Heard talks Friday’s Harding exhibition, freshmen

Below are a few thoughts from WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard today heading into Friday’s season-opening home exhibition game against Harding University.

Heard started her media availability by announcing that assistant coach Curtis Turley has resigned and junior guard Bianca McGee will be ineligible for the first semester because of transfer rules. You can read more about both of those situations here.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On first game as head coach: “I’m really, really excited. I came to the guys’ exhibition game the other night. I just kind of wanted to walk in and get that feel again. I think our girls are super-excited, and they’ve been working hard. I saw some great things in our closed scrimmage against the University of Louisville, so I’m excited to see – for the community and everybody else – how much we’ve progressed since we got together.”

On what she’s seen in last few days: “I was really impressed with our freshmen. You all will see that a lot of them have stepped up. I’ve been really pleased with Micah Jones. She’s done a lot of great things, and she’s in a position now where she’s filling in at the point guard position. She’s done an unbelievable job.”

Getting consistency from freshmen: “We are young, so you know how that goes. They could be really good one day, and another day you have to find out how to get them as excited as they are every day in practice.”

Do you have an idea of a starting five? “I do, but it really doesn’t matter because of the way we play. Everybody’s going to play. Maybe here or there, there’s a player I’m going back and forth with, but I think that’s the greatest thing about this team – the competitiveness every day. That’s a great problem to have as a coach, to figure out who’s going to be the starter or who’s going to do this. I think it’ll all balance itself out because of the way we’re playing. My goal is to get the best five on the floor in the beginning to bring that energy and spark, and then go from there with rotating and subbing people in.”

More on Micah Jones: “I think she is one of the toughest kids. She’s very hard-nosed tough and knows the game of basketball. She’s very steady and has done an incredible job moving to the point. … I knew of Micah and her strengths, but a lot of people consider her a shooter. She can shoot the basketball, but I didn’t know her headiness and ability to put people in position to score.”

Thoughts on freshman Kendall Noble: “Kendall Noble is very gifted. She can pass the ball very well, sees the floor very well. I’m on her constantly, day in and day out, about shooting the ball because she’s gifted in that sense, too. She would rather be a pass-first player, but we’re working every day for her to continue to be aggressive so she can be that offensive threat we need her to be.”

Thoughts on freshman Jalynn McClain: “Jalynn is unbelievable for us defensively. She’s very fundamentally sound. We’re working right now to try to put her offense there.”

Thoughts on freshman Mariah Sunkett: “Mariah Sunkett is going to be one that as the year progresses, she’s going to have a chance to be really good. She’s just so long, athletic and can run, and can score in transition. The game is a little fast for her right now, but we have to continue to get her better and better.”

On the challenges Harding will present: “It’s always hard when you play an exhibition because we don’t have any film on them. But looking at the box scores, they shoot the 3 pretty well. We’re going to have to guard, and the biggest thing we want to focus on is us. We’re working on a lot of things defensively, and we want to focus on those things to get us prepared to head down to Murray State.”

Chaney Means, Alexis Govan and Kendall Noble talk during WKU basketball media day

Here are the Lady Topper player comments from today’s WKU basketball media day. We heard from junior guard Chaney Means, sophomore guard Alexis Govan and freshman Kendall Noble.

I personally get the feeling players are saying a lot more of what they really feel this season, which is probably a by-product of the presence of coach Michelle Clark-Heard, who’s told it like it is since she arrived.

CHANEY MEANS, junior guard

Expectations right now: “We’ve had a lot of changes, not only with our coaches, but with bringing in a lot of freshmen and a JUCO. It’s been a lot of change, but it’s been good. They’ve had to grow up really fast, and I think they’ve done a great job.”

What’s different this year? “She expects us to come out every day and bring it. That’s one thing that’s been really good – just how high her expectations are for us.”

Being picked fifth in the East: “We’re going to use it as fuel. Coach encouraged us yesterday by telling us, ‘This is what people think, and we need to go out there and prove that we’re better.'”

