#WCChoops Women's Basketball Gearing Up For Season
#WCChoops columnist John Crumpacker breaks down an eventful 2017 Tip-Off
By John Crumpacker - #WCCHoops Columnist
LAS VEGAS - Over the course of a few hours spent bopping between tables at the WCC Tip-Off event last week at the Orleans in Las Vegas, it was a toss-up as to what was the best item culled among the conference’s 10 women’s teams.
It could be the fact that at Loyola Marymount, Cal transfer Gabby Green’s father, Will Green, is dating the mother of one of her current teammates, Bree Alford, and has been for some time. Sorry, nothing TMZ-salacious here.
From an academic standpoint, Zykera Rice’s choice of a major at Gonzaga is fascinating as well. The 6-foot-1 forward is taking International Relations with a minor in Arabic. Arabic?
And then there’s Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas. While many men’s coaches over the years have had sons on their teams, Thomas’ son Jacob is one of a rotating group of 10 male practice players the Gaels drill against daily.
All good stuff, lending context to the experience of these student-athletes around the WCC as teams prepare for the 2017-18 season.
Rice was asked about her major, which is certainly different from most of her peers.
“I feel like I learn languages better than math and science,’’ she said.
So, how’s her Arabic?
“I can talk to a five-year-old currently,’’ Rice said, proudly.
As for Green, a 6-2 guard, she spent her first two years at Berkeley but eventually realized, “It just wasn’t the right environment for me.’’
Her dad being in a long-term relationship with the mother of an LMU player made for a convincing recruiting pitch. Green, described as “a nightmare on the scouting report’’ by Portland coach Cheryl Sorenson, will have two years at LMU after sitting out 2016-17.
“There certainly was a family connection,’’ LMU coach Charity Elliott said. “When she was looking for a place to go (after leaving Cal) her dad knew that Bree was happy at LMU. It came down to us and Kentucky. We’re obviously very happy she’s at LMU.’’
Green said her father gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Elliott’s program, stressing “he loved it. He was for LMU all the way, since he had been following Bree the last two years. Bree had positive feedback.’’
With the addition of Green, the Lions hope to improve on their 9-9 finish in conference last year, good for fifth place, as well as their overall record of 14-16.
“I bring experience from being in the Pac-12 and going to the NCAA Tournament for one year,’’ Green said of her time at Cal. “I bring a type of confidence that we can be successful. We can’t be scared to fail, and we can’t be scared to be the best. Being a 6-2 guard is hard to match up with me.’’
At Saint Mary’s, Thomas recalled the enthusiasm of his son when he was a youngster attending games in Moraga:
“He used to run up and down the sidelines imitating the officials.’’
Now that he’s a sophomore at Saint Mary’s, “When we’re on the court, he’s not my son. He’s a practice player. They have a job out there. When we’re not practicing, he’s my son. As a father, it’s so cool to have him out there.’’
Senior guard Stella Beck is Thomas’ best player on what was a 20-13 team a year ago. She was asked her assessment of Jacob Thomas the basketball player.
“He’s great. All our practice players are great,’’ she said. “Jacob is a one- or two-step player. He’ll take the charge. He’s gotten a lot better at shooting.’’
At Pepperdine, the Waves need to get better at everything. They finished 7-23 overall last season, 5-13 in the WCC, and changed coaches. Bringing in a two-time Olympic gold medalist and veteran of 499 WNBA games should get the players’ attention. That’s DeLisha Milton-Jones, who won gold medals on U.S. Olympic teams in 2000 and 2008, played almost 500 games in the WNBA and made international stops in Spain, Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and South Korea.
“The entire Olympic experience was monumental. I loved it,’’ she said. “It was life-changing, career-changing in ways people don’t even realize. The obvious reasons are you got to obtain a goal that some people train a lifetime to do and to come home with a gold medal is great.’’
San Diego coach Cindy Fisher is enthused to have senior forward Maya Hood back in uniform. She missed most of last season after tearing an ACL in December. She hasn’t yet been cleared for full practice but expects to be ready for the start of the season next month.
“You don’t want to be injured, but there are a lot of positives to come out of it,’’ Hood said. “You gain more perspective. I learned a lot about my teammates; a lot of basketball is knowing who you’re playing with. Just having an overall better understanding of basketball in general. Perspective means knowing some things in your life can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. So, I learned not to take anything for granted. I am grateful.’’
Senior forward Michaela Rakova will graduate from USF in May with a degree in psychology. She hopes to eventually earn a PhD in the field for the right to have “Dr.’’ in front of her surname. That might assuage her mother back in Slovakia somewhat.
“My mom wanted me to go into medicine, but I can’t stand blood, so this is an alternative,’’ she said.
Down Hwy 101 from San Francisco at the Mission Campus of Santa Clara, senior forward Morgan McGwire spent her summer getting in the best shape of her life in anticipation of playing major minutes for second-year coach Bill Carr.
That should be second nature for McGwire. She was born into an athletic family. Her 6-8 father Dan McGwire played quarterback at San Diego State and her uncle Mark McGwire was known to hit a baseball over the outfield wall from time to time.
“Mentally and physically, I have high expectations for myself,’’ she said. “I don’t want to come out of this season with any regrets for myself or my teammates.’’
Added Carr, “When you’re in shape, it keeps your mind sharp.’’
Non-conference play in the WCC, men and women, begins the weekend of Nov. 10.