On Thursday, we took a look at the 2016-2017 season for Virginia Tech women’s basketball. Today, we’ll assess the program’s immediate and long term future.
With Vanessa Panousis, Sidney Cook and Samantha Hill gone, Brooks must now restock the cupboard. Fortunately for him, Virginia Tech returns Chanette Hicks and Regan Magarity, the team’s two leading scorers.
As good as Hicks and Magarity are, both have plenty of room to improve. For Hicks, it’s about learning the nuances of her position.
“She needs to be a better point guard,” Brooks said. “When I say that, it sounds very vague. Right now, she’s a tremendous athlete playing point guard. She needs to be a tremendous point guard that’s athletic. Those are things that, like during the course of the NCAA Tournament, I would constantly be on her. ‘Hey, are you watching this game? Are you watching the Mississippi State game? Are you watching that point guard? It’s not about your athletic ability getting from one end of the floor from the other, because no one does it better. How are you going to run the team? How are you going to get the team in situations where they need to be in? How are you going to be able to distribute the ball to your shooters and put the pass on the money, not to the right or the left?’ Little things like that.”
Hicks will also likely try to develop a better jumpshot this offseason, after teams used it against her last season. Opposing defenses would often sag off of Hicks, daring her to shoot instead of getting to the rim. Brooks says that Hicks shoots well in practice, but needs to gain that shooter’s mentality.
“Chanette is unbelievably not an overconfident player, and she should be,” Brooks said. “She needs to be. Sometimes, I tell her she misses wide open jump shots because she’s talking herself out of shooting that jumpshot. She almost shoots not to miss, as opposed to shooting to make. Those are the things we have to change with her and her mentality.”
As for Magarity, one would think it would be hard to improve on last season. Magarity averaged 13.5 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game, all the while playing over 33 minutes a night.
“Regan has a lot of improving to do,” Brooks said. “Regan is going to be our go-to player. Regan is going to be our… just a priority on offense. It is a, ‘Get the ball to Regan’ mentality. First and foremost, Regan has to demand it. Regan is a wonderful kid. In my 15 years, I’ve coached WNBA players… Regan is probably in that top-5 of my all-time favorites I’ve coached. I’ve been on her a little bit this year to change her mentality, but she’s almost too nice.”
Brooks said that during some practices, he’s had to stop things to tell Regan to demand the ball more. He wants her to develop an edge when playing down low.
“She’s going to have to take on that responsibility,” Brooks said. “After the leadership part of it, I’m coaching Regan because it’s going to be two-fold — it’s going to benefit her and us. The reason I say she has a long way to go is that her ceiling is very high. What did Michael Jordan say, the ceiling is the roof. That’s not the case. Her ceiling is through the roof. In order to do that, she’s going to have to learn how to score around people. She wants to score overtop of people. Well when you’re playing against people who are 6-5, sometimes you can’t. She has a gift, because she can pull people out, she has the European game where she can put the ball on the floor, but now she’s going to have to learn how to score around people.”
Virginia Tech also returns Brooks’ daughter, Kendyl. Brooks had planned to redshirt Kendyl this season, but was forced to play her due to depth issues.
“Coming in, I didn’t think she would be ready, even at James Madison,” Brooks said. “My plan was to redshirt her there. I knew what she was. I knew that she was going to be a shooter. I knew that she wasn’t going to be one of those kids who could put the ball on the floor and be able to create.
Kendyl ended up being Virginia Tech’s “sixth man”, playing in 32 games. She averaged just over six points per game, serving as a three-point specialist. This offseason, Brooks hopes his daughter can develop more of a mid-range, slashing game while also become a better defender.
“All freshmen need to work on their defense, but I think she really needs to work on her defense,” Brooks said. “If she can do that, she can be out on the floor more consistently without being a liability on defense, then she’s going to help us more and more.”
The Hokies will also have a few players available that were forced to sit last season. Michelle Berry and Erin Garner were both ineligible after transferring to Virginia Tech, while experienced guard Rachel Camp redshirted due to injury.