On being a leader: “It’s a whole team effort. I don’t feel like all of the pressure is on me in that leadership role. It’s been good for me to talk to the freshmen and let them know how things are. I have experience with that, and I let them know it’s going to be OK. They don’t have time to sit back and learn. They’re coming in knowing they’re going to play and are a huge part of what we’re going to do. I’m just trying to be the best encourager and role model I can be for them, and hopefully they feel like they can come and talk to me about stuff.”

Closeness of team: “We’re closer than we’ve ever been as a team. I feel like it’s really like a family now. We want to hang out with each other and do stuff on weekends. We have that camaraderie, and I think you’ll see that on the court.”

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

What’s different this year? “One of the main changes has been the energy level with the program. The energy with us players, the energy around the program – it’s completely different this year. I think a lot of it is thanks to coach Heard. She’s so passionate that it brings out the best in all of us.”

Relationship with Heard: “From the first day she came in, she told us she had an open-door policy and that we need to come in and talk to her because that was the only way we were going to get to know her. We all really bought in and came in all the time. I don’t think she got anything done the first few weeks because we were in there, letting her see who we were. I think most of us feel like she recruited us because our relationship is that strong.”

On the changes in style of play from last year: “We’re not letting our players camp out. Last year wasn’t so much that you could drive and create. It was hard to get in the paint, and I like to get in the paint, so this is fun.”

What did you learn from last year: “Losing isn’t easy. I think it taught me that you’ve got to work to get to where you want to be. It’s not going to just happen, and I think that’s sort of what we thought last year – that it was just going to change. This year, we’re more go-getters. We’re going to go out there and win those games because we want to, not because we feel like it should happen.”

KENDALL NOBLE, freshman guard

Adjusting to college play from high school: “It’s a lot harder, actually. We work a lot harder than I thought we would. Lifting weights and running – we’re probably in the best shape of our life. But we have to be in good shape to play the way coach wants us to.”

On freshmen vying for playing time: “We just try to go out and do our best every day because we don’t have time to sit back and wait for someone else to do it. We have to go do it because we have the opportunity to play. We should make the most of our opportunity.”

Heard talks at WKU basketball media day

Western Kentucky hosted its basketball media day Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

From the women’s team, coach Michelle Clark-Heard spoke along with junior guard Chaney Means, sophomore guard Alexis Govan and freshman guard Kendall Noble.

One quick note: Heard said she hopes to have freshman guard LeAsia Wright, who’s currently sidelined with a torn ligament in her thumb, back by the home opener Nov. 19 against Northern Kentucky.

I’ll have the players’ thoughts in a few minutes, but for now, here’s what Heard had to say on her first media day as head coach:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On being realistic about this season: “I think the biggest thing is making sure that every day, we come out and compete – that’s there nothing left on the floor. We talk about that constantly with the ladies, and I think the biggest thing is understanding that there are going to be ups and downs. But we have to continue learning so we can be the best we can be every day.”

On style of play: “We run a lot and do a lot of different things, but in order for us to overcome our size differential compared to some of the other teams, we’re going to have to do those things. I think they’ve embraced it.”

On who has stood out: “I must say that Alexis has grown incredibly since I got here. I was really pleased to hear her talk about how they embraced my open-door policy, and she was one of the main ones that started that. At that point, I knew she could be one of the leaders.”

Being picked fifth in East: “We lost five seniors. It’s pretty realistic. We understand and know we’re going to have a battle on our hands every day. But I also think that if we continue to prepare, we’ll have the opportunity to surprise some people. … When it’s all over, we don’t want to be fifth on the East side at the end of the season. That’s our goal.”

On having 10 active players right now: “Thank goodness for the opportunity to have some practice players. There’s been a lot of adjustment, but it’s been really good for those 10 girls. We have to get better fundamentally, and for them to get the repetition every day, they’re not having to wait for me to sub five more players in.”

