Dwelling on 6-24?
The Penn State women’s basketball team has put the worst season in program history in the rearview mirror.
“It’s already gone,” center Candice Agee said. “It’s been gone. We’re already looking to next November.”
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“We’re calling this offseason ‘an improvement season,’” guard Sierra Moore said. “It’s like night and day. We’re on to next year. We’re so excited to get back into the gym and get better.”
“Growth, improvement, getting better” were the buzzwords as the Lady Lions held their season wrap-up news conference on Wednesday.
Despite the poor record, Penn State coach Coquese Washington maintains she saw positives.
“What I’d like to see is continued growth from where we finished the season,” she said. “I thought we did some pretty good things as we closed down the season.”
The Lady Lions (3-15) tied for the bottom spot in the standings in a league that placed half its members (seven) in the NCAA Tournament. Washington knows that multiple areas have to improve in order to join that group next March.
“I’d like to see our post game continue to grow and be a bright spot for us next year,” the three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year said. “I think Candice has a chance to be one of the more dominant post players, certainly in our conference.
“I’d like to see us continue to grow in our ability to create easy shots for ourselves. In our transition game, we can stand continued improvements on our conversion rate ... and we certainly have to grow defensively.”
Agee, who will be a senior next season, averaged 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds and blocked a team-leading 53 shots in the first extended action of her career.
“I don’t think I accomplished everything that I wanted to do, but I got really close,” the 6-foot-6 Agee said. “It’s really encouraging for me to know that I’m almost there. It makes me want to go further and further and even if I were to hit my goals to keep going.”
Moore, a converted shooting guard, ran the point the near the end of the season and led the team with 116 assists on top of a 12.1 scoring average.
“We’re really determined,” Moore said. “We all have that fight inside of us. We’re determined to get better.”
And help is on the way.
The Lady Lions bring in a talented group of four freshmen — guards Amari Carter and Teniya Page and post players Ashanti Thomas and Jaylen Williams — who are ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes in the nation.
“When I look at the additions of our incoming freshmen, I think some of the gaps that we have they certainly address those, in particular outside shooting and the ability to create shots for their teammates,” said Washington, whose team was outscored 669-222 from three-point range last season.
There’s also help coming from transfer Brianna Banks, who was part of two national championship teams at Connecticut. Banks sat out the season per NCAA rules, but practiced with the team.
“You see the big smile come across my face,” said Washington when asked about Banks, whom she compares with Lady Lion greats Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas. “She’s fantastic. She is a dynamic player. She’s explosive offensively and impactful on defense. She’s the kind of player — at least in practice so far — that is like Alex and Maggie in that her confidence rubs off on everybody else and elevates the play of her teammates. She plays really hard and makes plays — whether it’s defensive or offensive plays. We’re excited to have her suit up.”
It’s no more excited than Banks will be next fall.
“Looking forward is not even the word,” Banks said. “I’m beyond excited. I just hope that the work that I’ve put in in the offseason is more than enough to get us where we need to be in the regular season.”
Washington said the work in the next few months will be key to helping the Lady Lions turn things around.
They lose just two players — starting post player Tori Waldner (5.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and walk-on Molly Dincher (who played just five minutes all season). In addition to Moore (the only player to start all 30 games) and Agee, Lindsey Spann, Kaliyah Mitchell, Peyton Whitted, Jenny DeGraaf, Alex Harris and Keke Sevillian each started at least one game this season.
Those players are responsible for their own work before the coaches get limited access to them in the summer.
“The reality is, it’s still primarily work they have to do on their own,” Washington said. “The NCAA gives us two hours a week for eight weeks. That’s 16 hours with the coaches and when you look at that its about a 1 1/2 weeks during the regular season. It’s not an inordinate amount of time that they’re with us, but it’s just enough time for us to be able to reinforce things and give feedback. But, the majority and the bulk of getting better is done when the coaches aren’t in the gym.
“When you look at it, it’s not a lot of time, but we’ll take the cookie crumbs,” Washington added. “We’ll take what we can get.”
The summer also will bring the freshman class to campus to join their older teammates for summer school and workouts. Washington said all four freshmen should be enrolled.
While the Penn State coach said finding classrooms and the gym is the focus for a freshman, players say it’s also a key time to incorporate the new players.
“It’s extremely important, mainly because of the freshmen,” Banks said of the summer session. “It shows them the type of discipline and hard work you need to play in a program like this.”
Washington said she sees the same grit between these players and those on the 2010 team, which suffered a tough 75-73 loss to DePaul in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“That loss was heartbreaking, but it sparked a fire in that team,” Washington said. “That offseason, they were all individually motivated to get better and to play better because they wanted a different result. That next year, we won the Big Ten and went to the Sweet 16.
“I see a lot of similarities with this team. They’re really highly motivated to get better so they can have a different result next year.”
Moore vows that will happen.
“We like to win,” Moore said. “We’re going to win. ... It’s only going to get better from here.”
Notes: Washington said Carter, who missed her high school season with a knee injury, is expected to be at 100 percent when the Lady Lions open play in November. ... At UConn, Banks was always readying at this time of the season for March Madness and a run at the national title. “I’m used to playing right now,” she said. “Having more offseason time is kind of weird for me right now. I’m happy to get some work in.”