bleedCrimson.net Weekly Coach Spence Interview :: 11/06/07

bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's basketball head coach Darin Spence throughout the 2007/2008 season as the Aggies aim for the WAC Championship and Beyond. In this week's interview Coach Spence talks about the expectations of his team, what kind of production he needs from his senior class and how he feels about coaching his daughter.

bleedCrimson.net: Can you talk a little bit about the upcoming season? You added a host of new players, can you talk about them and what you're expecting from them this season?
Darin Spence: When i took this job, I always had a vision of how my teams in past years have played and how I wanted to build the program and wanted the team to look like. I think this year we're close, we've added a lot of depth, we're a lot longer and athletic. This is a deeper team and we have experience. We have five seniors who have all played a lot of minutes at this level. We're a better equipped team.

With five seniors, especially Sherrell Neal, Monique Bribiescas and Carla Denning, all three are in 4th year with the program. They've all been through the good, bad and ugly of building a program. I'm proud of what they've done and their leadership. Irma Kmataite-Smith and Anikia Jawara, they need to be solid leaders for us every day. They need to be the hardest workers, showing way to new players and younger players and they've done a good job of that.

bc.net: You also get Irma Kmataite-Smith back, what does having her back add to your team?
DS: She's a very smart player. She's really crafty, she moves well without the ball. She makes moves off the dribble. She can shoot the ball deep, she has deep range. It also adds another older player. We really missed her last year. It adds a lot more depth, we're pretty deep this year at the guard spots.

bc.net: Can you talk about what it means to you to get a chance to coach your daughter Madison for possibly the next four years?
DS: From a coaching aspect, not every coach gets to coach the 6th ranked point guard in the country. She's a high level player. We had to beat out texas tech, vanderbilt, USC and TCU to get her. She's probably the highest ranked player to come in since Anita Maxwell. Any coach wants to coach a good player like that. I'm very excited. It adds a lot in that aspect. She's well past years in experience and her knowledge of the game. She's a good player and she's smart.

From the father side, I get to be around daughter every day so I'm pretty happy from both sides of the equation.

bc.net: You touched on it a little bit in your previous answer but from a basketball standpoint, she was clearly the best player in the state over the past couple years, when you look at adding a player of her caliber, is it possible for her to be that one recruit that a coach gets that helps turn a program around and attracts other good recruits?
DS: No question about that. She played on a club team in California that traveled over country, she played at the Adidas All-American camp. She's played against all those players at North Carolina and Rutgers and programs like those. They know her and the younger kids on national circuit know her. Any time you can sign player of her caliber it shows other recruits this is a place they can come to as well.

bc.net: In the two exhibition games, Anikia Jawara and Sherrell Neal combined to go 22-36 from the field and scored 41 points and had 39 rebounds (19 offensive). How important is it for the team to get that kind of production night in and night out from those two?
DS: It's very important. Those two have to lead the way for us. Their roles, they have to score. We've given them numbers, they need to put up 16 points and rebounds minimum. That's not a suggestion, they have to hit those numbers. They have to be focused on it, they can do it, they're both strong, athletic and have lots of experience. They're good solid players. We need them to be at their best every night. In the exhibition games they haven't played a lot of minutes but they've still been pretty efficient.

You could probably say we go as those two go. If they have bad nights both together, we probably won't be successful.

bc.net: In the first two games your defense was outstanding, what kind of style do you want your team to have?
DS: We've been talking a lot about the identity we want to establish for team. My coaching career has been to be fundamentally sound. On defense, play as hard and be as active as possible. This team with our length and athleticism, on the floor, we're able to cause a lot of problems. We're a position defensive team. We're playing mostly man to man. We played a lot of zone last night and we'll mix that up throughout the season. We want to make sure we're a good position defensive team so we can use our length as weapon instead of recovery tool. In our main thought process, we want to get after it as tough as we can.

