At the 2013 NEC Basketball Social Media Day inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Tuesday, I got to talk with LIU Brooklyn women’s head coach Gail Streigler who is entering her sixth season as head coach of the Blackbirds. Also with her for media day was the only four-year senior on her roster, guard/forward Cleandra Roberts who led the Blackbirds in rebounding last season and is highest scoring returnee from last season’s 7-22 (4-14 in the NEC) team which missed out on their first NEC tournament since 2008-09.
Blackbirds Hoops Journal: Another year and it seems like another large turnover this year coming up with seven new players, how has practices been going the first few weeks?
Gail Strigler: The kids have been working really hard. It has been slow. I think we’ve kind of gone back to what we did my first year here which is really break it down from the very beginning which mean we don’t have a lot of our stuff in that we typically do at this point but I think we are actually better at some of the things right now that we have been in a while. I think we are executing our half court offense a little bit better. Our man-to-man press is a little bit better because we’ve spent some much time on it so we may not have all of our stuff in until halfway through the season as far as the conference season goes but at least we will better at the things we’re doing. We have a lot of stuff to work on. When you have that many new people, there is also one person in the wrong place and trying to get all five at the same time and same place is hard to do. We got good leadership which makes it a lot easier. We have a couple of good leaders on our team that have been around for the last couple of years on our team. It is a high turnover with seven new kids and then several of the ones that are back have only been here one to two years. The kids that are here are working hard. I think we have some talent, we have more shooters than we’ve had in the past so that should open up our inside game a little more so we’re excited about that.
BHJ: Last season was a bit rough with the seven wins, what were some of the positives that you took out of last season?
GS: The kids continued to work hard the whole season. To me, that is tall tale of the kids who are coming back. They knew what they had to and they put in the hard work from the learning experience of that to this year. I think that they have really bought in to what we’re doing. As far as the season went last year, the kids never stopped. They even upset somebody the second to last game of the year so they were playing hard no matter what. That says that you want to go to war with that group of kids because even when the going gets tough, they are still going to stand by you.
BHJ: What are some of the changes you are focused on making for this season?
GS: There are lots of things we focusing on. Taking care of the basketball is one, we had way too many turnovers. We got to be able to get easy baskets from some places. We had lots of easy attempts last season, we didn’t finish a lot of them. We got to find ways to make easier baskets whether it is more offensive rebounds, whether it is more turnovers. We have more depth this year in the positions and I think that is going to help us so we can actually do more pressing. Last year’s team unfortunately we really couldn’t play the style that we’ve played the years before that. We kind of had to be more of a half-court team and I think this year’s team is a lot more of a full court team.
BHJ: The offense struggled a lot last season, why was it so hard to score?
GS: You think about it, we lost five starters from the year before. All of our primary scorers were gone. Everybody was trying to figure out their roles and when you lose probably eighty percent of our offense from the year before, you’re really trying to figure out how to score points. Cleandra (Roberts) was one of our leading scorers, she went out half way through the conference season for about four or five games and we had some other kids who had injuries. It was just a combination of a lot of things. I think the kids were trying to figure out their roles. From the years past, we had to play a bit of a different style of basketball. We need do a little bit of better job adjusting probably and slow it down a little more and do a little more of the half court. We will still try to run some but in the end we’re slowing it down more but I just believe we have more depth this year and we going to be able to play the way we played before. We should be more athletic than we were last year but it only transfers over if we play for forty minutes and take care of the basketball and do the little things along the way and we’re working on that, we’re really are.
BHJ: Which players on this year’s team do you except to lean on and look for leadership on the court from?
GS: Cleandra Roberts, of course, is a senior on the team and she is one of the few who has been here for all four of her years. She’s been great. She was a captain last year and she’ll probably fill that role again this year. She has been very vocal in practices. Letava Whippy, the same way and I think what’s good about these kids this year is they’re doing the stuff right off the court and on the court and if you do the things right both directions, you’re going to end up with a good product on the court. You can’t take any shortcuts no matter where they are and I think this year’s team is doing that. Letava and Cleandra have done a great job of setting those standards high and holding those kids to it.
