Last week at the NEC Basketball Social Media Day inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, all ten NEC women’s basketball coaches came out to meet with the media to discuss their team’s upcoming season. That included seventh-year LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Gail Striegler, who is coming off a 9-21 season and an appearance in the NEC tournament as an eight-seed after a disappointing 2012-13 season where they went 7-22 and missed the NEC tournament all together.
Joining her this year at NEC Media Day was fourth-year senior guard/forward Letava Whippy. Whippy is the only four-year player on this season’s LIU roster and is one of two seniors on the team. Last season, she was third on LIU in both scoring (8.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.0 rpg), second in assists (2.3 apg) and lead the team in steals (2.0 spg) as well as recorded two double-doubles.
Last season showed a slight improvement over the previous season for the Blackbirds but this season will once again bring in more change as for the second season in a row, seven newcomers enter the program. The Blackbirds were once again challenged offensively with an NEC-worse scoring offense of just under 60 points per game and a shooting percentage under 39 percent. Their defense played well, holding teams to 64 points per game. Now, they need to bring the offense up to par with the defense. That, along with other challenges, face this LIU women’s basketball squad.
I spoke with both Coach Striegler and Letava Whippy about last season and what should we look forward to from LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball in 2014-15.
Blackbirds Hoops Journal: This is the second year in a row where there is a lot of newcomers on the squad, what necessitated the turnover again this year?
Gail Striegler: Well, we had a lot of junior college kids that were only here for two years, so basically when you recruit those you have to replace them. I think we had three kids that were junior college kids that came in. So when you don’t sign freshmens, you have turnover pretty quickly off of that. We had one transfer and we had kids graduate. Our graduation class was a good graduating class. We graduated five kids so it wasn’t like we didn’t graduate people. Cleandra (Roberts) was basically the only one who was here for four years, so the other ones were only there for one or two years.
BHJ: You have a pretty young squad again this year, what are your concerns going into this year with this group?
GS: I think it is the same as it’s always is. You have to work on your chemistry. You have a lot of stuff you have to teach them. We’ve made some changes in a few of the things we’re running to. Even the upperclassmen are having to learn a few new things, which makes it exciting for us, it’s not the same thing over and over again. Whenever you have new kids, the chemistry is got to get consistent and then players have to buy in to what you’re doing. You got to make sure that they’re really getting the fundamentals. A lot of times you get the high school kids or the juco kids to come in, they don’t have the same fundamentals that you want to teach in your program.
BHJ: Your team loses a lot of scoring in Cleandra Roberts graduating, how do you go about replacing that kind of production?
GS: I think it will be the same of last year. Nobody expected Cleandra to average (close to) 20 ppg. We’ll have somebody step up and fill it. I think it is going to be more by committee though then it was last year. I’m not sure we have anybody that is coming in that is going to average 20 a game. I think we have more kids that is going to average 10 to 12 a game. We are going to be a different style of play. I think we are going to be a lot higher scoring team this year because we are going to press pretty much non-stop. We’re excited for the way we’re going to be playing. The kids are really buying into it and enjoying it.
BHJ: Are you happy with the progress the team made last season over the year before?
GS: I’m happy with the progress we made after Christmas. I think it took us a while to find ourselves. I think we starting playing well after Christmas and it continued to get better throughout the whole season. Every game was a fairly close game. We won almost half our games after Christmas. I was proud of our kids. I don’t think I ever had a team that really fought through like they did. We started off 0-9 and to end up with the record that we had, I think that is pretty good. It’s saying that your kids had some mental toughness and really bought in.
BHJ: Letava, what is your opinion of the team this season? What are you looking forward to coming into this year?
Letava Whippy: We’re very young which means that there is a whole new dynamic of play that has the potential to come up but I’m so excited because I never had to blend in with the new players as much being the only senior and playing in a system that I guess isn’t the same anymore, it is kind of different. I’m just excited I guess. All the girls who have come in are very talented and extremely excited about the season I guess so its makes my job as a senior easier when they are willing to do the work that needs to be done and makes coach’s job a lot more fun, not having to make people do stuff. We all love playing and we all love the work we have to do to get there.
BHJ: As a four-year senior, do you feel like a lot of the younger players come up to you asking you for advice?
LW: Definitely. All of the time. It’s funny, they ask how I dealt with things that they are going through now. I kind of had to laugh because it is the exact same things that I went to my seniors when I was a freshman to ask. I think they kind of just told me that you just have to take it in stride and keep going. As much as I would love to say that to them sometimes, the younger girls I’ve learned to take them under my wing and to be with them more instead of saying suck it up, this is what you have to do. Not many people respond to that well. You find a way to communicate with everyone and everyone is different. It’s been a learning experience for me too. I’m just grateful to be able to lead these group of girls.
