The VCU women’s basketball team will open the 2012-13 season tonight at Elon after undergoing a complete makeover in the offseason. The Rams welcome new coaches, new players and a new “high-octane“ playing style in its inaugural season in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The signs point to a rebuilding season, however there are a number of bright spots. Team personnel seem energetic and excited for the program’s future in the hands of Head Coach Marlene Stollings.
The offseason proved to be tough on the program. Four players graduated from last year’s 19-win WNIT team. Former head coach Beth Cunningham accepted a position at her alma mater, Notre Dame. Additionally, four players who were eligible to play this year have left the program (including top-recruit Jenice Winters).
Newly hired Coach Stollings and her staff responded well, adding Kaneisha Atwater (FR) – one of the best rated recruits in VCU history. Atwater, a PARADE All-American, originally signed with ODU but did not play a game. Ryen Henry, a junior transfer from Hampton U., was added as a walk-on by the current staff for depth at the forward position. Both players join a VCU roster of mostly newcomers and role-players in past seasons. Stollings may have her work cut out for her, but each Ram has growth potential. The cupboard is no where near empty.
Junior guard/forward Robyn Parks is the only player who returns significant statistics to the frontcourt (6.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg). Parks started 15 games and averaged 20.4 minutes per contest. She was fourth on the team in shot attempts, making 38% of them. She showed tremendous upside last season, reminiscent of recent graduates Krystal Vaughan and Kita Waller, before suffering a debilitating foot injury. A healthy Parks returning is a huge bright spot.
Joining Parks in the frontcourt are upperclassmen Daphne Adebayo (SR), Shekinah Henry (JR) and Ryen Henry. Adebayo played in 29 games last season, averaging 8.7 mpg, and showed good improvement on defense. She possesses the speed and athleticism to fit into Stollings’ fast-paced system on the defensive end. Shekinah Henry suffered significant injuries over her career to date, but has excellent potential in the paint as a tough physical presence. Ryen Henry was a late addition to the Rams’ roster, but brings Division I experience to a frontcourt without much of it.
The three freshmen on the inside could make a big difference in the Rams’ offensive output. Melanie Royster (RS-FR) redshirted last season after suffering a knee-injury. A top 40 center out of high school, she has the speed, size and athleticism to be a lock-down defender in the paint. Adaeze Alaeze-Dinma (FR) was a top 65 small forward rated 3-star by ESPN in high school and has good scoring abilities on the wing. Janniina Koivunen (FR) was a top 200 player in high school and brings a high basketball IQ and scoring versatility to the Ram frontcourt. The Rams will likely depend on Parks heavily on the wing, with both PF and C positions being played by committee.
Senior combo guard Robyn Hobson can have a breakout senior season. She was a starter down the stretch last year averaging 6.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg in the final 14 games. Hobson has the intensity on both sides of the floor to lead the Rams in the backcourt. Hobson is joined by fellow senior Carleeda Green, who averaged 16.4 mpg and suffered a concussion during the season. Green, a former top 15 JUCO guard recruit, has good skills dishing the ball and showed solid shooting ability last season.
Junior Zakia Williams did not see significant minutes last season, but showed potential on the defensive end in spurts with her intensity-level. Freshmen Atwater and Jessica Pellechio are potential scoring threats. Atwater can create scoring opportunities for herself and others and is a good defender with great speed and growth potential. Pellechio is a pure shooter and scorer with many accolades from her high school career. This backcourt has good talent and potential. Consistency (especially with ballhandling) will likely be a key determining factor in who earns the most playing time.
Preseason All Atlantic-10 Poll
The Rams are picked to finish 13th of 16 Atlantic 10 programs. The A-10 will be tremendously competitive this year, with six different teams receiving first-place votes.
Stollings’ green light approach is just in time for the Rams, who return only 20% of its offense from a year ago (last in the A-10).
Although this team is young, it does possess raw talent, versatility, athleticism and defensive ability. Stollings’ system is “high-octane” in pace, energy and offensive attack. The roster is full of players who can excel in a system like this.
Stollings will not hesitate giving the green light to capable shooters who prove themselves in practice. This should spread the offense a lot more than in the past, as more players will likely handle the basketball and create their own shots.
One thing is for certain – no matter this year’s W-L record, watching this team should be entertaining to say the least. The style of play, if executed and controlled well, could lead to many surprises in a 14-game A-10 conference. All of these factors may be blessings in disguise for Stollings and staff. They have an immediate opportunity to make this program their own, from Day One.
This Week’s Schedule
The Rams will play three games in the next six days on the road:
Monday, November 12, 2012 @Elon (0-1)
The Phoenix are coming off of a 44-77 loss at South Carolina on Friday. They return four starters and 10 total letterwinners from last year’s 16-14 season. They finished 5th in the SoCon with a 12-8 record, and were picked to finish 5th again this season.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 @Manhattan (0-1)
The Jaspers lost a tough one at home to Towson in OT on Saturday. They return three starters and 8 total letterwinners from a 18-16 squad a year ago. They finished 3rd in the MAAC with a 10-8 record, and were picked to finish 8th this year.
Saturday, November 17, 2012 @Old Dominion (1-0)
The Monarchs picked up a blowout 55-35 win at Virginia Tech on Friday. They will take on USC-Upstate at home on Tuesday before hosting the Rams on Saturday. They return three starters and seven total letterwinners from an 11-21 2011-12 campaign. They were picked to finish 5th in the CAA this season.