July 23, 1997
The Future Is Now
For the 1997-98 Women of Troy basketball team, the past is saying hello to the future. But the future is also saying goodbye to the past.
From one angle, USC welcomes back as head coach one of its trailblazing alumni, Chris Gobrecht, who played basketball for the Women of Troy in the 1970s and has returned to lead USC into the 21st century. A 2-time Pacific-10 Conference Coach of the Year at Washington (she led the Huskies to 9 NCAA tournament berths in her 11 years there), Gobrecht spent last season at Florida State.
But on the flip side, the Women of Troy, dominated by a senior class last year, will set out to make a new name for themselves in 1997-98, built around a group of young -- but talented -- players.
So it goes for USC, which is coming off an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year but has lost forward Tina Thompson (the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft), ABL draft choice Michelle Campbell, a center, and 3-year starting guard Erica Jackson. USC was 20-9 overall last year and finished third in the Pac-10 at 13-5.
A team that once relied on its post players for the bulk of its scoring -- and leadership -- will now look for more balance, namely from junior guard Kristin Clark, redshirt sophomore guard Erica Mashia and returning junior forwards Adrain Williams and Jodi Parriott. Clark is a returning starter, Mashia is a starter from 1996 who was hurt last season and Williams and Parriott split the starting chores at the 3-position last year. Parriott, however, will miss the first part of the season recovering from summer knee surgery.
That leaves the onus on Clark, Mashia and Williams, a trio of players who Gobrecht feels will be the core components of this year's squad. Between the change in staff and the change in personnel, Gobrecht and the Women of Troy have a stiff challenge at hand, but one that the coach is looking forward to.
"The big issue for us as a program is dealing with an entirely new coaching style," said Gobrecht, who took over for Fred Williams. "Our players have to step up and take over. They've leaned for so long on Tina Thompson, Michelle Campbell and Erica Jackson. It's one thing to be out of their shadow but it's another to carry the burden that goes with that.
"Our overall size concerns me. I am worried about our ability to rebound. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is an athletic team, a team that will play with a lot of energy, how I like to play. They are capable of the work ethic and team attitude that is necessary for that. I really like them."
Clark may be the best player suited to Gobrecht's defense-oriented, up-tempo style of play. The 5-7 guard is USC's leading returning scorer (11.4) and is coming off a breakout season in which she earned 1997 All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors.
She led USC in steals (2.6) and had at least 2 nabs in 23 of 29 games last year. She led the team in 3-point percentage (41-of-114, 36.0%) and tied for team-high in 3-pointers made (41), canning 6 treys in one game and 5 in another.
Said Gobrecht: "Kristin is a player who really came into her own as a sophomore. I give her a lot of credit for finding her place among all of those older players who had been there for so long. It's exciting to have a player like Kristin who won't back down from a challenge, who is fighting for time. Kristin will fit great with how I do things. I love her ability to shoot the ball and her hard-nosed, tenacious play."
Complementing Clark in the backcourt will be the 5-7 Mashia, who missed all of last season recovering from a hip injury. A Pac-10 All-Freshman team selection in 1996, Mashia is completely healed and looking to regain the form that made her one of the most deadly 3-point shooters in the Pac-10. As a true freshman, Mashia, who averaged 11.8 points per game, made 38-of-87 3-point attempts for a 43.7% clip, the best season mark ever at USC. She also set the standard for free throw accuracy, making a record 84.4% (65-of-77) of her foul shots (including a Pac-10 record 33 in a row).
Said Gobrecht: "The big question mark with Erica is that she hasn't played in a year. She has got to get back the toughness and hardness that it takes to play in the Pac-10 and she needs to feel comfortable again on the floor. For an entire year, she was on crutches. I loved her as a freshman. I loved the coolness to her game, her demeanor on the floor. I thought she was one of those players who quietly takes you apart."
Gobrecht sees a tremendous future for Williams, who at 6-4 can play either forward position or center. She has started a combined 29 games in her first 2 seasons, posting career averages of 8.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in only 21 minutes per game. Now an everyday starter, Gobrecht expects Williams to grow into a more dominant role on the team.
Said Gobrecht: "She's a terrific talent. She's intelligent and graceful and has excellent size and speed and quickness. I believe she is a player who more than any other on our team can dominate. But I think it is our job to help her grow into that role. More than anything else out of Adrain, we want to see the determination to make these next 2 years be everything they should be for a player of her ability."
Behind Clark and Mashia are a group of guards that will get plenty of opportunities to contribute in Gobrecht's aggressive style of play: sophomores Kiyoko Miller, Kim Clark and Antoinette Polk and senior Shannon Kartz.
Of the four, the 5-8 Miller played the most last year, playing 13.3 minutes per game as a reserve guard. She figures to serve in the same capacity again. Miller, as fundamentally sound as any player on the team, averaged 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds last year but will likely add to those totals as her role expands.
Said Gobrecht: "She will represent another dimension for us. She plays a lot tighter to the vest. She's solid. She comes from a great program and has an excellent base of fundamentals and will be a good player for us."
Kim Clark, the twin sister of Kristin, is, like her sister, an excellent athlete and an aggressive player. Kim, also 5-7, is a 2-sport athlete at USC who will join the basketball team after soccer season is over (she is a starter on the soccer team and one of its leading players). After joining the basketball team last year, she played in 17 games, averaging 1.4 points and 8.4 minutes of action an outing and providing a defensive spark every time she was on the court.
