Oct. 9, 2007
The 2007-08 season ushers in a new era for UCF women's basketball. Not only is the program celebrating a new coaching staff, led by Joi Williams, but the Knights are also christening a new facility with the opening of the new UCF Arena. To keep the theme consistent, the team itself features 10 new players, including nine freshmen.
"We're excited about the potential on this team," said Williams. "We are looking to play to each of the players' strengths, which will allow each of them to gain valuable experience and translate that into success."
Since being named the 11th coach in the history of the program on March 29, Williams has been busy. Number one on her list was filling in her staff. She brought assistant coaches Brandy Manning and Alysiah Bond with her from Murray State, added former Tennessee assistant Greg Brown and hired Kim Boes as director of basketball operations.
"The first step into making this a great program was to find the people who are going to drive the bus," explained Williams. "After that, we had to gather the passengers, which in this case are the players. With that in mind, our next priority was to recruit."
Three of the rookies had been signed by the previous regime, but the others came on board thanks to the hard work of Williams and her staff during the early summer.
"My staff did a tremendous job in finding players who will complement each other," said Williams. "I'm really high on all them."
In addition to the freshmen, UCF also has a pair of veterans in senior guard Amber Long and junior forward Jackie Akers. Redshirt freshman Chelsie Wiley also joins the Knights after being sidelined by an injury last season. Another newcomer Marcquitta Head transferred from Georgia State and will have to sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Even with the large number of newcomers, Williams and her staff are not concerned about fostering the group as a unit. Many of the athletes were able to attend summer school. "That experience really gave them the opportunity to bond," said the head coach. "Coming back to campus this fall, they had that to fall back on. It's only going to help them as the season progresses. I think that the chemistry on this team is going to be remarkable."
At guard, Long's leadership will be an asset. She has played in 65 games during her career and averaged over 20 minutes a game at the position in the last two seasons. Many of her 30 starts have come against Conference USA rivals, giving her invaluable experience to impart to the six young guards.
The freshmen guards bring a variety of skills to the floor. Jelisa Caldwell is a versatile guard who can play at any position on the perimeter. She shot 40-percent from three-point range as a senior at Westside Macon High School. Former Georgia 2A Player of the Year, D'Nay Daniels averaged 16 points and seven boards in her final season at Greater Atlanta Christian School.
Another native Georgian, Jasmine Stovall recorded 14 points and 10 rebounds an outing for Central Gwinnett High School and is also known for her solid defensive skills.
Ranked 20th at her position by the Collegiate Girls' Basketball Report, Angelica Mealing is a tough-minded guard with good leadership skills. She was a three-time all-state honoree at Avondale High School in Decatur, Ga.
The Knights can also look to Marshay White to provide offense in the backcourt. The combo guard from the School of the Arts in Rochester, N.Y., put up 20 points and added six assists per game in her senior year.
After taking a medical redshirt last year, Wiley has returned to the court. She is another versatile guard that has the ability to shoot the three and attack the basket. Her defensive play also makes her a valuable asset on the other end of the floor.
Proving that the Knights have considerable depth at all positions, UCF also has talent at the forward and post positions.
While Long provides leadership for the guards, Akers brings a wealth of experience down low after starting 19 of 29 games last season. She is known for her defense as much as her offense, knocking away 23 shots and making 16 steals as a sophomore.
Forward Emma Cannon lends her 6-2 presence to the post position. Over her final two seasons at the School of the Arts in Rochester, N.Y., she averaged 20 points and 23 rebounds per game. Contributing further size to the position, Tia Lewis, a 6-4 forward/center, was a three-time all-state selection at Georgia's Worth County High School. She has the skill to score in a variety of ways and do battle on the glass.
A product of Hephzibah High School, Jaleesa Morris utilizes her physical presence on the boards and gives UCF some solid defense down low. Classmate Leah Paige, who helped her Southwest DeKalb team go 22-7, is athletic and versatile with sound skills on defense and on the glass. She also brings tremendous energy to the Knights.
"It's no secret that we are going to have to depend on the freshmen to grow up quickly," said Williams. "We don't expect them to be perfect. What we want them to do is strive for excellence every day.
"The one thing I do expect from every player on this team is to be competitive and to possess the attitude to never quit. If we compete in every game, we know that we will put ourselves in position to win. That is our first priority."
Among the highlights on UCF's 2007-08 schedule are 16 regular-season games, including the team's debut against Texas Tech on Nov. 9, and two tournaments at the new 10,000-seat UCF Arena. "Our schedule is competitive," said Williams. "We understand that our team will have to work hard every night, but we're excited about the challenge."
After tipping off the season against Texas Tech and Coppin State during the UCF Knights Classic on Nov. 9 and 11, Williams' squad visits North Florida, one of six in-state rivals on the schedule. The Knights also face Miami and Stetson on the road, while Jacksonville, Bethune-Cookman and Florida Gulf Coast come to Orlando.
"We open up with a very tough task against Texas Tech, which will give us a benchmark to see how our team is coming together," said Williams. "With such a young group, we are throwing them into the fire quickly against a very talented team from the Big XII. We also have some Atlantic Sun opponents on our non-conference schedule that have really upgraded their talent."
UCF travels to Rider and La Salle during the Thanksgiving holiday, but remains at home prior to winter break when Williams' squad plays host to Appalachian State and UNC-Greensboro for the UCF Holiday Classic from Dec. 19-20.
Entering their third season in Conference USA, the Knights open up their league schedule against Southern Miss at the new UCF Arena on Jan. 5. In addition to hosting Houston, Tulane and UTEP, UCF also has a four-game homestand that features Marshall, East Carolina, UAB and Memphis and runs from Jan. 31 through Feb. 9.
"Conference USA is a competitive, athletic conference," said Williams. "We've done our best to go out and recruit skilled athletes who will give us a chance to be successful in the league."
The Knights play home-and-home series with Southern Miss, Marshall, East Carolina, UAB and Memphis, but see SMU, Tulsa, Houston, Rice, Tulane and UTEP only once during the regular-season.
The culmination of the season comes when UCF also serves as host of the 2008 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship from March 6-9.
"It's unbelievable that we have the opportunity to host the conference championship here at UCF," said Williams. "Our goal is to not only host the championship, but to be in the position to win it. We want to have the homecourt advantage work for us and be there on championship day."
UCF opens its 2007-08 season in the new 10,000-seat UCF Arena on Nov. 9 against Texas Tech. Season tickets are available and can be purchased by calling 407-UCF-1000 or by surfing to www.ucfathletics.com.
For the latest news and information on the Knights, tickets or apparel log on to www.ucfathletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. Also check out UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pics.