in this past May, adds to our experience. The second thing that will make a difference is that a majority of our players have been committed to the weightroom and conditioning in the off-season. They have shown more commitment in that area than any group that we have had. I think that is a huge advantage for us and we should be in pretty good condition when we show up at the very end of August to start our pre-season conditioning program. And lastly, the unity of this team and the "family" attitude will also contribute to the success of this team. The opportunity to go to Scandinavia helped us to continue to build team cohesiveness and allowed us the opportunity to get to know each other better on and off the court.
Q. Where do you expect to be ranked in the pre-season C-USA polls?
A. I'm not sure where we will be ranked. Hopefully, we will be in the top half. Preseason rankings are important, but what's most important to me is how you are ranked at the end of the season.
Q. Which teams in the league do you expect to make a run at the championship and why?
A. I think Tulane, UAB and DePaul will be the top three teams in the league. Tulane returns Janell Burse who is one of the top players in C-USA. UAB gained valuable experience and represented Conference USA well by getting to the Sweet Sixteen with the leadership of Deanna Jackson, who is also one of the best players in the league. I expect her to be able to take that UAB team on her shoulders and help them gain respect nationally. I think they will have a great run for the conference title. DePaul returns a solid class and has had the opportunity to gain valuable experience by touring overseas in late August.
Q. What do you worry about most with this team?
A. The two weaknesses that we will have to work on will be at the point guard and post positions. Other than Tiffany Collins, we will have a lack of experience at our point guard position, and other than Shannon Hamp, Melissa Abraham and Malissa Bush, the depth at our post position is going to be weaker than we have been in the past.
Q. What will you and your coaching staff do to motivate your squad this season as only three players (Collins, Bush, Herron) have ever been to the NCAA Tournament? What will it take for this team to make a run to the NCAA Tourney?
A. The fortunate thing is that Kelly, Tiffany and Malissa have had tremendous experience in the NCAA Tournament and the rest of the players have played in the WNIT. What we will push is that it takes a little extra and you have to go the extra mile if you want to achieve success. You have to do the little things a little bit better and apply the fundamentals a little bit more to be able to make the difference in winning 18 games and winning 20 games. We will have to outthink our opponents as well as outwork our opponents. I think as a coaching staff, it is our responsibility to keep emphasizing that we have to raise the bar if we want to get into the Big Dance.
Q. Last season, the Lady Tigers were left without a "star" player and the squad was picked low in C-USA. Memphis exceeded early expectations last season by capitalizing on the word "team." Will you stick with that plan again this year, or do you feel it's important to find a "go-to" player that you can count on in the final minutes of a close game?
A. We will continue to focus on the word "team." Last season, I think we did struggled at some points because we were always waiting on someone else to step up. We must have a go-to player or even a couple of go-to players to be ready to step up in crunch time and make the big shot or get the big defensive stop in order to be successful. If you look at all the teams that made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament, they all had go-to players. On the other hand, it is just as important to have a strong supporting cast so that they can step up and help make things happen as well. We can't just have one go-to player and the other players just there. It is going to be important for several players to emerge as leaders and for the rest of the team to step up and assume responsibility for their role in making this team successful.
Q. No one can deny that Tiffany Adkins played a key role in the success of last season upon joining the squad in December. What do you expect of her this season?
A. Yes, Tiffany was a major key and a major reason for our turnaround last season as she came on board for the Arkansas game. She not only stepped up and played with a lot of emotion and a lot of enthusiasm, but she also played with some leadership and helped encourage our younger players. For Tiffany, this season will all depend on what she has done in the off-season. We expect her to really step to the forefront and become a leader on this team, and to help everyone understand that we must all work together as a team and we all must work hard and think at the same time to be successful as a team.
Q. Do you think Tiffany Adkins is of All-American caliber? Why?
A. I would say that Tiffany has a tremendous amount of potential to be an all-American. She has a lot of tools that could allow her to receive such an honor. Tiffany has to continue to have the same competitiveness and grit that she had last season, which made her stand out from a lot of players. But, at the same time, she has to step up and become a player that is a leader on and off the basketball court. I think that if she does that, she will have every opportunity to be an all-American.
