Penn State coach Coquese Washington got a pretty good look at the Big Ten’s future while at the Final Four in Nashville.
Maryland advanced to the NCAA semifinals before falling to Notre Dame. The Terrapins will join the Big Ten next season, along with Rutgers.
Both are storied programs.
Maryland won the NCAA title in 2006. Rutgers made it to the title game the next season.
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“I think it’s going to make for an even more competitive Big Ten championship race,” Washington said of the addition of the two teams. “Certainly Maryland and Rutgers bring some great athleticism to the conference. They both are going to bring styles of play that are going to be fun for our fans to watch and some new rivalries are goin to develop.”
Washington said she did not talk to Maryland’s Brenda Frese or Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer during the Final Four, but has spoken to them during the season.
“I know they are excited about coming into the conference,” Washington said. “In particular, it will now be three teams on the East Coast. We will be able to build some strong rivalries where our fans and their fans can travel to games.”
Washington’s players are excited, too.
“It’s great that they’re all East Coast,” said sophomore Sierra Moore, who played against the Terrapins during her freshman season at Duke. “Knowing that we have good competition is only going to make us better.”
Monday night’s WNBA Draft and the next two days went in totally opposite directions for a couple of Lady Lion teammates.
Maggie Lucas was selected in the second round with the 21st pick by the Phoenix Mercury.
Teammates Ariel Edwards and Dara Taylor weren’t as fortunate. Neither were selected and neither have yet to be invited to a WNBA camp as a free agent.
That teams have not shown an interest in Edwards is a bit of a surprise. The 6-foot-3 swing player, a first team All-Big Ten selection, was projected as a third-round pick.
“It’s not looking like I’m getting a tryout,” Edwards said. “I’m probably going to go play overseas and get into the WNBA that way. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen to good players all of the time.”
“I don’t know the science of the draft, but the draft isn’t the end of anybody’s story. Whether you get drafted or not, everybody has got to try out. Some people get invited to trials and some people don’t. Some people go overseas for a year and the all of a sudden get drafted and invited to camps. I’m not too worried about it. I’m not discouraged by it. It’s just a little bump in the road.”
She says she “definitely” will use her current situation as motivation.
“You want people to think that you’re a good player and need to draft you. ... If people really didn’t feel a need for you, that’s something that’s definitely going to motivate me. That’s the type of player I’ve always been. I always feel like I’ve kind of been underrated and that’s worked to my advantage. Not that it’s great that I don’t get to play this WNBA season, but I’ll have a whole year to get better and to come back with a different kind of fight in me that people hven’t seen before.
Edwards came on strong at the end of the season. She led the Lady Lions in scoring in four of the last six games, scoring 22 or more in each.
“I definitely still feel like I’m on the way up,” Edwards said. “I feel like I just kind of figured it out almost. It’s kind of a strange feeling. A lot of players in their freshmen year got into that groove. I feel like I just hit it. That’s exciting for me. I really have some time to get better.”
Taylor, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, also was hoping to get an invite to training camp.
“It was kind of one of those years where team’s rosters got filled up,” said Taylor, who averaged a career-high 11.7 points and led the Big Ten in steals. “Things didn’t fall into place.
“I watched the draft and I saw where some people went and some of the picks the teams made. It was just one of those years that things didn’t fall the right way.”
Like Edwards, Taylor is looking to foreign lands for an opportunity to play professionally.
“I’m definitely going to go overseas when that season starts,” she said. “Right now, I’m just working out and staying ready for whatever is next.”
Lucas said she is still waiting for specifics, but she’s likely headed to Phoenix next week.
“It’s crazy,” she said of the whirlwind after the draft. “When I went home, I brought like half my apartment because I could be out of here in I don’t know when.”
Lucas hoped that she has found a good fit on a roster that features Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner.
“Everyone said last year in the playoffs that they really needed another knock-down shooter,” Lucas said. “Diana would get doubled and posts would be doubled. That’s my focus going out there — knocking down open shots.”
Lucas confirmed that she was not invited to State Farm College Slam Dunk Contest & 3-Point Championships that were held April 3 in Dallas prior to the men’s Final Four. Lucas, who set a Big Ten record and is 11th all-time with 365 3-pointers, said she would have participated if she had been invited. Nebraska’s Jordan Hooper, who had 295 career 3-pointers, was the lone Big Ten invitee and placed fourth.
With assistant coach Maren Walseth’s departure to take the head coaching position at North Dakota State, Washington has the first opening on her staff since Itoro Coleman left in 2010.
Washington said there is no timetable to find a replacement.
“There’s no rush,” she said. “I really want to find a good fit — somebody who is going to be good fit with our staff, brings a collaborative viewpoint of the workplace and help us continue to grow as a program.”
Washington said it is a goal of her program to help her assistants land head coaching positions.
“We talk about the growth of our players, but also the growth of our coaches and office staff,” she said. “We want our assistants to be coaches who can work with our program and prepare themselves to take over and be head coaches on their own.”
Washington wished Walseth, a former Penn State standout, the best of luck.
“She is Penn State,” Washington said. “We’ll miss her. We’re happy for her and proud of her that she’s got this opportunity and I know she’s going to do a fantastic job.”
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