Our preview of FAU women’s basketball and its upcoming season

Mohamed Abdihakim

New FAU’s women’s basketball head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay (right) was an assistant coach at Nebraska. She helped lead the Cornhuskers to the NCAA Tournament in the 2009-2010 season and the 2011-2012 season. Photo by Christine Capozziello.

A glimpse inside a preseason practice inside The Burrow shows how things are slowly but surely changing for FAU women’s basketball.

Not only are there six new players, but gone is the only coach (Chancellor Dugan) the Owls have had for the past 13 years. In her place is a former Nebraska assistant coach looking to make an imprint on the young program.

At one point during practice, the new head coach didn’t like what she saw in her players on a particular set.

Not worried about her impression with players she’s only known for a few months, she decisively shut the play down mere seconds after it began.

“Full speed, guys. Full speed,” head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay demanded. “Do it how you do it in games.”

Amid a flurry of directions and the squeaking of sneakers, the Lady Owls are back on the court to redeem themselves after a nightmare ending to last year. In the 2011-2012 season, FAU finished with a 17-13 overall record, bowing out in the first round of the NIT in blowout fashion 76-20 to USF.

“The USF game leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It definitely gives me motivation,” Kimberly Smith said. “Thinking about how we played, how we went out, and how we let the seniors go out. It’s something I never want to let happen again.”

If Lewis-Jay gets her way, it won’t.

She brings an impressive resume to FAU. Boasting assistant coaching positions with Nebraska and other teams in the Big 10, Pac 10 and Big 12 conferences, the new head coach has experience on her side. Having also contributed to NCAA tournament appearances for teams in each conference, Lewis-Jay brings a certain level of expectation with her.

“We expect every drill to be run perfectly”, Lewis-Jay, a self-professed perfectionist, said.

Even the most miniscule details are key to Lewis-Jay’s coaching approach.

“You are how you practice,” Lewis-Jay told her players during the scrimmage when she sensed a lack of urgency. “I’m a stickler for little things.”

The Owls bring back three returning starters (Chenise Miller, Takia Brooks and Smith) to complement the new additions. Red shirt senior Breana Turner (who led the Owls in points in 2010-2011) is back in the lineup after missing all of last season due to injury.

Turner’s potential bounceback will be instrumental if the Lady Owls’ success this season. She also averaged 10 assists per game in the 2010-2011 season. That playmaking ability is something FAU missed last year as they averaged 38 percent shooting from the field.

Lady Owls forward Chenise Miller is one of the players coach Lewis-Jay is counting on for leadership. Miller was shooting in The Burrow three months before the start of the season, hoping to erase the memory of the Lady Owls 76-20 NIT loss to USF. Photo by Christine Capozziello.

Among the freshmen/transfers, so far, junior Briah Blakely has stood out. The transfer McLennan community college has shown resilience during practice, at times noticeably grimacing from a previous injury. The 5-foot-8 guard also ran the different sets very well, rarely making mistakes. On scrimmage drills, Blakely was hounding opposing guards from the first dribble.

The Lady Owls are also looking forward to a new wrinkle in the defense. Lewis-Jay has made it clear that implementing pressure defense early and often is a goal.

“That’s what we want to be,” Lewis-Jay said. “We want to be a team that puts pressure on and puts it on all 94 feet [of the court]”.

Even with the high expectations, coach Lewis-Jay understands that she is asking a lot of her players.

”Our depth may or may not let us [play pressure defense],” Lewis-Jay said. “We’ll have to go on and off with it.”

One of the concerns for the Lady Owls involves the physical fitness it takes to keep up with the frantic pace of pressure defense.

“They’re getting there. They didn’t come in anywhere near where we needed to be and that’s not their fault,” Lewis-Jay said. “It’s a whole new system and with the timing of me getting hired and everything, we weren’t able to show them what we wanted to do throughout the summer.”

FAU women’s basketball brings back three starters in addition to the six
newcomers: Ashley Stevenson (left), Briah Blakely, Shanequa Schrouder,
Brianna Marsh, Jasmine Queen and Morgan Robinson. Photo by Christine Capozziello.

