Ready or not, basketball has arrived.
The Western Kentucky women’s hoops team held its first practice Monday at E.A. Diddle Arena. Women’s teams can practice 30 days in the 40-day span before their first regular-season game.
WKU had 13 players participating, which was a welcomed sight for coach Michelle Clark-Heard after operating most of last season with a healthy roster of eight, nine or 10 players.
The one player not in action was freshman forward Aleeya Harris, who’s out with a torn ligament in her right foot. The 6-foot newcomer from San Antonio is expected to be in a cast for five to six weeks.
Here are some comments from Heard and juniors Alexis Govan, Chastity Gooch and Jasmine Crawford:
MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach
Thoughts on first practice: “Well, I had a full team, so I’m excited about that. Total difference from last year, but it’s the first day of practice. We turned it over more than I wanted to, but I think with the tempo, I was really impressed with how hard the kids went. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to set the tempo and pace of how we want to play, so I was excited about that.”
Having more depth this year: “It’s huge. To have the opportunity to have enough for two full teams and subs on the teams is great, but the competition is what’s been really good. That’s why we’re really excited to get the kids together, so they can keep meshing and jelling.”
More competition in the post: “It’s going to be huge for Chastity. I think that’ll be an opportunity for her to keep elevating her game. She averaged a double-double last year, but she still sometimes struggled some against bigger posts. It’ll be good for her. Ruta and Bria, we’ve got to get them in game shape, but their skill level is coming along each and every day.”
Heightened expectations this year: “I think the expectations are going to be there. We’ve got to continue to keep getting better. I’m sure just like we added more players, everybody else did too in the conference. We just want to focus on us and work hard each day to get in the system we want to run as a staff.”
Do you expect to play even faster than you did last year? “I do. Jasmine Crawford, if you all saw, is really quick with the basketball. I think we have some guards who can get up and down the floor. Conditioning-wise, I think our girls are in great shape. Chastity Gooch looks great, Alexis is in great shape. We’re going to keep working so we can push the ball, and we’re going to add a little more stuff defensively, too, where we can press full-court.”
Recruiting size for present and future: “It’s really important to us. I know for a fact it wasn’t like we ran the table on anybody in the conference, so we’re going to have to be ready. I think that’s what we lacked last year, is size, and that’s why we went and did the things we did with this year’s class with Bria and Ruta. We’re trying to get better and deeper in the post.”
CHASTITY GOOCH, junior forward
First day of practice: “Today was a very exciting day for me. It was a learning day. We have a lot of newbies, so we’re just trying to teach them the new drills. We did good out there.”
On practice being sloppy at times: “We’ve got to learn how to get less turnovers. They’ve got the 10-second rule now, so I feel like the game’s even going to be that much faster. We’ve just got to learn.”
Having competition in the post this season: “This year, I’ve got to learn how to shoot over a 6-4 girl. It’s a lot tougher. I’ve been working on my hook shot. ”
On freshmen Bria Gaines and Ruta Savickaite: “They have a lot of potential. Bria, she’s a beast down there. Ruta can shoot the ball as well. They’ll be very good and very helpful for this team.”
Expectations this year: “Last year, we did a lot. We broke a lot of records. But this year, we’ve got to do that much more.”
ALEXIS GOVAN, junior guard
On turnovers in practice: “We got a little sped up when it got intense. We were trying to compete. That’s one of the main things we talk about, is competing, but sometimes when we do we get a little sped up. We’ll definitely have to work on that.”
Difference’s from last year’s first practice: “Talking to coach Heard, we were talking about that first practice. There were balls flying everywhere. We still had a little bit this year, but it’s a lot more composed, and the intensity’s there off the bat.”
Competition for Gooch: “It’s great to finally see people out there competing with Chastity, blocking her shot, making her work. When she does get that shot in there, it’s like, ‘She can score. She can play.’ It’s great to see them making her work.”
JASMINE CRAWFORD, junior guard
First practice as a Lady Topper: “I’m learning my teammates, and I have to make sure I know each and every one of my teammates like the back of my hand so I can make it a little easier for them and know where to get the ball to them. It was a great learning experience. I’m glad I’m here and get to play with a diverse group. Every position has something to give.”
On the up-tempo style of play: “I definitely love it, because of course I’m a quick guard. It’s always good for me to be able to use my quickness. When I’ve got teammates who can run with me, it’s great. I love playing the up-tempo game.”
On newcomers meshing with the veterans: “The girls were really welcoming, and those are great girls. They came and took people under their wings, and our coaches did a good job of trying to find the missing pieces. I’ve got great teammates. We all kind of lift up each other. It’s not hard meshing with each other. It’s just the amount of chemistry we’ve got to get on the court.”