BHJ: Were you happy with the progress sophomore Sophie Bhasin made last year as a freshman?
GS: Yeah, she is a talented young lady. I would have liked to have seen her do more of course and I think that she will this year as long as she continues to work hard and does what’s right. She has the potential to be really good but I’ll tell you, the new kids have been giving her a run for her money. We have been breaking them up and right now she is not even on the starting five. We have some good guards coming back with Kelly Robinson and Letava (Whippy) and we got a good point guard that we signed out of junior college who is doing a great job. Last year, she kind of just stood out because she was really one of only scoring guards, the rest were just athletes. This year, everyone we have can shoot the three from the guards almost. We have Australians now that can shoot two feet behind the three so it is just a little bit of a different team then it has been.
BHJ: You have six true freshman this year, is that the most you ever had on you roster in one year in your career?
GS: It is most I ever had. Seven new kids (including juco transfer is Ashley Brown) is the most I ever had. It’s a large number.
GS: My assistant coach (Lisa Pace) had some connections over there and we actually went over there on a recruiting trip and visited with them. We offered them a scholarship and they wanted to come. New York is pretty easy to sell.
BHJ: You guys played a game at the Barclays Center last year, how was that experience like?
Cleandra Roberts: It was great. I’ve only played in one arena before and it was at the American Airlines Arena in Miami (Roberts is from Miami, FL) but (the Barclay Center) is much bigger so you see all the lights, you see the people, you see the cameras and it just like whoa, but then again you’re like it’s game time. It was a great experience for me.
BHJ: With you Cleandra as the only four-year player on this team, your first two seasons the team averaged 20 wins those seasons and then last year the team struggled, how did you deal with that last season?
CR: It is always in the back of my head so that just inspire me in practice to go harder, take ten steps up. Give 200 precent. That was a learning experience. Now we know what we have to do because we don’t want to go back to that again. We do what we got to do in practice, on the court, off the court to get that chemistry with each other and to get where are trying to go.
BHJ: Are you hoping to take on more of a leadership role as one of the seniors this season?
CR: Yes. I’m the only one that has been here four years. I know what exactly what Coach Streigler expect and I try to instill that into the rest of my teammates, this is what you have to do. It is either this way or no way, so that’s it.
BHJ: You led the team in rebounds and doubled your scoring output a year ago, what do you expect out of yourself to make your game even better this year?
CR: I just want to do what I can for my teammates and for my coach. What ever (Coach Streigler) wants me to do, that is what I’m going to do. Being on the court, it’s a privilege.
BHJ: Coach, it seems like some of your newer players are capable of playing more than one position, how do you plan to utilize some of these players?
GS: In the years past, we were good when we press about 25 to 35 minutes a game. We are going to try and get into more of that style. I really would like to actually do it more than that. It will depend on how a few of these young ones pick it up. We are going to continue to press, continue to be up-tempo. Hopefully, we are going to get ten strong and go about ten deep playing every single game is what I’m hoping. Some nights someone may only get five minutes, someone else might get four minutes but those players when they go in I think will be able to help us. We had players go in last year and they didn’t contribute. I think everybody we will put in this year is at least going to be able to score which is different then we had. This year, we have kids bombing it from everywhere. This is one of the first years that I haven’t told somebody that they can’t shoot, that you’re aren’t allowed to take that shot. Usually by now, I would’ve told one or two people you are a driver, you have to drive every time you catch it and I haven’t had to tell anybody that. I’m not trying to say we are going to have a 25-win season, for us to be successful we are to have to go ten deep. We are going to have players who go out there, help us score and help us get back to scoring in the high 60s. 65 to 70 every night is where I would like to be. We were like 55 last year, it was like pulling teeth to score, might not have been even 55, it was probably more like 52. We need to be in the mid-60s every night. Love to be in the mid-60s, that is the type of game we need to play to be successful and to do that you got to have numbers. Knock on wood, everybody stays healthy. They all got to know their roles.
