Last season, the LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball team endured a 9-21 season which resulted in a head coaching change in the offseason. Out went former head coach Gail Striegler and in comes first-year LIU head coach Stephanie Oliver who the LIU administration is hoping can turn around a program which has not won double-digit games in any of the last three seasons and has just one regular season championship and one NEC tournament championship in their entire history.
Year one of this new era for Oliver and her coaching staff, could be quite a challenge. Last week, at the NEC Basketball Social Media Day at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the NEC women’s basketball coaches picked the Blackbirds to finish last in the conference this season.
Yet, Oliver is hoping with a team that has only ten scholarship players available to her this season but doesn’t include a single freshman and features eight upperclassmen, can prove the NEC coaches wrong and get into the NEC tournament in March and use this season as the stepping stone to long-term stability and success within the program.
I got a chance at NEC Basketball Social Media Day to speak one-on-one with Stephanie Oliver as well as junior guard Shanovia Dove, who returns as LIU’s top returning scorer from last season at 8.0 ppg, in which was ranked second on last season’s team. In her two seasons at LIU, Dove has averaged 4.7 ppg in 55 career games and started 20 of 27 games played last season.
Here is my Q and A with Stephanie Oliver and Shanovia Dove.
Q: Being now at the LIU job several months since your hire, how have you settled in and taken to Brooklyn so far?
Stephanie Oliver: It has been great. I’ve settled in rather easily. I’m really enjoying it. Everybody has been great at LIU, very welcoming. Everybody is on board with everything so it has been a very easy transition. Especially the girls. They have been accepting of the new staff. They are accepting of everything new that we’re doing and my staff has been absolutely brilliant with everything so that has also helped us with everything, having them on my side and really supportive.
Q: What in the first few months have you noticed about your team that you’ve liked so far?
SO: We have great team chemistry. They have each other’s backs. They work really well together. At any given moment, somebody is going to step up as a leader and take over.
Q: How have things moved for you from the time you got hired up to now? Have things moved rather quickly for you?
SO: They have. It’s unbelievable. The season is already here. We have a scrimmage on Saturday. I don’t really know where the time went but I know we used it in a good manner so that’s good.
Q: How would you access the preseason for your team so far?
SO: Preseason has been good. It has been a challenge for everybody because it has been new. Though I’ve watched more than enough film, now seeing our players live, it kind of changes things. We kind of had a game plan, my staff and I, where we want to be on any given day and every practice. It has progressed and it has gone really well. We follow the game plan with some wrenches thrown in here and there, but we have adjusted really well.
Q: Has there been any sort of learning curve thus far for your team in teaching your style of play to the players?
SO: I think so. I think the way I coach, I’m very passionate and very intense but at the same time I have fun and am sarcastic. So I think them adjusting to that, I try to make light of things. It is not life or death, it’s basketball and I tell them that everyday. It is ok if you miss your shot. You didn’t make this sprint, ok, we’ll figure it out. Yeah, of course I’m going to get mad, it’s basketball and I love winning, but at the same time I think that is new for them, just that style of ok, we will figure it out next time or like talk to me, tell me what is going on. I give them the court all of the time, let me know what is going on. Do you actually have questions, like I’m not asking to be sarcastic, I really want to know if you have questions so we can move forward. I think that was the biggest learning curve for them.
Q: You currently only have nine available players on your roster, is there any concerns not having a full roster of players at your disposal?
SO: No. We just need five. (laughs) Listen, would I like fifteen players. Yes. Do I have that luxury right now? No. We have a roster of twelve. We have two injuries and one redshirt. It is what it is. Those nine kids are busting their butts every single day and I can honestly tell you, if I had to pick five starters right now, I don’t have an answer because everyone is going hard every single day. So I guess that is good problem to have.
Q: Do you think with the new rule changes in the women’s game, going from halves to quarters, does that have any benefits with a shorter roster?
SO: It might be. We just have to be conditioned with the smaller roster. We have been taking some amble days off from practice to rest their bodies and then conditioning on any other day. I think that is the biggest thing, if you use a timeout that goes to media (timeout) in the first two minutes, you need to play for eight minutes and you need to be conditioned to do that. Then the foul situation is going to be a little different, resetting to five every quarter. The game plan is not going to change, just maybe the strategy might.
Q: Has there been any learning curve for the coaching staff in terms of knowing the new rules and getting adjusted to what the officials might possibly be calling?
SO: (The officials) stay pretty consistent. I think the main thing is the quarters and the timeouts and the free throws. We’ll see on our scrimmage on Saturday (which they have already played against Binghamton) how we do, game management wise as coaches. We’ve been practicing it. We’ve been talking about it in the office and going over game plans for every single situation. Hopefully, it plays out for us well.
Q: Another thing about your team is that you don’t have a single freshman on your roster this season, is that something you might consider a positive or a negative?
SO: As a first-year (head coach), I think that is a positive. I have veterans. Everybody has played in a college game before. I know people are like, well she practices good. No, when the lights goes on for a game, it is totally different than practice. When you put on your uniform, it is totally different. I have nine kids that have put on a uniform and played in a Division I college basketball game. It’s amazing. Next year, I’m going to have a ton of freshmen, so it’s nice that these kids are all veterans now, it helps my transition alot.
Q: Shanovia, when you heard about Coach Oliver hiring back in the offseason, what was your initial reaction? What was your teammates initial reaction to the change and to her hiring?
Shanovia Dove: We all accepted the fact of what was going on. We all bought in, like this is what we need to do to get to where we need to be.
Q: Now that some time has passed and everyone has settled in to one another, how is everyone feeling towards everyone here especially early on?
SD: I think everyone work well together. We all work as one unit so it has been pretty good.
Q: How do you feel you and your teammates have been adjusting to all the different rule changes that is going to be taking place this season?
SD: Like coach said, we just have to stay conditioned. We have to stay focused and know that we can just play whatever coach ask.
Q: How do you feel about your game coming into the season? What do you expect out of yourself for this season?
SD: I just expect to be a leader, helping my team and motivate them so we all can get to that goal, the number one goal at the end.
Q: Your team was picked last in the NEC coaches poll, do you now feel you and your teammates have something to prove for this season?
SD: There is always something to prove. The only way is up.
Q: Coach Oliver, what do you realistically expect out of your team this season?
SO: I expect them to compete in every single basketball game. I expect them to never stop playing and at the end of the day to realize that it is just basketball. They’re here because they love playing and not to forget that.