Young players to learn on the fly for women’s basketball

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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Entering her second season as coach of the UNC Wilmington women’s basketball team, Adell Harris is facing almost an entirely different roster than she had a year ago.

The Seahawks return only one player who scored a point for the team last season in junior guard Kelva Atkins (10.4 ppg), last year’s third-leading scorer.

The squad welcomes six freshmen onto the team this year whom, despite the fact they have not stepped foot on the court for a regular-season NCAA game, will be expected to contribute early, often, and efficiently.

“I couldn’t be happier where we are right now,” Harris said at the team’s media day. “The kids are working hard, very coachable, great attitudes. They’re getting closer and tighter themselves as a unit every day. So I like where we are. Now, do we have a long way to go? Absolutely, we have a long way to go.”

After consecutive 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, UNCW struggled through a 5-26 campaign in Harris’ first year, finishing last in the CAA. The loss of nearly all the team’s production is then a two-way street.

Either the team will find better success with the new players, or the expected growing pains will lead to another down season.

Whichever way the season pans out is left upon, not only the freshmen themselves, but the coaching staff in setting them up for success.

“We got to do several things as coaches, keeping it simple for them,” Harris said. “Always let them play free and loose, because at the end of the day it is just basketball. If they’re feeling like they’re too tight, that’s an issue that we have to take care of. They have to remain very confident in themselves. We want to be fearless; we want them to try to know you have to be able to get over mistakes quickly at this level. You can’t harbor over those things. Then we just want to be a family. That’s all I want.”

The freshmen will have to adapt to the learning curve and subsequent down times of the season after each has come from a winning high school program.

Combined the six freshmen accounted for five high school state championships, with all six reaching the final four of their state tournaments at least once.

Leading the pack of freshmen is Hickory, NC native Ryan Flowers. The Millbrook High School graduate was named Girl’s Basketball Player-of-the-Year last season by The Raleigh News & Observer after she averaged a double-double with 12.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.

Flowers was also a main catalyst in leading the Wildcats to back-to-back 4A state championships in 2011 and 2012, leading the team to an overall record of 144-4 in her final three seasons on the team.

Standing at 6’2”, Flowers will be expected to contribute early in the post for the Seahawks with much of their roster consisting of outside shooters.

One of those shooters is freshman Johanna McMillan, whom was ranked in the top 100 at her position by The Sanford School (Del.) grad was a first-team all-conference selection her junior and senior years, earning second-team during her sophomore season.

In adjusting to such a young roster her first year in college, McMillan is willing to push through the learning curve to become a better player for the future.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge for us, but I think it’s going to be a challenge that we’re all going to be able to step up to, and actually compete,” she said. “I think it’ll be good for us too because, when we’re seniors, we’ll be graduating together and we’ll have been playing together and playing together, getting to know each other more and become stronger as a team.”

Brie Mobley (Winter Haven, Fla.), Naqaiyyah Teague (Newark, N.J./Malcolm X. Shabazz), D’Asia Cain (Smynra, Ga./Campbell), and Amber Reeves (Mariette, Ga./North Cobb) round out the incoming freshmen class.

All except for Flowers are listed as guards on the team’s roster.

As the only returning contributor on the team, Atkins will look to step into a leadership role for the Seahawks. Being the most familiar with the playbook, she’ll be given the reigns to the offense and, along with it, the responsibility in showing the freshmen how to adapt to the college game.

“I think the advantage we have over everyone else is that we have mostly guards on the team. They like to move around a lot and space the floor. Some teams don’t like to guard for 30 seconds of the possession, so I think it can wear teams out.”