2002-03 Women's Basketball Outlook
Oct. 11, 2002
TEMPE, Ariz. - When Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne says that her 2002-03 team will hit the ground running, she means it in more ways than one.
The seventh-year Sun Devil head coach could be talking about how her young team, featuring six newcomers and just two returning starters, will have to learn quickly as they look to defend Arizona State's back-to-back Pac-10 Conference championships and make a school-record third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
She could be talking about how the team will play a challenging schedule that features seven straight home games to open the year and a host of strong teams, including the Dec. 7 AstraZeneca Hoops for the Cure Classic II matchup with 2001 NCAA champion Notre Dame.
Or Turner Thorne could mean that her team will literally hit the court running, as the fastest, most athletic Sun Devil team that she has had since coming to Tempe.
'Obviously we've had talented teams over the last two to three years that have won Pac-10 championships and advanced to the postseason, but we will have a different look this year,' the 2001 Pac-10 Coach of the Year said. 'We're faster and more athletic than we've ever been. That has not necessarily been a real strength of our team in the past. I am so excited for this year because of the newness and the potential of our team.'
That 'newness' is evident from a quick glance at the Sun Devils' roster which features no seniors, three juniors, including a junior college transfer, four sophomores and five freshmen. But even though she will have a young, inexperienced team, Turner Thorne does not think that should slow the Sun Devils at all, especially given the fact that her 'young, inexperienced' team is made up of All-Americans, state champions and league and state players of the year.
'There will be challenges in terms of learning fast for six new players and four sophomores. We will need to teach fast, but we definitely have every expectation that we will take the next step and continue to compete for the Pac-10 championship and progress in the NCAA Tournament,' she said. 'We have established a tradition here at Arizona State. By no means because we're young, do we feel that it will be necessary to lose any momentum or get away from that.
'From a coaching standpoint, it's exciting to have such a young, innocent team that doesn't really know what to expect, yet is coming in with a championship mentality. The thing that we need to do most as coaches is keep it simple and not mess them up, just let them go out and play and do the things that these young players have done their whole careers. They are all used to winning and are an incredibly competitive group.'Turner Thorne is also excited about the depth and aggressiveness that her team should bring to the court in 2002-03.
'I know that we will have players who are inconsistent because of their youth, but I also know that we have players who can step right in for each other. We plan on replacing the scoring, defense or rebounding by utilizing all 12 players on our roster,' she said. 'Last year, we had a few key injuries in the middle of the conference season, and we lost some games. I think that more than ever, we are in a position to have a player miss a week or two, and we will hopefully not miss a beat.
'Another thing that will continue to be a strength of ours is how hard we play. We have continued to recruit players who are not only great basketball players but have a tremendous work ethic and just play hard. We can make up for a lot of youthfulness with our aggressiveness and effort. We are also more committed to the transition game than we ever have been. We've finally reached a point where every player on our roster is essentially built to run. That will be huge emphasis in the preseason and beyond for us. We are going to try to get out on every possession and get a basket and really create a full-court game.'
If any part of this year's Sun Devil team can be labeled experienced, it is Arizona State's backcourt where Turner Thorne has the luxury of two returning starters in junior Betsy Boardman and sophomore Kylan Loney who each started all 34 games last year.While the Sun Devils have a big void to fill with the graduation of two-time All-Pac-10 selection Amanda Levens, the team's scoring leader in each of the previous two seasons, Turner Thorne is confident that Boardman and Loney and ASU's cast of newcomers are up to the challenge.
After two seasons as a youngster, Boardman heads into her junior year as a veteran and one of the team's leaders after starting all 65 games and playing just about every position on the floor in her career. She finished fourth on the team in scoring and third in rebounding last year and has led the team in steals in each of the last two seasons. This summer, Boardman was invited to the USA Basketball Junior National Team Trials for the second straight year and will look to be one of the Sun Devils' go-to players in her junior year.