Q. What do you think she needs to do in order to get noticed by the WBCA committee since she has only been at Memphis for one year upon transferring from Ole Miss?
A. I think Tiffany has to start off the year with a bang. She has to come in and be a great scorer for us and she has to rebound. I really believe that she will have to record some double-doubles in our first few games in order to draw some attention to herself and to this team. She has to be intense, she has to push her teammates, and she is going to have to encourage her teammates to be successful.
Q. Last season, there were times when you were looking for a leader on the court. Have you found a leader for this season, and what are the qualities that you are looking for in a leader?
A. Leadership is a must in any organization that wants to be successful. I do believe that when we were in Europe, we had some players like Lauren Jackson, Patrice Boyd and Malissa Bush who really tried to step to the forefront and show some leadership on and off the court. Leadership is not something that is given to you. It is something that is earned when you earn the respect of your teammates and coaches. You have to be willing to separate yourself and not be with the flock all the time. I think in society today, our young people don't want to step out and become leaders because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and they don't want to make waves. The successful teams out there have the real bonafide leaders that step up in crunch time and make things happen. At the same time, they have earned the respect from their teammates and their coaches for what they do in every phase of their life, and not just what they do on the basketball court.
Q. How do you feel about the freshmen coming in this season? Do you expect any of the three to step in and assume a major role?
A. We are very excited about the three freshmen coming in. We really feel that Princess and Danielle will play significant roles in our backcourt. We have watched them play this summer, and they have brought a tremendous amount of excitement to our coaching staff while watching them compete and battle there together. I think they are going to have a great future in Lady Tiger Basketball and I think they are a great one-two punch. Adding Kaneshi to our post game will also be very exciting. Her ability to catch the ball and her ability to score will add a lot to our post game. Kaneshi is a great defender. Defensively, she will give us an edge in the post. The biggest thing is that all three of these players have played in their high school all-star games, they have had successful senior seasons and have played in great summer leagues. We expect all three to make a difference, but we also understand that as freshmen, it may take a little time to get adjusted and make an impact on this team.
Q. How much of an impact do you think the European trip will have on this squad?
A. I think it will have a tremendous impact. I think it was a great trip for our team to gain some valuable experience. Some of our players really got a boost in their confidence. We were able to play Patrice Boyd on the perimeter and we will move her to the three position the entire time this season. She gained a huge amount of experience and had a great Scandinavian tour in playing that position. I think it was very valuable for her. Deanna Farr emerged as one of the most improved players on this tour. She had a game where she had a double-double and she really played her heart out on this tour. I do hope that she continues to have the same level of confidence and fire that she had playing overseas because it will make a huge difference for us this upcoming season. I also think that Kelly Herron finally had an understanding that her assists are just as important as her ability to score for us. Lauren Jackson saw some time at point guard on the tour, which gave her valuable experience in handling the basketball in pressure situations. Malissa Bush played phenomenal in Scandinavia. She was no doubt the MVP of the tour. She averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds on the tour and she played extremely well. I look forward to this carrying over to the season and for Malissa to take her game to the next level.
Q. Three of the games in Europe went into overtime and the Lady Tigers have not played a regular season overtime game since February 1997. Do you think that is a representation of the maturity and "fight" in this team?
A. I believe that anytime you get the opportunity to play in overtime games, when they don't count, you gain valuable experience. I think it shows the grit and comeback attitude that this team had when we were down. I think it proves to our team that we can play in situations where it may not be the easiest for us to be able to come out and get a victory, but that we can pull together and fight to make comeback and tie games up in closing seconds to pull off the win.
Q. How do you feel about your schedule this season? You are playing several key SEC opponents again this season (Arkansas, Miss. State, UT, Alabama), how do you feel that will prepare you for conference action?
