2009-10 USC Women's Basketball Season Outlook
Nov. 6, 2009
Somewhere across town, Michael Cooper has been getting a USC history lesson for the past eight years. Now, Cooper is prepped to make his own place in the Trojan history books. USC's new head coach was at the helm of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks - starring Trojan great Lisa Leslie - through two WNBA Championships and five Western Conference titles. Now, Cooper takes his hoops smarts to the collegiate level as the man in charge of the 2009-10 USC women's basketball team.
Together with a well-rounded staff of associate head coach Ervin Monier and assistants Kelley Gibson and Mary Wooley, Michael Cooper (who as a player was an NBA champion Los Angeles Laker for 12 seasons) takes over a Women of Troy roster heaped with potential and balanced by experience and youth.
'This is hopefully a new day in Trojan women's basketball,' Cooper said. 'We're trying to recapture some of the traditions that have been here. Our coaching staff is going to come out and try to do the best we can.'
Cooper and Co. replace Mark Trakh and his staff, who guided the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA appearances before injuries rocked the USC rosters and the Women of Troy came up short of the postseason for the past three seasons.
For 2009-10, the USC women look to build on last season's Pac-10 Tournament success - which saw the Trojans upset ranked Arizona State and California en route to USC's first-ever appearance in the Pac-10 Tournament championship game - and return to status as a conference and NCAA title contender.
'We're a very talented team,' Cooper said. 'The biggest hindrance we have to get over is our injuries. A lot of these players are very talented, but slowly but surely we're making our way back through that. I think the biggest thing is that we're a very talented team in terms of shooting the basketball from the perimeter. I think if we're a little short, it would be our bigs. The fact is that were not a very tall team, but the fact is we're a team that's going to compete every minute we're on the floor.
'Our goal is to win an NCAA title, but our first and primary goal is to win a Pac-10 title.'
Following last season's 17-15 overall record, which was USC's sixth consecutive winning season and fifth straight with at least 17 wins, five Women of Troy earned All-Pac-10 honors. Two of those players - point guard Camille LeNoir and center Nadia Parker - have graduated. The other three - Ashley Corral, Briana Gilbreath and Heather Oliver - accounted for almost 40 percent of USC's scoring in 2008-09.
The 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Gilbreath was USC's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder last season. By her side is fellow sophomore Corral, who set the high 3-point mark for the Trojans and also won Pac-10 acclaim in her freshman year. On the senior side of things, Pac-10 All-Defensive honoree and noted 3-point threat Oliver returns along with captain Aarika Hughes and the versatile Hailey Dunham. Hughes and Dunham are the only Trojans to have played the past three seasons, although miscellaneous injuries pulled them in and out of the lineup. Healthy and hungry to get going as senior leaders on the squad, Hughes and Dunham bring invaluable experience to USC's talented roster.
Anchoring the paint for her third season at Troy is junior center Kari LaPlante, who appeared in every game last season and looms large as a 6-foot-5 threat down low. Sophomore Michelle Jenkins also saw time on the post in her first year as a Trojan. Daniela Roark and Michelle Franco hit the floor a few times last season and put some points on the board for the Women of Troy.
Altogether, USC has nine players returning from active duty on the 2008-09 roster, while a pair of Trojans have been waiting in the wings to join their teammates in competition. Both McDonald's All-Americans on the way out of their high school careers, Jacki Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath both fell prey to repeat knee injuries and have yet to see gametime as Women of Troy. Gemelos has been sidelined since entering USC in 2006 - missing three complete seasons and likely out until January 2010 as she heals up from a fourth knee surgery. Gilbreath also came to USC after undergoing knee surgery in 2007 and was on pace to play alongside her younger sister Briana for their first seasons in 2008, but Stefanie reinjured her knee and missed the 2008-09 season. In another frustrating turn of events, Stefanie has suffered another knee injury during the offseason and will be out once again for her third consecutive year on the sidelines.
If you're keeping count, the return of Jacki Gemelos to action bulks up the tally of active McDonald's All-Americans on the USC roster. With Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath as the resident All-Americans who very unfortunately fell victim to injuries, 2008 McDonald's All-Americans Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath move into relative veteran status. Gemelos, Corral and the Gilbreath sisters can now count one more elite prep product among their posse, as incoming freshman Christina Marinacci joins the USC roster as an All-American honoree for the 2009-10 campaign.
The influx of All-American talent should help counter the loss of All-Pac-10 mainstays LeNoir and Parker as well as the graduation of USC's all-time 3-point leader Brynn Cameron. And although their graduation and the unfortunate loss of Stefanie Gilbreath for another season does change the look for the 2009-10 Trojans, USC returns a strong group for an exciting roster bolstered further by new freshman Marinacci. Marinacci and Vicky Tagalicod comprise USC's new freshman class, but Marinacci will stand alone on the court this season following a repeat knee injury suffered by Tagalicod. The Hawai'i product had torn her ACL during high school and recently reinjured that knee, forcing Tagalicod to the sidelines for her first season at USC.
With a new coaching staff in place and early injuries, the Trojans' trajectory may appear unpredictable. Word on the street, however, is that Cooper is a stickler for hard work, and the Women of Troy have jumped right on board to the up-tempo plan of attack.
'They know I'm a different coach and I have a sense of humor, but there's a work ethic attached to it,' Cooper said. 'Obviously we're going to come with the defensive intensity and our offense will be opened up to where it will be exciting for the fans.'
The Women of Troy tacked up big numbers in 2008-09, thanks to a high-powered 3-point push that put USC second in the Pac-10 in 3-point percentage (.348) and second in overall offense (72.9 ppg). All told, Cooper has some good numbers to work with as he and his staff mold their Trojans for conference competition and a run at the postseason.
As in 2009, postseason play kicks off on USC's home court. At the 2009 Pac-10 Tournament at the Galen Center, the Trojans served up a quarterfinal upset of then-No. 16 Arizona State before taking down No. 2 California in the semifinals. The Trojans turned a lot of heads with their late push during the conference tourney, and they'll have a chance to take the tournament by storm once again with the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament coming back to the Galen Center from March 11-14.
'Our schedule is pretty good,' Cooper said 'You have to crawl before you walk, and this is a good way to build credibility for the Pac- 10. I think if we do well this year, you better believe we'll see more of the top teams here.
'I see myself being here for quite a while. One of the things I want to establish is going to back to the tradition of the `83 and `84 teams, and that's not going to happen overnight. I know the process is going to be tedious; it's going to be a journey, but I think our coaching staff and players are ready.'