WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard talks at Lady Toppers’ media day

Western Kentucky hosted its basketball media day Thursday, with Lady Topper coach Michelle Clark-Heard and all players available.

Heard addressed the media crowd at the podium, and I had the chance to speak individually with players Alexis Govan, Chastity Gooch, Chaney Means, Micah Jones, Kierra Muhammad and Bianca McGee.

Here are Heard’s comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Meaning of “Climbing the Ladder” mantra, beyond literal meaning of climbing net to cut down nets: “The rest of it was about getting the program back to where it’s always been, in the national prominence.”

This year’s expectations: “Expectations will come, and that’s what it’s about. As a student-athlete and as a coach, that’s what you want. You want to have the expectations of putting ourselves in a position to get better.”

“We’re just working to get better, each and every day. I think our biggest thing is trying to make sure that every player is getting as much attention as they need to get to be the best they can be. We have to keep jelling as a whole.”

“I think the overall improvement has been the growth of the newcomers coming in, and the returners teaching them the different things they need to, but also the returners being more familiar with the coaching staff and myself.”

Which newcomers have stood out? “I look across the board, and of course, Ruta and Bria have been getting better, but they’ve got a ways to go. When we went out last year and recruited, our whole job was to get better, to be able to bring some more speed, athletic ability and some big kids. I think that’s what we did.”

Having more players this year: “I tell our team every day that there’s going to be situations that everyone is going to be needed on this team. I’m looking forward to all of them being able to contribute.”

Getting back to the NCAA tournament: “That’s our ultimate goal. And not just to get in the NCAA, it’s to get in and be able to win some games. I think that’s all about. You want to get our program to that height, because if you can get to the NCAA, there’s no telling what can happen.”

Landscape of Sun Belt this year, including losing MTSU and FIU: “I think there’s a lot of conferences that took hits – not just the Sun Belt. But you have to prepare yourself to do the things each and every day. We have to focus on us. … We still have Little Rock. I’m telling you, there’s people in this conference that are going to make a lot of noise.”

Next step for Govan and Gooch: “The numbers that they put up last year were incredible, but the next step for them is to continue to get better. What I’ve tried to do is challenge them in different ways. My biggest thing for Alexis is to continue to get better defensively because she’s so athletic. I think she can add a lot to her game. She shot the ball unbelievable last year – 46 percent, I think, from the field. That is unheard of at the guard position.”

More on Gooch: “I want her to keep growing her game. She has to understand and know she’s such a force on the inside, that I want her to continue what she’s doing. It’ll help that we have more manpower. They won’t have to play 32 minutes. That’s not the goal. That’s the thing – to be more productive in a less amount of minutes.”

Seniors McGee and Means: “They’ve been doing a great job of leading the younger group and the newcomers. I think their vision is for them to go out on top.”

On freshman center Ruta Savickaite: “She’s a typical international player. She loves to face up. She loves to shoot the basketball. We’ve got to get her stronger, but each and every day, she’s battling Chastity and Bria. I think the sky’s the limit for her.”

Looking forward to the Louisville game: “Louisville, that’s a big game, but the game I’m looking forward to is the first game, when it tips up against Austin Peay. We’re going to take it game by game. Every game is going to be important for us. We’re not looking down our schedule.”

On Kendall Noble’s recovery from injury: “She’s coming along. She’s working with the trainers on the side, so she’s doing good. We’re taking it day by day and seeing what the prognosis is. She’s in good spirits.”

More depth, better competition: “Competition is a great thing. I told the returners that they got a little spoiled last year, because there were some situations where they had to be on the floor even if they weren’t doing the right things all the time.”

Do Lady Tops think they have a target on their backs? “Of course. I think any coach would love to have the opportunity to be in the position we are as a program. It is different, and it’s going to be very interesting. Our job as a staff is to prepare our players to know this is a big difference from where we were last year.”

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