A. Once again, I do think we have a tough pre-season schedule, playing Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Alabama. All of those teams will be better than last year. I think that any time that you get an opportunity to play a very tough schedule, it will give your team valuable experience to play in close games so that when you get in conference tournaments, you have already been battle-tested and you are ready to take on people in your league. It will be quite a challenge. We open up with Arkansas at home, and we beat them last year and I feel like they are going to come out feeling like they owe us one. Mississippi State comes to the Fieldhouse, which is a big plus for us to be able to play them at home. They beat us pretty bad last year in Starkville, and we will have to step up and control LaToya Thomas and company. Alabama will be another challenge for us because we beat them in the Pyramid last year and we play them in Tuscaloosa this year. I feel they are going to be ready to prove that we shouldn't have won that game last year. Any time that you play UT in Knoxville and you are swarmed with all the orange that is there, it is somewhat intimidating, especially to your younger players. Hopefully, we will have a much better performance than the one we had two years ago in Knoxville. These four games are sure to prepare us for conference play, as will the Rice Tournament and our own Lady Tiger Classic. Tennessee Tech will also be a challenge for us as a team that went to the NCAA Tournament. They will be the last team we will face heading into our conference season. All in all, our preseason schedule is very tough. Last year, it was ranked fourth in the country heading into C-USA play, and I don't think it is a whole lot easier than it was last season.
Q. The Lady Tigers have a tough road schedule ahead of them, and will even hit a stretch of four consecutive road league games in late Jan./early Feb. The Lady Tigers have typically had a rough time on the road. What are your plans to get the team psyched up for those road games?
A. I don't know that the coaching staff will dress up as pirates again this season, but if we have to be pirates, then we will do whatever we have to in order to motivate this team. I do hope that with the maturity and experience that we have with this team, that we will be able to compete and win close ball games on the road. I think that late in the season last year, these players began to realize and believe that they could win on the road.
Q. The Lady Tiger have a distinct "home court" advantage at The Fieldhouse. What do you think are the main contributing factors to the success at home?
A. Playing in the Fieldhouse gives us a distinct advantage and a leg up on our opponents because of the atmosphere that is created. I give tremendous credit to the fans that are so loud and vocal when they come out and support us. They are so close to the floor and so involved in the game. They are fabulous and do a tremendous job of setting the stage for us to be successful in the Fieldhouse. I also think that Chuck Roberts does a phenomenal job of getting fans involved in the game with our public address system. He and the band work hand-in-hand in creating the overall atmosphere. One of the things that Chuck started in the Fieldhouse was playing "Hit the Road Jack" when an opponent fouled out, which became very popular with the fans and our players enjoyed it as well. It earned a reputation in our league and other schools have begun to do that as well.
Q. When recruits come to Memphis and tour The Fieldhouse, it must be tough to sell the building over the likes of Bud Walton Arena (Ark.), Thompson Boling Arena (UT) Humphrey Coliseum (Miss. State) and the schools that you are competing against. What is it that sells The Fieldhouse? Is it the winning record? Is it the fan support? Is it the personal feeling that the fans get with being so close and so involved in the game?
A. When you go into the Fieldhouse and it is empty, it naturally gives off a negative feeling because of its appearance of being an old building. But, the thing that we find very important is the tradition that is in that building, and the atmosphere that is created by our fans during our games. We tell our recruits and players time and time again that the Fieldhouse in itself creates an air of success because the Lady Tigers have been successful there. When opponents walk into our place, we want them to feel like they are walking into our territory and walking into the jungle where we are trying to create an atmosphere where we are in control on our own home court. Once our recruits actually see and feel the atmosphere and the energy that we have in the Fieldhouse, they usually realize that it is not the newness or the size of the arena that matters, but what is inside of it at game time. I encourage our recruits to talk to our own players because they will tell you that once they've played in the Fieldhouse, that's where they want to play because they feel the excitement and the energy during the game while they are on the floor.
Q. What do you see as the future of Lady Tiger basketball?
A. I think the future is very bright for Lady Tiger Basketball. We are starting our 10th season and have had a lot of success in turning this program in the right direction. We have rekindled the enthusiasm and the tradition that the Lady Tigers once had, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that. Our coaches and players continue to work very hard in raising the bar to get one step closer to winning national championships and gaining national recognition. It is very important to us that we continue to bring in top-notch recruits who are committed to coming in and making a difference in our program, and at the same time, they have the opportunity to play in a city that is crazy about basketball. Our players know that it is not only fun to play in Memphis, but they have the opportunity to be the heroes and role models in the community. The feeling that our players get from playing at The University of Memphis and playing in this city is so unique, and until you become a Lady Tiger, you can't really comprehend the significance of being a hero in the eyes of this community.