BHJ: With Quinnipiac and Monmouth leaving, Quinnipiac obviously going perfect in the NEC last year, do you think the NEC is more wide open this year or do you think there still some top-heavy teams?
GS: I feel like our league has always got about five teams that can play. I thought that, even last year and in the prior two or three years before that. You’ve got teams that are upsetting people that are (high) mid-majors and above. Sacred Heart has been perennial power every single year. We until last year were a perennial power every single year. You’ve got teams that are able to upset teams. There is not really a team that I think that I used to say that about a couple of teams, that no matter what, they will win. There is nobody you can say that about. I mean Wagner is picked last (in the NEC Women’s Coaches Poll) and I think Wagner is going to be really solid this year. They got a lot of new kids that (Wagner’s head coach Lisa Cermignano) has signed, she is doing a good job bringing in some players they weren’t able to get before. I don’t think there is anybody that is going to be an easy game. I think Robert Morris has the premier player (Artemis Spanou), I think Sacred Heart has another premier player (Gabrielle Washington) but I think that everybody is going to be able to upset everybody. I’ve always thought that. Other than Quinnipiac last year, there was nobody that every single year was able to dominate. There are always five or six teams that can win it and I think it is going to be the way this year.
BHJ: Cleandra, with so many players and so many newcomers, how has the competitiveness been at practice?
CR: Everybody is competing for a spot. There is no set spot so practice has to be competitive. As time goes on, as players, we understand that, so we compete everyday for that spot. So it’s been competitive.
BHJ: Have you noticed anyone in particular at practice so far which has you in the back of your mind saying, so and so could have a big year this season?
CR: Rachel McCoy. She is my girl. I expect great things out of her. Letava Whippy, she has improved a lot. Kelly Robinson. It is so many. Everybody basically improved, they have stepped up their game because we know last season, we can’t go through that again. So we put in work to get where we are now and we still have a lot of work to do.
BHJ: As the only four-year player, how have you enjoyed your time playing at LIU Brooklyn?
CR: It has been a ride. I appreciate every moment of it. Everybody is not going to give me this opportunity. I mean, I’m in New York, I’m from Miami, living in New York for four years, that’s great. That is a blessing so I appreciate everything. It has been a journey but I loved every minute of it.
BHJ: Finally Coach, the involvement of social media for your program. I see that your staff uses it a lot. I know because I follow you, your staff and your program on Twitter and Facebook. What impact do you think social media has had on your program, in terms of recruiting and showcasing the program?
GS: I think it is a great recruiting tool. My assistants (Pace, Terell Coburn, Erin Geary, and Chelsea Wolf) do a great job. I do a very small, small part of it. I tweet maybe every once and while. I’ll post (on Facebook) something up maybe every once and awhile. My assistants do a lot of it for me but I think it is a great way to get the name of LIU Brooklyn out there and the product that we have and the great kids that we have and everything that we do whether is it community service or basketball practices. Showing people how much hard work actually goes into this for basically for free, it doesn’t cost anything. It is not like you have to pay to put in print or to do anything and it is all positive. I think that is the key to it and we’ve worked hard with our kids. Our kids are doing a good job with it, you should follow our kids. They are doing a great job of putting positive stuff out there about our program, about themselves and that is the way that it should be. There is a lot of great things going on and you need to follow us to know about it.
I would like to thank head coach Gail Streigler and Cleandra Roberts for sharing their time and thoughts with me. The LIU Brooklyn Women’s Basketball team’s season tips off on Friday, November 8th with a home game at the Wellness Center against Columbia at 6pm. You can follow the coaching staff on Twitter, Gail Streigler (@LIUwbb), Lisa Pace (@coachpace), Terell Coburn (@CoachC_30), Erin Geary (@coach_erin) and Chelsea Wolf (@_CoachWolf). The LIU Women’s Basketball also has a page you can like on Facebook to follow them on there.
Good luck to Coach Streigler and her LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds team as they try to return to their winning ways and back to the NEC tournament this March.