2012 Big Ten Basketball Media Day Coverage
Head coach Suzy Merchant, senior Courtney Schiffauer and junior Klarissa Bell spent Thursday in Chicago
Oct. 25, 2012
Suzy Merchant: Well, it's exciting to think about another season upon us. That's for sure. You know, we've had an interesting off season. We've graduated some key kids off last year's team, but the youth that we have is really exciting and kids are going to be very impactful right out of the gates.
The issue with that is that we've got nine freshmen and sophomores, so we're a very young team but very talented, too. We're looking forward to the challenge of the Big Ten, and some of those kids are red shirt freshmen, so they really understand the rigors and the challenges of the Big Ten without having used a season of eligibility. They have a little different sense about them. But we're excited.
Can you just kind of talk about how Madison Williams has progressed and how she's looked at practices?
Suzy Merchant: It's nice to think of her as a freshman because basically that's what she is in her third season. She'll be a kid that we apply for that sixth year later down the road. But it's been a challenge a little bit. She's doing well, she's practicing. Our team of people do an amazing job just checking on the status of her knees all the time. She does get some swelling in there, but I was kidding her the other day, I'm like, you're a pencil that swallowed a grape. That's just how she's built. She's a stick. So she swells a little bit there in her knees. The big thing is that we stay on top of it medically and from a conditioning standpoint, as well.
As coaches we meet every day with our trainer and strength and conditioning coach just to make sure we have a good plan for her that day.
You mentioned the young kids. Who are some of the young kids who are standing out right now who I might not know about who are going to show up real early?
Suzy Merchant: Well, Aerial Powers is an incredible swing guy. She can play a 3. Eventually I think she'll be someone that can go back and forth between a 3 or a 4. She's out of Detroit Country Day, like a 6'0", 6'1", creates her own shot, athletic, and long. She has some catch up to do a little bit defensively, certainly like most incoming freshmen at this level, but is a real talented kid, a real talented scorer.
The other one that she's a little bit hindered with an injury right now but we're going to get her back here shortly is Brandi Agee out of Detroit Cass Tech. On the 1st of October they put a pin in the outside of her foot. She had a fifth metatarsal crack on the outside bone of her left foot. They put that pin in, and it's usually a six week thing. We're thinking she might miss two or three games early. She's an unbelievable athlete and talent. She can handle it, she can shoot it, and she can get to the rim, very competitive. I see those two freshmen as being very impactful for us.
I was asked about Madison Williams. Hopefully we all see her. I think Becca Mills as a sophomore has really had a great summer. She did some nice things for us last year as a freshman, and this summer she's really had a nice off season, as well.
When you have those injuries and you've got people in and out of practice and they can only go do so much, how difficult is it to have a feel for what you have and how you're going to start the season?
Suzy Merchant: I appreciate that. That is an interesting dilemma that we have every day, and we have to play a lot of different combinations given our situation. Right now the nice thing is on the women's side that we have a scout team that helps us a little bit, so we can try those combinations against other kids while maybe some like a Maddie might not be able to do that drill perhaps. We have a situation with Brandi she can walk through some stuff, but she can't do anything live. We've had a lot of those in and out type kids playing multiple positions.
For us we've used our scout team, who is as good of a scout team as I've seen, to be honest with you. Two of the guys have tried out for Izzo's team and have practiced with them. They're like borderline could make it, and I'll tell you, that's never happened before. They're a very talented group of guys, which helps us obviously get better.
And that's one thing we needed to do early with all of our injuries early on.
What do you expect from the new coaches in the league?
Suzy Merchant: There's no question that every hire that's come through has been one that's impressive and done some amazing things nationally with the programs they were at, so I'm excited. Our league is just getting better and better. They certainly come from programs that they themselves helped build and take it to an extremely high level. They certainly know what recruiting is all about; they know what it's going to take in the rigors of the next level.
Curt, Matt and Kim will do a very, very good job in the league. They each have their own systems and styles that they're going to bring to our conference, which some we've seen, some we haven't seen, and it's to be determined.
I'm excited for it. Those are three great hires for the Big Ten conference.
I know you'd like to see Jasmine Thomas slow down a little bit in the way she plays. What speed has she been playing at in practices and what kind of leadership?
Suzy Merchant: That's a great question. The three things I just talked to her about right now, the only three things that matter from my perspective just to keep her focused on; number one is ball security and that comes with exactly what you said, the pace that she keeps and the decisions that she makes and you can't go so fast that you don't take the ball with you. You can't go so fast your teammates don't know what we're in. That is something that we talk about with ball security.
Having more of a commanding presence, going offense to defense, defense to offense, I mean, you need a point guard out there that's really loud and aggressive and has that commanding presence.
The last thing for me is to challenge her defensively. She's a world class athlete. She's an amazing specimen that way, and she should be able to keep people in front of her and do a really good job for us defensively.
When you ask me about her, especially early on with some of our limitations, it's going to fall on her lap a little bit here out of the gates, and those are three things our team really needs the most.
Preseason schedule built for a young team, just to get some success both at home and on the road?
Suzy Merchant: I think so. We knew we were going to lose a lot of kids and we'd have a big incoming freshman class. And in some ways it's kind of worked out with some of the injuries that we didn't think we'd have that we do have and a couple other issues. It's certainly going to challenge us, though. When you have a young team that's never been there and done it, it is a little interesting.
I mentioned Maddie. She has a difference presence about her now. Klarissa Bell has had a great off season and is doing an amazing job in practice with leadership and being a scorer.
We don't have to rely on all freshmen, but they're going to be impactful and a big part of what we do early on. That's a you never know kind of territory. But we're excited. It's really about getting the entire team back healthy and ready to go for Big Tens, which we fully anticipate happening.
You played against Wisconsin, Green Bay in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. Can you tell me what you know about Coach Bollant from that experience?
Suzy Merchant: Well, they beat us. I remember that.
No, they run that motion offense, actually a lot like what Michigan did because Kevin put it in at Green Bay before he came to U of M, and then when Matt got the job up there, he just kept it and built in his own little details that he'd like to see within it.
They share the ball well within that system. Defensively, they do a really nice job of switching screens and being in help side. They really, really do a good job of not letting you get the ball in the paint, and they'll switch 1 through 5 screens, and that's tough to play against sometimes.
Those kids were physical and tough. They were a veteran group when we played them. They had two, Players of the Year in that conference that were co players of the year that were seniors that year. They were really tough nosed kids.
That's what he'll bring, as well. He's got a talented group there at Illinois. There's some really, really high level pieces there. Amber Moore can really shoot it, you've got Penn inside, you got GodBold, you've got Magrum, you've got a lot of kids there that really can do some things and fit into the style that I've seen him play at Green Bay. They'll have some success early and maybe more than people expect early.
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