Tuesday, November 04, 2008
11 Days of A-Sun Women's Basketball makes its first of two stops in The River City with a look at Jacksonville. Last year, the Dolphins made the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball Championship title game and a talented backcourt featuring all-conference guard Virginia Gregoire.
The guard trio of Gregoire, Davina Hamilton, and Regina Omoite, finished among last year’s top ten assist leaders in the A-Sun. Omoite led the charge for Jacksonville, averaging the second most assists per game in the league (4.45), Hamilton was fourth (3.94) and Gregoire was ninth (3.19). The Dolphins were the only team to have three players average better than three assists per game.
Omoite enters the season 218 points shy of 1,000 for her career and looks to join Gregoire as members of the prestigious club. Gregoire went over the 1,000 point-plateau last season and enters her senior campaign with 1,080 career points.
SEASON PREVIEW - (Courtesy Jacksonville Media Relations)
After remodeling the program the previous season, the Dolphins took it to a new level in 2007-08 by recording the best finish in program history with a record of 23-9, reaching the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship game for the very first time.
JU tallied 11 conference wins and solidified the No. 2 seed in the A-Sun tournament for the second consecutive season.
Along with the program’s best finish, the squad also rewrote the JU record book with 13 new team records, including the first back-to-back 20-win seasons, longest winning streak (10), consecutive home wins (17) and road wins (9).
In just her fourth year with the program, head coach Jill Dunn established JU at the national level by ranking second in the nation at one point in consecutive home wins, earning votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 Poll and tallying wins over opponents in the SEC (Florida), ACC (Miami) and Atlantic 10 (UMass).
“We had another record breaking season and had some big wins over larger programs,” Dunn said. “We started extremely well and made a great run in the tournament. Even with these tremendous strides we have made in the past few years, we want to win the regular season title, the conference tournament and get a bid to the NCAA’s.”
In the single-season record book, the Dolphins established new records for points per game (67.7), points (2,167), field goals made (814), blocks (126), assists (472) and rebounds (1,210) while averaging a program-low 16.7 turnovers per contest.
Senior forward Ashley Williams, who ended her career as arguably the best player in history, setting program records for points (1,489), field goals made (579) and blocks (128) while guard Virginia Gregoire became the fifth Dolphin to reach 1,000 career points. Along with Gregoire’s program record for steals (161), guard Regina Omoite set a new program record with 305 assists.
In 2008-09, JU will feature a strong core of four guards and four post players who will provide valuable experience to the squad. The Dolphins will add
“We only lose one player from the starting lineup but Ashley’s 18 points per game is not going to be replaced by one person,” said Dunn. “We anticipated losing her in the lineup so we added two junior college post players to mix in with our returning posts to help make up for the loss of Ashley as a group.”
Mixing in with the returners will be six new faces ranging from high school to Division I level experience. Two join the squad from the junior college ranks, three will enter the season as true freshmen and one is a Division I transfer.
“We are going to be a very guard oriented team to start off the season with Regina, DaVina, Virginia and Courtney looking to pick up the offensive slack,” Dunn said. “With Jessica, Valerie and Ashanti, we added more depth to allow us to apply more pressure and not lose our legs at the end of the year.”
Junior guard GiGi Thomas (Tallahassee, Fla.) will sit out this season after transferring from Appalachian State but provide experience during practice.
“Although GiGi won’t be able to play in games this year, she will be a huge asset in practice,” said Dunn. "She has two years of Division I experience and she will push our guards every day. GiGi will be important to our transition next year.”
More strong points for the program will be continued opportunities to play games in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena while new renovations were made to Swisher Gymnasium during the offseason.
"The Arena is a huge advantage for us because it prepares us for road contests in big facilities," said Dunn. "The improvements at Swisher make a big difference as well. It gives the team more pride and excitement about playing on campus and it is a sign of the rewards you get through the program’s hard work and success over the past few seasons."
The Dolphins boast the most talented and athletic core of returning guards in the conference, while adding three freshmen and a Division I transfer.
With the loss of Ashley Williams in the post, the Dolphins will look to spread the floor and use their guard play to create opportunities in the offense.
Senior Regina Omoite will continue her role as “floor general” and catalyst for JU's up-tempo style of play.
One of the conference leaders in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, 3-pointers and minutes played, Omoite will have a final chapter to add to her extensive resume in JU history.
“‘Ro” has been our point guard for the last three years so she is obviously our team leader on the floor,” said Dunn. “We will be looking for her to create more shots for herself and she has been working on her mid-range shot."
Senior DaVina Hamilton has improved every season and will look to help the Dolphins balance their offensive attack. The squad’s best defensive player, Hamilton and Omoite will continue to cause havoc defensively once the ball is in play.
