bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's basketball head coach Darin Spence throughout the 2008/2009 season as the Aggies take aim at a conference championship. In this offseason check-in, Coach Spence talks about his contract extension, his incoming freshman class and the offseason schedule for his kids.
bleedCrimson.net: Talk a little bit about your contract extension? Obviously it enables you to continue to build the program.
Darin Spence: Yeah! And it keeps us from moving too, that's kinda the good thing. We, in my opinion, have really climbed the mountain in five years here. I keep saying this but the people have no idea where this program was. When you're on the outside, you think you know but you have no idea where it was at and things that we had to do and all the issues we had to address everywhere from our fundraising in our Fast Break booster club, our camps, our staff, just recruiting budgets, equipment, everything. I really think it took a good two to three years just to get that all squared away and then we've been able to win a few more games. Actually, we won a few more games each year after that first year. But there was just so much to do and now we have a really good group of young kids in the program that I think can reap the benefits of all those years and can really take us in a positive direction. Our coaching staff has been a lot more stable, we've been together for a few years. I think that helps out and I'm just really excited that we're gonna keep building on what we're doing. And it was never of course it was never a question in my mind, it [extension] was just a matter of going through the process of getting renewed.
bc.net: It was reported that you're going to be losing one of your assistant coaches, Princess Moore. Can you talk a little bit about that?
DS: Princess played here, went to school here and was a big part of the program but at the same time, I've said this a million times to people, she's going to go into different avenues in her life, getting married is one of them. But she filled the need for a few years for us but it's not something she really wanted as a career and if you don't want to be a coach, this level will absolutely kill you. It sucks the energy and the life out of you and if your heart isn't 110% into it, you're not going to enjoy it. I think that's where she ran into that final decision making process.
Where we are as a program, I'm expecting a lot more out of my assistant coaches. What we've done is not good enough, we've got to raise the bar a bunch and so they're all going to be held a lot more accountable for where we're going. So now we're in a situation where we can open it up and try to find somebody that wants to come in, and they're coming in at a good time. I think the difference is now that back then we had to get somebody that didn't have any experience and the pay was low and kind of on the job training. Now we're in a situation where we're at a higher level, I'm already attracting a lot more higher quality candidates for that position which I think is really going to help us in every aspect of our program.
bc.net: Your team tied for the fifth best turnaround last season talk a little bit about that.
DS: It's just shows that the work's paid off. It shows that our coaches have done a great job with everything they've been doing and obviously the players. The players are the ones that go out there and win a game or lose a game. It's just everything kinda coming to the forefront now, all those years of working. It's good to be on there for a year. The only way I want to be on there again is if we go from 23 wins to 33 wins. I'd just as soon not be on that list again. I think it's just a sign of how everybody responded this year and a couple of our new players fit in really well with our returning players. Things clicked and we were a few seconds of having even more wins this past year. It's good to be recognized. Then that puts us out there even more nationally because everybody sees that.
bc.net: How much easier has your recruiting been having the 23 wins, you already two previous tournament championship game appearances and having that third and also having the 23 wins.
DS: You know, it really hasn't had an effect at all. We are in a really strange situation, it's just the level we're at. Obviously it didn't help us in this '08 recruiting class. We'd get some use out of it in our '09 and our 2010 classes because you're always looking a year or two years ahead. Those current high school juniors and sophomores are the ones that see we had a great year this year, moreso than the seniors this year. But, we're still in the same lines we've been in when we were 10-20. We're still recruiting against Pac-10 schools and Big 12 schools and everybody in between in different leagues, so we're still in the same line. For us to get better we've got to sneak a couple of those kids out. We're really not in any different position than when we were three years ago because we've always tried to recruit better players. The difference is a couple kids are listening more to us now and we've got to get better size. We've done a really good job of getting longer perimeter players, but right now the big challenge for us now is we've got to get better size. We've got to get one or two more gifted post players and bigger kids. If we can use this in the right way, maybe we can land a couple of those in the '09 and 2010 class.
bc.net: You signed a junior college player, Areyal LeDeatte. She was the third leading scorer and should help you significantly in the post replacing Sherell and Anikia. Talk a little bit about her game.
DS: I'm not exaggerating, she's a big kid. She's a physical kid, she's got great hands, quick feet, really clever around the basket and gives us a true back to the basket type player we just haven't had in our five years here. She's not the greatest athlete but she sure can put the ball in the basket and that's a little more important than being able to beat everyone down the court or out jump people. The challenge is for her is she's going to be going from the junior college to this level and the demands are a lot greater. We've got to get her to drop a few pounds, get her in better shape. The good thing is she's very eager to get here and start working with Paul Ivkovich our strength and conditioning coach. She watched the team work out with him and really loved it and told me that's what she needs. If she'll just take to that and really work hard and get in great shape and get stronger, she's got a chance to be a pretty good player because as you know we play through our post kids. I also think she's going to allow Niki Holt and Erica Sanchez to be a lot better, those two are having a really good spring. I think as a whole our team will be a little different next year. Our strength lies with our perimeter game going into next year, there's no question about that. Our skill level is a lot better now, we're going to let our four perimeter players really attack the basket and do a lot more shooting and driving and just open the floor up a little bit, so we're looking for a good balance again.
bc.net: The three girls you signed in the early signing period all collected some high school accolades in their senior seasons. What do you expect from them coming in and you've got a fairly young team with the kids who are returning.
DS: We're back to being a little bit younger but that's okay. This group, those three kids bring a lot of enthusiasm. They're tough kids. Tabytha Wampler who's from the northern California area, 6'1", that can play anywhere on the floor, played the point guard for her high school team, really handles the ball, she'll play the 3/4 type position for us. She can step out and shoot it with range, she really handles the ball, dribbles and passes it really well. Of course she's got to go through the adjustment just to the size of people and the speed of the game but I really anticipate her coming in and having a good career here. We recruited her to replace a couple of the seniors so she needs to come in and be ready to go and I know she will be.
Taylor Altenburg is a 6 foot, long spot up shooter that also handles the ball real well and can take it off the dribble and drive, real good shooter. Smart player. Always in the right place at the right time.
Kaitlyn Soto, the point guard, she's just one of those players that'll chew the shirts off of you. She'll just get in the middle of you and she's real tenacious and plays hard. I really believe that once adjusts and gets used to the level, she's going to have a real good career at the point guard spot. And with her and Brittany Palmer, who's having a great spring, it may let us bring Madison off some screens some more and not have her have to handle the ball 100% of the time like she did this year. But we're going to have better kids around her as well.
Tabytha, we need her to come in here and really give us some good minutes from day one and then we'll plug Taylor and Kaitlyn in as we go.
bc.net: Finally, what's the rest of the spring, summer and early fall, what's that schedule like for your kids?
DS: The players have gone through their strength and conditioning work with Paul and have done a really good job with that and have all gotten stronger and are getting in better shape. I think the biggest adjustment for them is just mentally and experience. They've all grown up a lot, they are pretty young still, we only have a couple of seniors in the next year. These young kids have really grown up this spring. Right now they're all getting ready for finals, we need them to all do well in the classroom and they're all taking care of business there. The summer time, some of them will be here the entire summer because they want to take some extra classes but the entire team will be here in the second summer session starting in July. That'll give them a great opportunity get back with Paul and get back in the weight room and get in shape. Then they'll spend time with each other playing, working out on the court because we can't do anything with them as a staff in the summer time. But it allows them to be together and start to bond and grow together like our group last year because the majority of them were here together last year. This summer we're going to have all of them here so I think that's going to help us as we go into next year with some new faces.