'It's hard to believe that Betsy is already a junior. She's done more in her first two years than many players do in a four-year career, and yet she has two more years left,' Turner Thorne said. 'Betsy will certainly be a go-to player for us and a leader on our team. She is a proven scorer, rebounder and defender in one of the best conferences in the country. She knows a challenge for her is her durability as people start to key on her. Betsy has worked hard to build strength so that she can combat the fact that she is going to have the best defender on her every game. With her added strength this year, her versatility will only be enhanced, and she is going to be ready to work hard and make great decisions.'
Loney returns after bursting onto the Pac-10 scene and starting all 34 games at point guard as a true freshman last year. She finished second on the team in assists last season, setting the school record for assists as a freshman with 104. An honorable-mention Pac-10 All-Freshman selection, Loney heads into the 2002-03 season more comfortable and confident with ASU's system and will look to pick up more of the scoring load for the Sun Devils this year.
'Obviously Kylan had a phenomenal freshman year, starting every game at point guard on a veteran team. Last year, Kylan was trying to get comfortable with running the show in a big-time program, playing great defense and doing the things that she absolutely had to do,' Turner Thorne said. 'I've already seen from Kylan that she is ready to add to that by being a scorer, taking on a more aggressive attitude in running our transition offense and being our floor leader. She showed all of those things last year, but I think people are going to see her a year more confident and a year more mature, and maybe most importantly, they are going to see how Kylan can score. She is a great shooter and has a great mid-range game. I know she is ready to step in and have a great sophomore year.'
Joining Boardman and Loney in the backcourt is a pair of returning letterwinners who also saw significant playing time last year in sophomores Carrie Buckner and Lauren Stagg. Buckner emerged as one of the top defensive players in the conference last season, finishing second on the team in steals with 38 and averaging 4.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. In her sophomore year, Buckner will look to make even more of an impact on the offensive end while still bringing her defensive mentality to the court.
'I was extremely proud of Carrie's freshman year. She brought so much intensity, and her rebounding and defense were pivotal in our success,' Turner Thorne said. 'I think we can expect Carrie to really help pick up the scoring load this season. With her combination of strength, explosiveness, speed and skills, there are not too many people who are going to be able to guard her one on one. I wouldn't be surprised if Carrie is our leading rebounder in addition to one of our top scorers.'
Stagg should also have much more of an impact on both ends of the court after spending her first year learning ASU's system. She played in 29 games last year, dishing out 33 assists, and spent her summer in Australia playing with Calgary Out West, a Canadian provincial club team. According to Turner Thorne, Stagg has worked hard in the offseason and should have a major impact as a sophomore, especially in the Sun Devils' transition game.
'Lauren is an amazingly talented guard who has endless potential because of her combination of size and athleticism. In her first year, she really developed a hunger to work on some of the areas she needed to improve and come back for a more prominent role. Lauren should really be able to help us with her court vision and tremendous passing, especially in our transition game. She has the ability to create shots for others and break defenders down off the dribble as well as use her size and versatility to her advantage on the defensive end as well.'
The Sun Devils will also benefit from the arrival of three talented, athletic newcomers in the backcourt, including a junior college All-American in Iman Young and high school players of the year from Arizona and Oregon in YoVanna Rosenthal and Jill Noe.
Young comes to ASU after earning Kodak All-America honors in each of her two seasons at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. She averaged 15.7 points and 6.2 assists per game in her career and led her Contra Costa team to back-to-back conference championships. Young will look to bring that championship experience and mentality to the court for the Sun Devils in 2002-03.
'As a junior college player a lot of times you're used to seeing great offensive players, but the thing that impressed us the most about Iman is how hard she worked on both ends of the floor,' Turner Thorne said. 'She is a player who understands what it's all about. Iman is so smooth, and her instincts and court awareness are as good as any player who's ever worn a Sun Devil uniform. Iman is going to be incredibly exciting. She's extremely adept at creating shots for other people, but she is equally talented at scoring in her own right.'
