The transformation that Bob Boldon and his staff have made in three years is beyond comprehension. Boldon took over a team that went 0-30 the year before he took over and has gradually built a powerful program comprised of mostly undersized sharpshooters who now have the right mindset and work ethic to compile a winning season.
Leading the path for this years Lady Penguins team is Brandi Brown, one last time. Brown will break more records during the season before departing, but she has proven in the past few seasons that she would trade every individual accolade she ever received for her teams success.
Having that weapon one last time, does Boldon feel a sense of urgency to win this season?
“You try to win as many games as you can every year and it is a process”, said Boldon. “There may be a sense of urgency in Brandi. She is definitely playing the best basketball I have ever seen her play. She will definitely be missed, and it is exciting to coach somebody that talented who is working as hard as she is right now.”
Paneech: Now in your third season, where do you feel you have taken this program?
Boldon: Offensively, we are significantly better than we were at this time two years ago. You can assume that we will score some points, but the question is, can we play good enough defense to win some games? That was our point of emphasis all Summer. I think we are in a situation now that we are taking defense as seriously now, as we took offense in the past.
Paneech: Is it realistic to assume this team should win 15 to 20 games this season?
Boldon: I have never sat down with our staff and projected how many games we could win. We try to win every game. Now, we probably wont go undefeated this year, but by saying you will win 15 games, you are also assuming that you will lose 15 games. I can’t prepare our kids properly if I think it is a game that we can’t win.
Paneech: All kinds of new faces here this year, as well as some faces that are no longer around. Discuss the turnover within your program.
Boldon: The new kids have brought a plethora of new things. We got a little bit quicker, a little bit taller, and a little bit more basketball savvy. I think we became a better basketball team, which was the goal when we were recruiting. We had gaps to fill, and I think we did a good job filling them. Once everything gels and the new kids start to learn everything that we are teaching, they will blend with the veterans we have who already understand the system. The new kids are very athletic and have added a fun dimension to our practices.
Paneech: What is the strength of this team and what needs developed?
Boldon: Our biggest strength is Brandi. You get a player who can score, rebound, pass the ball, and play defense. She epitomizes what we are trying to do. Those things I mentioned are things we are working on with everybody and every practice – to make them better shooters and passers, and to play better defense and get rebounds. I would be doing someone who is shooting pretty good a huge disservice if I said ‘that is good enough’. 43% from three isn’t good enough, we have to try to get to 45, or 47, or 52. Constantly raise the bar.
Paneech: So, at this level, no matter how good something is, you convince your players that it could be better?
Boldon: Absolutely. That is how we do it. We meet weekly and talk about player development as a staff. Monica (Touvelle) shot 69 out of 75 from the three-point line at practice the other day. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for improvement, but we will encourage her to strive for 70. They really want to be challenged and they will fight you sometimes, but you can never get complacent.
Paneech: The league is tough, how can you keep the team focused throughout the season?
Boldon: Last year, we played Green Bay as tough as anybody in the conference. There was a confidence and the returners have done a good job keeping that mentality and keeping that edge. The new kids are starting to buy into it. It is never going to be beautiful, but there is a strong level of competitiveness, which to me, is really, really exciting.
Paneech: With Butler dropping out of the league and the schedule falling to pieces with little time to fix it, how challenging was it to find the games?
Boldon: It’s difficult for Coach Jackson and I, as we share the making of the schedule responsibilities. We don’t share that information with the kids until it is the right time, and really, they just want to know what time practice is and what time the bus is leaving. We have most of next year scheduled already. For Coach Jackson, it creates headaches to space games. He did a nice job putting it together.
Paneech: Two Big East teams and a Big-12 team on the schedule this season. Two years ago, no shot, but this year can they all be wins?
Boldon: Two years ago, I think we would have been intimidated. This year, we are a lot better suited for those types of challenges. These teams are incredibly more athletic than us, and certainly taller than us. The taller than us thing is something we have learned to deal with.
Paneech: What is harder? Trying not to be embarrassed every game in your first season, or in your third year to win every game?
Boldon: The first year is worse. This team is getting really close to being really good. We are getting more consistent. We encourage and challenge the kids to work their hardest and to make the people in this city proud to say this is their team.
I think they get it done this season. Credit Boldon and staff for mandating a system that yields positive results. I will be opposite the preseason pollsters who picked this team to finish eighth and say these girls will win 20 games. 18 in the regular season and two more in the tournament. They can shoot and are fearless – a basketball coaches dream.