Though they may not be at their desired fitness level, players from last year’s team have not forgotten how their 2012 season ended. The memory of that game drives red shirt junior forward Chenise Miller.

“I was thinking about how far we came and how we should have won the Sun Belt Tournament, and we should have been in the NCAA Tournament, rather than the WNIT,” Miller said.

Miller led the Lady Owls last year in scoring (10 ppg) and rebounding (7.4 rpg). According to coach Lewis-Jay however, she’s still improving as a player, adding more versatility to her game.

“Chenise [Miller] is growing a little bit,” Lewis-Jay said in her ball-handling ability.

In terms of bench players, Lewis-Jay has seen major progress from junior Latavia Dempsey.

“I’ve seen a huge amount of improvement from [Latavia] from day 1 to where she is now. We’ve been challenging her to play more consistently,” Lewis-Jay said. “[She] can turn it on when she wants to, so we’ve challenged her to do that and she’s responded.”

Both Miller and Smith see winning a Sun Belt title as not out of reach and a very attainable goal.

Lewis-Jay admires their candor, but realizes talk is cheap.

“Hey,” Lewis-Jay says with a grin. “They’ve got to prove it.”

The Lady Owls are set to start off their 2012-2013 season with an exhibition game at home against Trinity Baptist at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 3.

FAU Lady Owls 2012-2013 schedule:

Date Opponent Location
11/03/2012 Trinity Baptist Boca Raton, Fla.
11/09/2012 @Georgia Southern Statesboro, Ga.
11/16/2012 @Bethune Cookman Daytona Beach, Fla.
11/18/2012 Jacksonville Boca Raton, Fla.
11/23/2012 @Miami Coral Gables, Fla.
12/01/2012 @Arkansas State Boca Raton, Fla.
12/07/2012 @Misissippi.State Starkville, Miss.
12/10/2012 Wisconsin Madison, Wis.
12/15/2012 Stetson Boca Raton, Fla.
12/21/2012 @Troy Troy, Ala.
12/29/2012 @Louisiana-Monroe Monroe, La.
01/02/2013 Louisiana Boca Raton, Fla.
01/09/2013 @Middle Tennessee St. Murfreesboro, Tenn.
01/12/2013 @Western Kentucky Bowling Green, Ky.
01/16/2013 Troy Boca Raton, Fla.
01/19/2013 North Texas Boca Raton, Fla.
01/23/2013 @Arkansas-Little Rock Little Rock, Arl.
01/26/2013 @Arkansas State Jonesboro, Ark.
01/30/2013 Louisiana-Monroe Boca Raton, Fla.
02/02/2013 Middle Tennessee St. Boca Raton, Fla.
02/06/2013 @FIU Miami, Fla.
02/09/2013 @South Alabama Mobile, Ala.
02/13/2013 Western Kentucky Boca Raton, Fla.
02/16/2013 @Louisianna Lafayette, La.
02/20/2013 @North Texas Denton, Texas
02/23/2013 Arkansas-Little Rock Boca Raton, Fla.
03/02/2013 FIU Boca Raton, Fla.

Three players to watch for this season:

Chenise Miller / Junior / Forward–10.6 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, 0.8 blocks per game
Chenise Miller led the Lady Owls in scoring, rebounds, and blocks last season. Aside from her ability in the post, Miller was also second on the team in assists with 1.3 per game. She should continue to improve as she continues to assume a leadership role.

Kimberly Smith / Junior / Guard–5 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 32 percent from 3-point
Though Kimberly Smith had a bit of a down year, averaging 5 points per game, she is a solid shooter from three. In addition, head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay has been going through several plays involving a pair of screens to free up shooters. Smith’s shooting touch is good enough to warrant a good share of these plays, giving her opportunities to pad her stats and contribute to a few wins.

Latavia Dempsey / Junior / Guard –6.6 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game
Latavia Dempsey has been singled out by Lewis-Jay as a player that has made a particular leap. As Lewis-Jay mentioned, Dempsey is skilled enough to “turn it on” when she wants to. The question is whether she will be able to contribute at a consistently high level. Improving her scoring average from from 4.6 to 6.6 points per game in two seasons shows that she is, at the very least, moving in the right direction.