The Arizona 4A Player of the Year, Rosenthal is one of two players on the Sun Devil roster from the Valley of the Sun. She comes to ASU after a stellar prep career at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix where she was named her league's player of the year in each of her last three seasons. As a senior, Rosenthal, who can play point and off-guard, led Thunderbird to a 30-1 record and the 4A state championship.
'YoVanna is definitely going to be a crowd favorite. She is just all over the floor every second she's out there,' Turner Thorne said. 'She's going to be a defensive dynamo with her speed and aggressiveness and just lives to run. I'm really looking for her to help fuel our transition game. She's just come from a tremendous Thunderbird High School program where she can probably count on one hand how many games they lost while she was there, so she truly understands what it takes to win and will be ready to bring that to our team this year.'
Noe is the next Sun Devil in a long line of talented, athletic players from the state of Oregon, coming to Tempe from Wilsonsville (Ore.) High School. A two-time Oregon 3A Player of the Year and three-time Tri-Valley League Player of the Year, she led her Wilsonville team to back-to-back state championships. In addition to her basketball successes, Noe, who will play at the wing for the Sun Devils, was also a three-time all-league selection in soccer and won three state track titles.
'Jill can just get out and go; she just flies down the court,' Turner Thorne said. 'Basically she's like one of your primary receivers in football. She's going to be someone who gets down the court and is ready to get the ball and score. Jill has shown tremendous ability to create and finish in the open court and can score every way: mid-range, three-point or taking it all the way to the basket. She is also very capable of creating shots for her teammates, but when she's out on the floor, she's going to make things happen. Her competitive spirit and instincts on both ends of the floor will definitely help us be successful.'
While the Sun Devils have the luxury of two returning starters in the backcourt, the frontcourt was hit hard by the graduation of three senior posts who had started 140 games between them, including ASU's two top rebounders from one year ago in Melody Johnson, a two-time all-conference honoree, and Cian Carvalho.
But while some coaches might look at the lack of returning starters as a dire situation, Turner Thorne sees it as an opportunity for her young players to step up.
Arizona State's frontcourt returns two letterwinners from one year ago in junior Jen Albert and sophomore Alexis Tate. After winning the Coach's Award in each of the last two seasons and being selected as the team's Most Improved Player last year, Albert looks to have a breakout year as a junior after playing behind upperclassmen in each of her first two years. Albert played in all 34 games last year, averaging 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds per game, and showed her ability to step out on the perimeter, knocking down five three-pointers on the year. She spent part of her summer traveling with an Athletes in Action team in Spain and is eager to return to the court for the Sun Devils in 2002-03.
'With the loss of three senior posts, I am expecting Jen to step in and provide a strong presence on offense and defense. We saw glimpses of how good a perimeter shooter Jen is last year, and this season, I am expecting her to open up and build upon that as well as her presence in the block,' Turner Thorne said. 'Besides added scoring and rebounding, we are really looking to Jen for leadership this year. She sets the tone for the team with her attitude and work ethic as well as any player I've coached.'
For Tate, the 2002-03 season will basically be a 'do-over' after having her freshman year marred by a number of injuries that kept her from ever getting into a rhythm. Tate played an average of just 4.8 minutes in 26 games last year but showed her ability to make things in even a short amount of time. She pulled down a career-high six rebounds in just seven minutes in a win over Delaware State and had two points and five rebounds in eight minutes against Washington State. According to Turner Thorne, the potential for a healthy Alexis Tate is unlimited.
'Alexis is the total package: a talented athletic player with great skills. She also has the work ethic and determination to be a great player,' she said. 'Alexis was obviously slowed last year by injuries, but she also had the great experience of playing with and against some of the best post players in the country. I would expect Alexis to give us a great inside-outside presence offensively and to really help us pick up the rebounding we lost to graduation. Alexis will be a major presence on the boards.'