Surprises with this team: “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m really close with this team. It happened really naturally. For them to be young ladies of their age and go through the change they went through, I commend them on that. That really is a big surprise to me, because I understand how important it is that you have relationships with your players.”

On the first scrimmage Nov. 2: “I’m excited for the fans to be able to see how hard the young ladies play and how they compete. I’m looking forward to being able to see the different things we’ve worked on. We talk a lot about playing fast-paced and getting the balls up the floor, and I know there will be some turnovers, but we talk a lot about taking care of possessions. We’ll be looking for, along with just being able to guard.”

More on style of play: “I want the girls to be able to embrace this four-out, one-in offense and be able to have some fun, too. You how excited Alexis was because that’s one of her strengths.”

Highlights from Sun Belt women’s basketball media day

As promised, here are some highlights from the Sun Belt Conference’s other women’s basketball coaches from today’s media day teleconference.

Two of the major themes from the interviews were coaching turnover – five of the league’s 11 coaches are in their first year – and the conference’s expansion to 20 league games.

Here are a few of the main points:

CINDY RUSSO, FIU coach

On conference preseason POY Jerica Coley: “If you can imagine, she’s gotten much better. She’s stronger, she’s understanding the game better. Jerica’s the type of player that works hard all the time like she’s a freshman. I told her with her situation, we’re going to have to learn how to play with that target on her back. She’s going to be everybody’s game plan.”

RICK INSELL, MTSU coach

On strong nonconference slate: “The early part of the season is very important to us because winning those games early before you get into the conference season is what sets the precedent for you to get an at-large bid – in case something happens like it did last year.”

On bringing back so many players: “We’re trying to take the mental process of their game to another level. We think the mental toughness that we’ve kind of lacked when we get into the NCAA tournament is something we’ve got to build on.”

On being selected first in the East: “I think our kids would’ve been upset if we hadn’t been picked first, to be honest with you. I think they expected that, and we look forward to that coming out. We felt like we probably should be the No. 1 team in the East.”

On having three players on the all-conference first team: “I felt like that could happen. I’ve been irritated before by the way some of the voting has been done in the past. I thought the three of them had a good shot to make first team. That probably would’ve been how I voted if I could vote for my own players. I’ve said this all along – I’m going to vote for who I think are the top five players in our conference. If all five of them come from Florida International, they’re going to get my vote.”

On coaching turnover in the league: “I was proud of all the coaches we did have. I know sometimes I tried to get them stirred up a bit, but they were good people and worked hard. It’s going to be interesting. We’ve got five new coaches, and it’s going to make it a little tough to know what their philosophies and strategies are. You’re going to have to go through at least one round and study a lot of film to get an idea. I pretty well know what (FIU coach) Cindy (Russo) is going to do, just like she knows what I’m going to do. It’s going to motivate those new coaches to come say, ‘Look, there’s a new sheriff in town.’ All of us oldie goldies are going to have to be on our toes.”

RICK PIETRI, South Alabama coach

On coaching turnover: “We’ve never had the kind of turnover in the conference like we had this past year, where, basically, half of the coaches have turned over. When you play people regularly, you get a feel for what that coach does and how they function. There’s going to be a lot less familiarity now, and to me, that’s the most interesting thing.”

JOE FOLEY, Arkansas-Little Rock

On complexion of the league: “Middle Tennessee is the premier team, and I think FIU is right there a step behind. The rest of us are probably back a bit, but we made up that ground last year, and I’m hoping we can do it again.”

BRIAN BOYER, Arkansas State coach

On expansion to 20 conference games: “I’ve always been a fan, on the women’s side, of having more nonconference games. From a league standpoint, because we’ve had success, I think it’s always good that you can showcase that as much as possible. With that being said, I don’t think there’s a better way to get a true conference champion than tip it up there, play everyone twice and everyone’s on an even playing field.”

GARRY BRODHEAD, Louisiana-Lafayette coach

On strength of league: “I can’t worry about where the conference is when I’ve got to worry so much about what I’m trying to build here. We’re at the bottom of it, which doesn’t look good, but I think it can be a very good conference.”