BHJ: Is it fair to say last year, the defense once again was ahead of the offense?
GS: Yeah, it was without a doubt and it is going to be that way again this year. We are putting in a new offense so we are even further behind offensively than we were. We’re working putting stuff in pressing-wise (on defense) that going to be different too so I feel like we are further behind on everything this year than last year. Hopefully, we are taking a little bit more time. I felt like last year, it had been a while since I had that many new kids and I think last year instead of taking time and putting stuff in and making sure it was right, I wouldn’t always get it all the way right and I would more on to the next thing. Before Christmas we had to go back and fix a bunch of things that the kids had not mastered. We moved on before they had really fix the problem so this year we are trying to move a little bit slower. That makes me feel like we are further behind but hopefully the stuff we are putting in, the kids will understand better.
BHJ: Letava is the only returning starter from last season, I’m guessing there will a lot of competition for minutes this season?
GS: This may be the most competitive group of girls that I have ever coached. They want to win if it’s Monopoly, they don’t really care what it is. They want to compete in everything that they do. They are competitive about who gets to the gym first, who leaves the gym last. They are competitive in everything that I can think of. I think that’s a good thing. A little bit of will die out when we start having to shift teams and kind of end up with our top eight, nine, ten. That is what you hope is going to happen, that the role players really buy in, if they don’t buy in then your team is not really all that successful.
BHJ: Who will be running the point guard position for your team this season?
GS: That’s a good question. It is still up in the air. We got Ashley (Brown) back, she had a concussion all of last year. We have a freshman, Paris Jones, who is from California and we have Shanice Vaughn, she is our only New York kid, she is from Brooklyn. She transferred in, she went to junior college in Texas and then came back. We have some kids that can do it. I think the only one you can say is a true point guard is Paris. The style of play we are going to be playing we are going to have a true point guard playing all of the time. To be honest with you, Letava was great helping. Kelly (Robinson) was the point guard (last season) but Letava helped bring the ball up a lot and she will be asked to do that again this year.
BHJ: Letava, is being a point-forward of sort, something you are comfortable doing? You like having the ball in your hands?
LW: Yup. I do what I need to basically. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll do it.
BHJ: Moving on to the front court, Fanny Cavallo and Cleandra Roberts are gone, what are the changes you need to make up front?
GS: Well, we have Jolanna Ford, she is junior college kid that has been doing a good job. Angel (DeAngelique Waithe), a freshman kid from Florida is extremely athletic. She is got a lot of stuff to learn. We have two returners in Jahmia Phillips and Mercedes Harris. It will be interesting because we are doing a four out/one in. Letava is actually going to be our four player. We moved a lot of three players to fours because we had an abundance of twos and threes. We don’t have a lot of point guards, we don’t have a lot of five players but we have a bunch of twos and threes so Letava and another young lady is going to play the four. It will be interesting to see how that works. I think it is going to be an advantage for us offensively, it could be a disadvantage defensively. If we take advantage of it, it could be really good for us.
BHJ: Is it fair to say the depth of this team is improved?
GS: There is a lot more depth. I think our five position is not real deep. I think our point guards, we have people who can play it but aren’t a lot of true point guards. But the two and threes and fours, I mean that is why they are competing so hard because there are a lot of people that can play those positions and play them well.
BHJ: How has Sophie Bhasin progressed from his freshman year up to now?
GS: Sophie has matured a lot. She has become a better basketball player, a better well-rounded player. She has always been a scorer, kind of hot and cold but she has put herself in a situation this year where she is going to be consistent. Her defense is still lacking but it is much, much better than it used to be. She can guard somebody, she can guard the ball a little better. She is rotating, when she gets beat, she rotates off. She knocked two balls down the other day in practice. She is playing a lot harder, a lot faster. Offensively, she has always been skilled. Hopefully she’ll be more consistent. She has been in practices so far.
BHJ: What do you think about the NEC this year?
GS: I think it is going to be extremely competitive. I would say the top three in the conference are Robert Morris, Sacred Heart and St. Francis Brooklyn. They got experienced players. They should be in their own little group. I think the rest of the league, throw the names in a hat and pick. Wagner also has some real good upper classmen. I would put them in the top four. All the other six of us, almost everybody lost seniors that were really, really good. It is going to be who gets the best chemistry, who shows up every night to play, who progresses from now until conference play start because I think everybody has got talented kids but none of us are very good right now because there are so many new kids. Where we’re at when conference play start will be most important. We are going to have some bumps in the road. We are going to have some close games. We are going to lose some games. This group is so competitive and we have more depth that I think it will be a little bit more different. I don’t foresee us going through the struggles we went through last year. We still are going to have ups and downs. I think this team will progress a little bit faster.