Said Gobrecht: "I have high expectations for Kim. She is such an exceptional soccer player, it's easy to defer to her soccer. We need to challenge her to be a basketball player of the highest quality. She is capable of that. The expectation shouldn't falter because she is a great soccer player. She's a fighter and I really want that on the floor."
Kim isn't the only 2-sport star for the Women of Troy. Polk, 5-10, will spend her fall with the volleyball team, where she will compete for a starting outside hitter job as a redshirt freshman. She saw limited action last year after joining the basketball team, playing in 9 games and averaging 2.1 points a game. An athletic player who can touch the rim, Polk could blossom under Gobrecht's system.
Said Gobrecht: "I'm excited about her athletic ability. She's an outstanding volleyball player. My guess is if we give her a definable role on this team, she'll be really good at it."
The return of Kartz, 5-8, will add needed depth at the guard spot, especially while Polk and Kim Clark finish out their fall sports. Kartz missed her junior season while concentrating on academics and is expected to resume her role as a defensive stopper who always brings hustle to the floor.
Said Gobrecht: "If she makes a commitment to the team and her studies, it will be good to have her back. She's a player who will get in your face."
The Women of Troy have the potential to be strong in the frontcourt, but will have to rely on a host of newcomers in addition to the returning group of post players.
With Parriott out, 6-2 sophomore forward Tiffany Washington will get an opportunity to start. A top reserve off the bench last season, Washington averaged 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in only 11.2 minutes per game. A strong player with a knack for tough rebounds and loose balls, Washington adds an intimidating presence to the court as well as an ability to score.
Said Gobrecht: "I anticipate some really great things from Tiffany. There's always a place on my teams for an aggressive rebounder. She moves great and she'll do really well in my system. She's aggressive and plays hard and is a good athlete. I have big expectations for her. We'll need her a lot."
USC also needs Parriott, but will have to do without her at least through the end of 1997. The 6-2 forward was USC's fourth-leading scorer (8.5) last year and is the only returning player besides Kristin Clark who reached double figures in 3-point baskets (14). Parriott is the model small forward who lends an excellent shooting touch with an ability to rebound. She will be missed in the early going at both ends of the court.
Said Gobrecht: "Her great quality is that she believes she should be out there playing. I really like her confidence and the never-back-down attitude on the floor. Her injury will set us back. We don't have a lot of size and she'll miss the preseason."
USC will get some frontline help, however, from a recruiting class of 3 forwards: freshmen Tashara Carter and Whitney Houser and junior Adria Sneed, a junior college transfer.
Carter was a 1997 USA Today Honorable Mention All-American, All-CIF Southern Section Division III Player of the Year and first-team selection and the Daily Breeze Player of the Year as a senior at Bishop Montgomery High (Torrance, Calif.). A former prep teammate of Washington's, the 6-0 Carter, who averaged 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds as a prep senior, provides athleticism and solid 3-point marksmanship.
Said Gobrecht: "She can be a great one. She has the potential to develop into not only a great open-court offensive player, but she might also be able to develop into something my best teams have had -- a defensive stopper who has good size. They can be an intimidating presence and it wouldn't surprise me if she could have a future in that kind of critical role. I hope she can help out on the boards, too."
Sneed comes to USC as an established rebounder from the junior college ranks. A 1997 J.C. All-State first team selection, Sneed averaged 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a 6-1 sophomore at Ventura (Calif.) College and led the Pirates to their second consecutive California J.C. State Championship. She prepped at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Wash.
Said Gobrecht: "Adria is a late bloomer. She came into her own at Ventura College. I'm glad she was brought on board. Every post player on the team is important."
The 6-0 Houser, who prepped at Laguna Hills (Calif.) High, is a 2-time All-Pacific Coast League (1996-1997) first team selection and a 1997 All-CIF Division II second team selection. She helped lead Laguna Hills to the 1997 CIF State and Southern Section Division II titles. She will add depth at the forward position but can also play at guard.
Said Gobrecht: "You've got to like a player like her who can play the guard spot with her size. She strikes me as a winner. She finds a way to win."
So does Gobrecht, who is looking forward to her return to the Pac-10 after a year in the ACC. She returns to a conference whose landscape has shifted in the short time she has been gone.
"Some new faces will emerge in the Pac-10," Gobrecht said. "In some ways, the overall strength will be better and the balance will be better. You won't have a seasoned, veteran team like Stanford that was together for a few years. But you'll have a lot of teams that will play at a high level.
"I don't think the gap will be that great between the top 3 teams and the bottom 3 teams. It will be a very short distance. Who shows up to play every night will decide games."
USC opens play with exhibition home games on Nov. 9 and 15 before beginning the regular season on Nov. 25 with Long Beach State at the Lyon Center.
Included in the non-conference schedule for the Women of Troy are trips to Lawrence, Kan., and Boise, Id., for tournaments and the Pac-10/Big East Challenge (featuring Seton Hall and Rutgers) hosted by UCLA.
USC opens the Pac-10 season with home games against Arizona State and Arizona on Jan. 2 and 4 at the Lyon Center.