ATLANTA, GEORGIA - This summer, as we did last summer, Yellow Jacket Roundup will be taking a ten-week hiatus as the summer sports break splits spring from fall and the academic year begins anew. Pretty much the same premise, expect this year, we have a better, and more alliterative name. As for women’s basketball, honestly it’s reasonable to feel a little in the dark as to where exactly this team is at right now.
When We Last Saw ‘Em:
If you’ll remember back just a year ago, this same preview was filled with such optimism. We had proven veterans joining exciting youngsters, and even though the previous season had ended a little oddly for a couple of players, there was no particular reason to press any panic buttons. Here, on the other side, well, I don’t think any of us can say we saw what would wind up happening coming.
I talk “who’s in” and “who’s out” later in this article, but never do I really talk about staff changes, and, at the risk of going any farther without talking about this past season’s biggest storyline - the departure of MaChelle Joseph. No sooner than did Tech’s winningest all-time women’s basketball coach get her 300th career win at Tech, than was put on leave during the middle of the season - a reasonably successful one up to that point - before ultimately being terminated. She was replaced with Nell Fortner.
Tech would finish sixth in at conference at 7-9, a game and three standings spots higher than the pervious season, yet suffered a gruesome skid to end the season that saw them drop four straight, to teams they certainly had a shot at beating, and almost certainly declining a WNIT bid. This is after knocking off two top 15 teams, a vaunted team from Athens as well as no. 12 Syracuse.
In The Good Word this week, Matt Winkeljohn asked “does [Fortner] know what she’s getting in to as Georgia Tech’s new head coach?” about stepping back onto the floor from the booth, but I would ask if she knows what kind of team she’s inheriting. While most of last year’s core returns, its two best players do not. The Elizabeths, both Balogun and Dixon, decamped for the already loaded Louisville Cardinals with the news of Joseph. The team that returns skews old, with Francesca Pan and Chanin Scott now seniors, and Kierra Fletcher, Lorela Cubaj, and Anne Francoise Diouf juniors. However, the sophomore class remains strong with Daijah Jefferson, Lotta-Maj Lahtinen , D’Asia Gregg, Jasmine Carson, and Kondalia Montgomery forming a large core. All of these players saw time in some great wins last year, for the most part.
Tech adds three freshmen to the group, including the number 48 ranked player in the country, as per Prospect Nation, in Alisha Lewis. The four star point guard from Delaware is joined by Narea Hermosa Monreal, a 3.5 star recruit from Spain deemed the no. 5 international recruit, and Ronni Nwora, a four star forward from upstate New York. One transfer rounds out the class, with Sarah Bates incoming from UC Santa Barbara by way of Kansas State.
With last year firmly, and thankfully, in the rearview mirror, all that is left to tell from a season that doesn’t frankly deserve much more of a rehashing, for our own sakes, than we’ve already given it, is how well the players who stayed can bounce back under the fresh tutelage of one of the most accomplished, nationally-acclaimed coaches of women’s basketball. Time to get to work.
Sarah Bates, redshirt sophomore, Kansas State/UC Santa Barbara (Fresno, CA)
Alisha Lewis, four star point guard, Strath Haven High School Wallingford (Media, PA)
Narea Hermosa Monreal, three and a half star center, Ies Joaquim Blume (Bernedo, Spain)
Ronni Nwora, four star forward/center, Park School (Buffalo, NY)
Elizabeth Balogun (transfer to Louisville)
Elizabeth Dixon (transfer to Louisville)
Various and Sundry:
- Mickie DeMoss is quietly one of the best staff hires in the country this year, as she takes on Tech’s Chief of Staff role and spearheads analytics after assisting Pat Summit in six national championship seasons and winning a WNBA title in Indiana. She’s spent more than forty years in college basketball and has lurked in the shadows of some of the greatest success stories in the sport. And gone to the postseason several times on her own as head coach. Already a member of the Hall of Fame. A great pickup.
- Clark University graduate Brandy Manning comes back to Atlanta after spending time at CSUN, among other stops. He is a proven recruiter and developer. Look for him to quietly be the James Ramsey of this team. Looking ahead, he could be a good candidate to be next in line if the Fortner experiment is a success.
- Francesca Pan, for all of her talent, was pushed farther to the margin with the Elizabeths dominating the scene last year. It was her team before them and it probably will be again this year for the former Freshman of the Year. That’s something to have confidence in.
- Tech can take another three in the 2020 recruiting class. With Cortnee Walton, Brandy Manning, and the rest of the staff’s exuberance, this could pay dividends. If he can recruit to, well, not Atlanta, he almost certainly get good prospects interested in Tech.
- I see this as a Mack Brown hire or Herm Edwards-type hire. I think success could happen, but in order for that to happen, the hires have to be good, which, so far, they’ve been pretty intriguing. A nice balance of development, experience, playing skill, and winning.
- The neighbors to the east have made 33 NCAA tournaments, good for second all time. Beating them for the third time in four years, though? I think that’d be a nice welcoming gift from Fortner early in the season.
- Everything I’ve seen written about Fortner, and a lot of the staff, exudes how good of people they are - Walton was named to the Good Works Team in her time as a Louisville starter - and good people are easy to want to see succeed.
Future Schedule Highlights:
Tech will host Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and head back to the Junkaroo Jam this year, drawing Seton Hall, a team that they should very well have beaten last year. Additionally, they’ll play the conference slate against the best top-to-bottom collection of teams on the planet, including the annual double dip of Notre Dame. They’ll travel to Athens after upsetting the school out east last year at McCamish. Like always, it’s a solid schedule. Winning even half of their conference games, and winning the out-of-conference games they’re supposed to, will put them on the bubble. Did enough talent stick around to let that happen?
Hold: Until we know what this team can do, this ain’t a buyer’s market. And after a half season where all signs pointed to this being the year this team was going to break through in a big way, there’s really nothing satisfying to come from it except to go back to the old plan: wait and see. Tech could’ve and probably should’ve been a 20 win team last year. They have enough talent left that a run into the postseason, even if it’s back to the WNIT, is very possible. We just have to take the time to let it happen. Cautious optimism.
A closing note - I had penciled this in as a sell when I started writing. In the process of research, I went from extraordinarily skeptical of the Fortner hire and fretting about the departures of two very talent players following the termination of MaChelle Joseph, who I also believed an exceptionally capable coach and recruiter, to actually pretty excited to watch this team this year. I guess the fear of the unknown is pretty powerful. That said, I’m not ready to go all-in on them - it could blow up, or they could just not be quite there yet. However, I do think they’re in a better place than previously appreciated and could at least make for an interesting story, even if the future promise they had was a bit farther off than we would have hoped a year ago today. Again, cautious optimism.
June 10th - Track and Field June 17th - Men’s Golf June 24th - Women’s Tennis July 1st - Men’s Tennis July 8th - Softball July 15th - State of the Program July 22nd - Women’s Basketball
July 29th - Cross Country
August 5th - Swimming and Diving
August 12th - Volleyball
If you have any insight you’d like to share on this, or any other program at Tech, leave a comment below. In our next edition, we switch gears back to running with a look at the distance crew, cross country.