MONA MARTIN, Louisiana-Monroe coach

On changes around the league: “I think anyone can beat anyone on a given night, and that’s the scary part. If you’re not ready, you’re not going to win. … I think there have been some great hires this year, so it’s going to be make it pretty tough on us, but it’s always been tough.”

More on coaching changes: “It’s shocking. When we were at the conference meetings, you hardly knew anyone there. It was kind of scary, but I think you just have to know you’ve got to be ready. It’s going to be interesting what we all have to face.”

On 20 conference games: “I like to play five games before we play Western Kentucky, especially when you have a young team. You want to get nine or 10 games under your belt so your kids can learn. I don’t like that part. I like to be ready, and I think it’s going to be an advantage to the veteran clubs. Lucky for us, Western Kentucky lost some good players like we did.”

Heard talks about WKU during Sun Belt media day

The Sun Belt Conference hosted its women’s basketball media day teleconference this morning with all 11 of the league’s coaches, including five newcomers.

Western Kentucky was selected fifth in the East Division in the preseason coaches poll, and sophomores Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan were named to the all-conference third team.

WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard’s comments are available below. I’ll have snippets from the other conference coaches later this afternoon.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On being tabbed fifth in the East: “As coaches, I have to be realistic and look at the people that we lost and who we have coming back. But we definitely use that as fuel for the fire for the program. I sent a mass text out to our ladies this morning, and we talked about how our whole slogan is ‘On the Rise.’ We’re picked fifth on the East side, so we can’t do anything but go up. That’s our mission.”

On all-conference selections Gooch and Govan: “They’ve been fantastic. They’re both going to have to play huge roles. Alexis has worked on her game tremendously and has really worked on being a leader off the floor. She’s one of my captains. We’re young, and a lot of the stuff will fall on them, but it’ll be a collective effort as a group.”

On five new coaches in the league: “Anytime you start adding different coaches, you add a great dynamic to any conference. Now, the challenge comes on the different programs with how things will change, how to prepare, how to get ready. As a young coach, it’s exciting for me to go up against some of the veterans and put some of things I’ve used through the years to use.”

On starting conference play in the third game of the season: “When you talk about FIU coming into our place … it’s going to be tough. At the end of the day, we have to prepare each and every day to be the best we can be. It just so happened that we had to fit that game in at that time because the Sun Belt had scheduled us for a game the day after Christmas, and both coaches agreed that we didn’t want our kids to have to play the day after Christmas. You have to take the good with the bad, and the good is that we’ll be here at home, so we look forward to the competition.”

On who will step up with so many young players: “A lot of it is going to be fall on Alexis’ shoulders because I feel like she had the opportunity to play some quality minutes for Western last year. But it will be across the board. We’re all so young, so a lot of them are going to be thrown in the fire. But our job as a staff is to prepare them and get them ready and put them in the best situation we can for what’s about to happen.”

Lady Tops picked fifth in Sun Belt East; Govan, Gooch make third team

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team is projected to finish fifth in the Sun Belt Conference East Division by league coaches in the preseason poll released today.

The Lady Toppers totaled 26 points, ahead of only Troy in the East Division.

Middle Tennessee was first in the East with 10 first-place votes, followed by Florida International, South Alabama and Florida Atlantic.

Arkansas Little-Rock got 10 first-place votes in the West Division, followed by Arkansas State. North Texas, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette rounded out the division.

WKU sophomore forward Chastity Gooch and sophomore guard Alexis Govan were named to the preseason all-conference third team.

Govan averaged 6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 2011-12, while Gooch averaged 6.1 points and 5.6 rebounds.

FIU junior guard Jerica Coley, who tied for fifth in the country last year with 23.4 points per game, was tabbed as the league’s preseason player of the year.

She was joined on the first team by Arkansas State’s Taylor Gault and Middle Tennessee’s Icelyn Elie, Kortni Jones and Ebony Rowe.