"DaVina showed some flashes last year of what she is capable of doing offensively,” Dunn said. “We need her to be more selfish and score more this year. She has the best pull-up jumper on the team and can create her own shot.”
Also causing headaches for opposing teams at the three guard is senior Virginia Gregoire.
A preseason all-conference selection for the second year in a row, Gregoire is arguably the most complete player in the conference. A threat from every area on offense and with quick hands of defense, she is prime to set several new program records in her final season
“‘VG’ has a presence about her this year and a lot of teams are going to be keying on her,” said Dunn. “She has worked hard in the offseason and she wants to be the best. She is getting better in her shot selection and will be a hard person to stop when she lets the game come to her.”
Junior Courtney Jackson is also a key ingredient to the versatility of the offense. A threat from beyond the arc, a solid pull-up jumper in the lane and a strong 5-10 frame make her a hard match up for opposing defenses.
“Courtney put up some big games for us last year when she stayed healthy,” Dunn said. “She is the best pure shooter from beyond the arc and can score in a multitude of ways. She is also one of our strongest rebounders from the guard position.”
If the core of four talented guards weren’t enough, the Dolphins will begin the process of passing the reins this season with three true freshman and a redshirt transfer.
Freshman Jessica George, a 5-foot-7 point guard, led the Orange Belt Conference in assists and earned first team all-conference accolades for four consecutive years at Celebration High School.
“Jessica sees the floor extremely well and will give us a chance to rest ‘Ro’ during the year,” Dunn said. “She is not as fast as our other guards but she is fundamentally sound, has a good knowledge for the game and can shoot from outside.”
Freshman Valerie Jones, a 5-foot-10 guard, was named to the Dothan Eagle Super 12, all-state honorable mention and was selected to the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game after averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and 1.5 blocks as a senior at Charles Henderson High School.
“Valerie is a long, athletic slasher that will give us some good minutes off the bench,” said Dunn. “She is at her best driving to the basket and is a good rebounder.”
Freshman Ashanti Williams, a 5-foot-6 combo guard, tallied more than 1,000 career points and was a McDonald All-America candidate, first team all-state, first team all-county (Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel) and Sun-Seninal Fab 5 as a senior at Suncoast High School.
“Ashanti is the most versatile of the new guards and she will give us important minutes,” said Dunn. “She has quickness, a nice pull-up jumper and has a scorers mentality.”
Experience, athleticism and added depth will help in the transition to fill the void left by Ashley Williams in 2008-09.
Juniors Crystal Grable and Desarae Johnson will provide leadership and experience at the position.
Grable will be a force on the boards and in the paint with her tremendous leaping ability and the ability to beat defenders up the court in transition.
“Grable can easily be our best rebounder and will get added minutes on the front line,” said Dunn. “She is the most athletic person on the squad and is getting more comfortable in our system."
Johnson can hit the face up mid-range jumper, crashes the boards well and is a force defensively with her shot blocking ability.
“Desarae has worked harder than anyone this offseason,” Dunn said. “She has improved her outside skills and her one-on-one moves, but we need to find ways to get her opportunities to score. She will get more comfortable and confident with the more playing time she gets.”
Joining the returners will be sophomore Lynsey Paschal. A hard worker in the post, Paschal has shown a soft shooting touch, solid post defense and good rebounding skills in her first season and will look to contribute more.
“Lynsey has improved more than anyone in the post,” said Dunn. ”She has shown promise with her back to the basket and can step out and hit the shot from 18 feet. Her development will enhance as the year progresses.”
Freshman Jasmine Coleman, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward, helped Walters State Junior College to a combined 53-15 record, back-to-back state titles and a pair of national tournament appearances. She will play mostly in the post but also has the ability to play on the wing during the season.
“Jasmine has a sweet stroke and great size for the three position,” said Dunn. “She has deep three-point range, can go down in the post and will create mismatches at either position. She is also a proven winner after going to the Sweet 16 in junior college for two years.”
Sophomore Taneskei Richardson, a 6-foot forward, earned first team all-Mid-Florida Conference honors last year after helping Santa Fe Community College to a 20-7 record and a second-place finish in the district with an average of 12 points and six rebounds.
“Taneskei is a local kid who can cause match up problems,” said Dunn. “She has three-point range, can take her defender off the dribble and has a scoring threat mentality.”
Although anyone of the forwards could step into the five spot, the Dolphins have one true center at their disposal.
Junior Danielle Gray brings the most experience to the table of the returning post players after logging 39 starts in two seasons. Another tremendous worker under the basket, Gray runs the floor well and has a instinct for getting to the free-throw line.
“Danielle is our banger inside,” Dunn said. “She is our best defender in the post and a hard nosed rebounder. She has been working on her post moves and aggresiveness going to the basket.”
11 Days of A-Sun Basketball Schedule