Joining Albert and Tate in the frontcourt is a bevy of three young, talented post players in true freshmen Amy Denson, Kristen Kovesdy and Jenny Thigpin. While all three newcomers bring different strengths, according to Turner Thorne, they all have one thing in common that makes them a perfect fit for the up-tempo style of Sun Devil basketball: versatility.
Denson comes to ASU after starring at Crater High School in Central Point, Ore., where she was named the 2002 Gatorade Player of the Year and the 4A State Player of the Year. A strong, athletic, mature player, Denson led the state of Oregon in scoring at 20.7 points per game as a senior and propelled her team to its second straight conference championship.
'The first time you watch Amy play, you fall in love with her because of her determination and her will to win,' Turner Thorne said. 'She brings great versatility as a 6-1 forward who can play inside and out. She comes from a nationally ranked Crater High School program where the expectations are tremendously high. She should be able to step right in and score and rebound consistently from the start. She will be one of those players who never plays like a freshman. Her maturity on and off the court are exceptional.'
Kovesdy is the second hometown player on this year's Sun Devil roster, heading to Tempe after four standout seasons at tradition-rich St. Mary's High School in Phoenix. A Street & Smith's All-American and a finalist for the McDonald's All-American team last year, Kovesdy earned Desert Valley Player of the Year honors in each of her last two seasons and was named to the St. Mary's 'All-Time Team' as one of the top 25 players in school history.
'Kristen is so versatile. She will really bring us the muscle that we lost in the paint, yet she will also be running with the guards. Kristen really brings everything to the table. She can step outside and hit the three-pointer and is a great passer, and she will certainly do that for us this season,' Turner Thorne said. 'My hope is that she will be able to provide the presence that Melody Johnson had in the low block, backing people in and getting shots in the paint consistently. Kristen comes from a tremendous St. Mary's High School program with a ton of tradition and expectation, and she really understands what it means to be a champion.'
The third incoming freshman in ASU's frontcourt is Thigpin who comes to ASU from Hanford (Calif.) High School where she was the 2002 Visalia Times-Delta Player of the Year. She was also a finalist for the McDonald's and Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American teams and led her team to three league titles in her four years at Hanford.
'I like to say that Jenny has 'mad skills.' She is not only a great athlete, but she was also brought up in a basketball family. Her dad was probably teaching her post moves before she could walk,' Turner Thorne said. 'Consequently, Jenny is a tremendously skilled post player with great instincts. When I saw her in high school, she had moves that some of my senior post players had not perfected. She's not just a scorer; she is a very good passer and an awesome competitor. Her versatility is a perfect fit, and she will definitely have an impact in her first year.'
The Sun Devils will open the 2002-03 schedule with seven consecutive home games at Wells Fargo Arena where the team won its last eight games last year. ASU will face Chicago State and Northern Illinois in the first weekend of action and follow that up with the team's own ASU Holiday Classic Nov. 29-30. This year's tournament field includes Oklahoma State, Portland State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Following the ASU Holiday Classic, the Sun Devils will face Southeastern Conference powerhouse Georgia before playing host to the AstraZeneca Hoops for the Cure Classic II on Dec. 7. Arizona State will face 2001 NCAA Champion Notre Dame in a nationally televised game, followed by Purdue vs. Vanderbilt in the doubleheader which will raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
The Sun Devils will play host to Denver on Dec. 9 and travel to the state of Ohio for a pair of games at Kent State and Akron to wrap up the non-conference slate before heading to the Bay area to open Pac-10 Conference play at Stanford and California in the last week of December.
Arizona State will play five of eight Pac-10 games at home in January with Oregon and Oregon State, UCLA and USC and intrastate rival Arizona coming to Wells Fargo Arena. In February, Washington and Washington State come to Tempe, while the Sun Devils will wrap up conference play with California and Stanford. That final regular-season game vs. the Cardinal on March 1 in a rematch of last year's Pac-10 Tournament championship game which the Sun Devils won to capture the league's first tournament title.
Arizona State will then look to defend that tournament championship March 7-10 at the second annual State Farm Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament. This year's tournament will be held at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.