bc.net: In the past couple of years you've had some struggles on offense, is that something that you think this year your team will be more dynamic on offense with the addition of your new players?
DS: No question, we have, you know recruiting takes care of a lot at this level. We felt we had good recruiting year. We have a lot more offensive minded players who have had success at previous levels scoring. The trick is to make them share ball, defend and rebound. We'll have lineups where all five kids on the floor can score. That just hasn't been case at all in my previous four years here. We've got a team that can put points on board. We're not in a situation where other teams can stop one or two people now. Any given night someone can go off and score for us. At the same time, through the exhibition games in Canada and the two exhibition games here we've gotten more fast break points and turnovers than we have in all four years combined. We never got easy baskets in those early four years, all our scores were tough. Because of our defensive play we're getting out in open court more and getting a few more easy points.

bc.net: Last season your free throw shooting was down around 63%, in the first two exhibition games it was 73% was that something you worked on in the offseason?
DS: Yeah, that and recruiting. We've got some more kids who can make shots and are agressive players. We're getting to the free throw line a lot more. It's an area we hadn't shot a lot last season, we need to shoot more but we need the right players to get fouled. Kids who aren't real confident shooting free throws, you don't want to get fouled. It's interesting in a game, the first few free throws if you make them it's contagious, but if the first kid gets up and throws up some clunkers the rest of the team starts thinking "oh no". Free throw shooting is a more positive mindset, I just ask that we keep playing aggressively and we'll end up shooting more free throws.

bc.net: Last year you mentioned that with the construction going on in the Pan Am that your players didn't really feel comfortable playing at home. With the offseason and the practice time this fall have the girls gotten more comfortable playing in the Pan Am?
DS: Absolutely, the players are more comfortable. We have great facilities and we're very fortunate to have them. Throughout the construction process last year it was very difficult for us to go in and play. It never felt right and we never had home court advantage. Now that we've been practicing, we now know what it's like andthe girls are excited to be in there every day for practice, we've been in there a lot more, it's really helped us. Madison has played in the Pan Am a lot, she played in the hoopla and pickup games. Everyone is just more comfortable in the arena now.

bc.net: Can you talk about the schedule you've put together?
DS: Sure. It's a schedule that's pretty challenging, looking through the USA Today Top 60, Boise State, BYU and UNM are all tough games right off the bat. We're at home a lot more this year. We've been on the road a lot the past four years. We've got 16 homes games this year. I think 13, not counting the WAC tournament was the most past years. It's nice to be at home and we hope to have success. We've added the Thanksgiving Classic so we can stay at home and not travel.

The two games with UNM are rival games those are always really tough.

The two UTEP games will be difficult, they won 22 or 23 games last year.

BYU will be tough, they'll be a top 20 team when we play them.

We've got some mid-level teams who are competitive and we think we can be successful against them.

The WAC schedule, it'll be interesting. There really is no team that's head and shoulders above everyone else like the past four or five years. The bottom teams have improved a lot, there's more parity. The top teams not as good they have been, I'm not saying they're not good teams but in the past Louisiana Tech was the hands down favorite to win the league. Nobody is really that much better than rest of the conference. It'll be an exciting race, you could see three way tie for first with a big bunch in middle. It's going to be important to win your home conference games.

bc.net: What are your goals for this season and is there a win number that you're looking to reach this season?
DS: The quick and easy answer is the WAC championship and beyond. Since last spring when we got back from spring break that's what we've been talking about, that's what we're focused on.

I think we can challenge and play for one of the top four spots in the conference. We're hungry and we want to win regular season. We've got 16 home games, you always talk about winning home games we'll see how that plays in. Obviously we've improved win total each of the past couple seasons, if we can win 16 that'll be a good jump. What'll help is not giving away games. Last season we had six games that we gave away due to immaturity and inexperience. We want to hang on to games.

bc.net: You open up the season on Friday at UC-Irvine, what can you tell us about them?
DS: It's a team we've split with the last two years, two years ago we beat them pretty good at their place, they beat us last year. It was a difficult situation for us, we opened with a win at Lamar and then came back home. Tyshae Walton, who has improved this year, didn't play opening weekend because of a death in the family. We had already lost Irma so that put us in different position. We didn't regroup very well, they played well and beat us.

They're long and good solid basketball team that is trying to get better just like we're trying to get better. They've got experience and some younger new players, I'm sure they're hungry to open up the season with a win. We've gotta compete, we've got to go in there use our abilities, I think game we can be successful in.