Camp played a large role for the team as a freshman, averaging 11.4 points per game and making 28 starts. However, Camp started just three games her sophomore season and came off the bench as a reserve. Next year, she has a chance to start on the wing.
“Rachel’s availability is going to be a tremendous plus,” Brooks said.
Berry will give the Hokies a versatile forward who can run the floor and bring energy.
“Michelle is probably the most athletic kid we have on our team,” Brooks said. “She’s raw, she’s got some things she needs to work on, but from a pure athleticism standpoint, she’ll be able to go in and compete on the boards, get rebounds. She’ll be able to defend, she’s a great defender. She’s long, and just her energy. Her three-point shot is developing. I wouldn’t call her a three-point shooter, but it’s developing.”
Garner will give Virginia Tech depth at center behind Magarity, who really was the only true post player available last season.
“She’s going to be able to give us some [depth] there,” Brooks said. “She’s still developing her offensive game, she’s more of a defensive minded player, but she’ll be good on clear lanes to put the ball in the basket and get some offensive rebounds.”
Virginia Tech has already signed three players for the Class of 2017, including Aisha Sheppard, a third-team All American.
Sheppard is a combo-guard who is rated as a 5-star recruit and the 34th overall prospect by ESPN. Sheppard plays in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, which Brooks says is one of the best in the nation. Brooks says that Sheppard can handle the ball well and distribute, and shoots well from the perimeter.
“She’s a tremendous ball player, but she’s an even better person,” Brooks said. “She’s going to be a great representative for us. If you ever Google her and see her interviews, she’s tremendous. She works hard.”
Virginia Tech has also signed Sierra Votaw, a 6-foot-2 stretch-four who might make an immediate impact next season.
“I think she has tremendous upside,” Brooks said. “I don’t know how much we’ll lean on her immediately. A lot of that is how she deals with the college game and strength. She needs to get stronger.”
The Hokies are also bringing in center Celeste Akoro, who will likely redshirt next season.
Even though Virginia Tech looks to have signed a solid recruiting class in Brooks’ first season, the Hokies have a long way to go to break through into the women’s basketball elite. Some programs will always be there — Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and so on. Can Virginia Tech become a consistent contender in the ACC, or possibly become one of the nation’s elite programs?
“I think that you can’t really put a ceiling on anything,” Brooks said. “When you look at the landscape, you take the women’s game last year. Syracuse was a first-time participant in the Final Four. Oregon State was a first-time participant in the Final Four. Washington was a first-time participant in the Final Four. This year, you look at what Mississippi State did to UConn. Everyone can get to that point. Obviously you have to have a lot of luck, you have to have some things go your way, but I look at it and five years ago, when I was at James Madison, we played Syracuse in the semifinals of the WNIT. We beat them. Then, look where Syracuse went from there.”
In order to get there, Brooks will have to have a successful offseason. He says for the most part he’ll be recruiting kids for this class and next year’s class. While Brooks cannot comment specifically on players he is still recruiting, he did say he wants to sign two more for the 2017 class.
“One of the things we’re selling these kids on is that you come in, make an impact like we anticipate that you can, this is going to be that team for the next two years,” Brooks said. “We have one senior next year. So, if we can get everything in order and get these kids buying in, I think the next two years can really take us somewhere we want to be.”
Brooks’ other priority this offseason is to get to know Blacksburg more. He said this offseason will be his first chance to venture out into the area, rather than driving to work and back.
“I’m sure I have a million speaking engagements to do, but another thing really is myself and my staff really learning Virginia Tech and Blacksburg,” Brooks said. “I can go to here and my house with my eyes closed. Anywhere else, I’m lost, I have to use my GPS. I just don’t know the area because when we got here, everything has been a one-track mind. I know where the essentials are. I’m looking forward to, this spring and this summer, really venturing out and learning the area. So many people say, ‘How do you like Blacksburg?’ And I’ll say, ‘I don’t know.’ The people are nice, but I don’t know Blacksburg. They’ll say, ‘How do you like Tech?’ I’ll say, ‘I love Tech, but I don’t know Blacksburg yet.’ I’m looking forward to getting to do that.”