Nov. 10, 2011
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By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Gold medals and Conference USA Championships. It's a tough life for women's basketball Head Coach Joi Williams.
Four-and-a-half months after leading UCF to its second Conference-USA championship and NCAA Tournament berth in three years, Williams won a gold medal with the U-19 USA World Championship team in Chile.
So one has to be better than the other, right?
"There are special things about both. I don't know that one is better than the other," Williams said. "The thing about UCF is it's never been done before - hanging banners while being involved with Conference USA. USA basketball is used to winning gold medals. It is expected. It was neat to be a part of that history and tradition of winning medals."
The time for celebrating ended now that the 2011-12 season opens on Saturday at South Alabama with Williams at the helm for her fifth year as head coach, and it looks like she'll be around for a while. The coach signed a five-year contract extension in September, and UCF is lucky to have her.
In her short tenure, Williams has created a standard for the program. Most recently, UCF's 11-game win streak and 20-plus win season last year were the first by the program in 27 seasons. She said her experience as an assistant coach with USA basketball reaffirmed her philosophy of how to sustain success at UCF.
"I think more than anything, being with USA basketball really enforced what we're doing at UCF - in terms of having a process in place and having the players buy into it," Williams said. "I certainly learned a lot from Coach (Jen) Rizzotti and her style. I've tried to stress with UCF basketball that no matter what level you're at, you have to follow process to be successful. You can't skip over things. You have to work on fundamentals. You have to work at practice. Otherwise you won't put yourself in a position to win."
The Knights were selected to finish third in the Conference USA preseason poll after losing five seniors from last year's memorable team. Seniors Aisha Patrick and Ashia Kelly have assumed that leadership role, and Williams said she is proud of how the duo has stepped up this summer.
Kelly became a legitimate offensive threat for the Knights last season, and her .388 career three-point shooting percentage currently ranks first all-time in program history among players with at least 75 attempts. Patrick appears on a number of the school's record lists and is one of eight players from the league recognized on this year's C-USA Preseason team.
UCF's frontcourt features five 6-footers, including sophomores Sarah Green and Erika Jones, who each clocked substantial playing time in their freshmen seasons. The Knights will receive a huge boost in the form of redshirt junior Kayli Keough, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer policy.
"She was able to practice last year so she is already familiar with our team," Williams said. "She has a very good basketball IQ and she brings a lot of experience to us. We're fortunate to have her as a part of our program."
UCF also supplemented its coaching staff with a great basketball mind, Bob Starkey, during the offseason. A long-time presence in college basketball, Starkey spent the previous two decades involved with LSU basketball, including acting as head coach during the 2006-07 postseason when the Tigers advanced to the Final Four.
Of course, Starkey won't be the only new face on the sideline. The Knights signed four members to their freshman class this year.
Williams said Bryeasha Blair and Andrea Hines bring speed and quickness to the backcourt, which will help the team's transition game. Meghan Keough, younger sister of Kayli, is a confident shooter and also adds dimension to the perimeter game. Forward Stephanie Taylor can run the floor and adds size to the post game.
"We're excited about the development of our freshmen and their progress up until this point," Williams said. "We want to play aggressively both on defense and in pushing the tempo, and all of the players we signed will help us do that."
Fans will have plenty of opportunities to cheer on the Knights as they play 18 home games this season, the most since the 1999-00 season. UCF has lined up a competitive non-conference schedule, including home games against Hartford, Virginia Tech and Florida State and a road game at perennial power Notre Dame.
"We face some very competitive teams with different styles of play, so we hope to make that a positive," Williams said. "The one thing we haven't done my four years at UCF is be consistent in the non-conference season. It's like once conference season starts, the team has a more intense focus. We want that focus all year."