The Sun Belt held its women’s basketball media day teleconference this morning. WKU will host its own media day Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

2012-13 Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference First Team
Taylor Gault (UALR, Sophomore, Guard)
Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)
Icelyn Elie (Middle Tennessee, Senior, Forward)
Kortni Jones (Middle Tennessee, Senior, Guard)
Ebony Rowe (Middle Tennessee, Junior, Forward)2012-13 Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Second Team
Taylor Ford (UALR, Junior, Guard)
Jane Morrill (Arkansas State, Junior, Forward)
Chenise Miller (Florida Atlantic, RS-Junior, Forward)
Finda Mansare (FIU, Senior, Forward)
Mansa El (South Alabama, Senior, Guard)

2012-13 Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Third Team
Janette Merriex (UALR, Senior, Guard/Forward)
Jasmine Shaw (Louisiana-Monroe, Junior, Guard)
Mary Nixon (South Alabama, Senior, Guard)
Chastity Gooch (WKU, Sophomore, Forward)
Alexis Govan (WKU, Sophomore, Guard)

2012-13 Women’s Basketball Preseason Player of the Year
Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)

2012-13 Women’s Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
EAST DIVISION – Coaches’ Votes in Parentheses
1. MT – 65 pts (10)
2. FIU – 54 pts (1)
3. USA – 45 pts
4. FAU – 29 pts
5. WKU – 26 pts
6. Troy – 12 pts

WEST DIVISION
1. UALR – 54 pts (10)
2. ASU – 39 pts (1)
3. UNT – 33 pts
4. ULM – 24 pts
5. ULL – 15 pts

San Antonio 6-1 forward commits to Lady Tops

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team has found its third 2013 commit.

Aleeya Harris, a 6-foot-1 senior forward from John Jay High School in San Antonio, gave her verbal pledge to the program Saturday while on her official visit to WKU.

Theresa Nunn, Harris’ AAU coach with the South Texas Hoyas, confirmed the commitment.

“I think immediately, her rebounding, her athleticism and her presence in the paint are going to be a factor,” Nunn said. “She should be able to make an impact right away by altering shots and creating mismatches.”

Harris has lots of experience at the forward positions but has transitioned to more of a center role, Nunn said.

She averaged nine points and 5.6 rebounds a game as a junior at John Jay, according to MaxPreps.com, and averaged 15.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and five blocks this year on the AAU circuit, Nunn said.

Harris’ blocking expertise has been aided by her participation in volleyball.

“She’s transitioned really well to that five spot,” Nunn said. “Her strengths definitely include blocking shots. We have a joke that she’s on the SWAT team, because she literally leads the city in blocks. Her timing is amazing.”

Harris and Nunn have connections to the Lady Toppers. WKU assistant coach Margaret Richards, who has recruited Harris, previously recruited some of Nunn’s players while the former was an assistant at Weber State.

Harris also played in the same high school district in San Antonio with WKU sophomore guard Alexis Govan, who served as Harris’ host on campus this weekend, Nunn said.

“They’ve always said great things about Western Kentucky,” Nunn said of Govan and her family. “The fact that she was the host on her visit definitely helped, because it made her totally comfortable and at home.”

The Lady Toppers will likely use Harris at center while they lack size, Nunn said, but the coaches have hopes of eventually moving her back to a more natural position at the 3 or 4 spot.

“She’s a great kid,” Nunn said. “In four years, I’ve never had one problem with her. She’s a hard worker and definitely a leader. She’s really grown offensively. On my team, she was more of a role player, and now she’s definitely the go-to person.”

Harris joins Paul Laurence Dunbar guard Kierra Muhammad and Bloom Township (Ill.) center Bria Gaines as verbal commits in WKU’s 2013 class.

The Lady Toppers have one scholarship remaining, but coach Michelle Clark-Heard said this month that the staff will probably keep it vacant to use for 2014. WKU has no seniors this season.