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.”

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