2008-09 USC Women's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 16, 2008
The USC women's basketball team's 2008-09 senior class has some unfinished business to take care of this season.
When Brynn Cameron and Camille LeNoir came to USC, it was with the expectation that they'd be playing in the Trojan backcourt for four seasons together. They just didn't think it would take five seasons to get to that senior year.
Hip injuries to both players delayed the two talented guards' departure from Troy by a year -- putting the pair on a path to this season's senior stretch alongside true senior Nadia Parker. Together, Cameron, LeNoir and Parker stand as the three Women of Troy who have had a taste of the NCAA Tournament.
Cameron and LeNoir were freshmen when the Trojans snapped a seven-year absence from the postseason in Mark Trakh's first season at Troy. Parker joined in as a freshman in the 2005-06 season when USC made it back-to-back NCAA appearances.
Now all on the same track to graduation, the two guards and center are joined by former walk-on Nicole Berberet as Trakh's senior class of talent and leadership. Cameron, LeNoir and Parker have all garnered All-Pac-10 honors during their USC careers to date, and Trakh sees a bright final season for his seniors as they put the finishing touches on their time at Troy and lead the rest of the Trojans through a competitive but powerfully promising 2008-09 season to come.
"I'm really excited. Our goals have not changed. We have more talent than last year. Last year we won 17 games and almost made the tournament. If we did that last year we can win more games this year," Trakh said.
Added incentive for a strong regular season is the promise of hosting both the Pac-10 Tournament and the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship First and Second Rounds at USC's Galen Center. The Galen Center became the new home to the Women of Troy in 2006, and USC has won 22 of 29 games on its home court since then.
"With both of those held here in Galen, we have the road all paved ahead of us, we just have to work hard. Our goal is to win over 20 games, reach the Sweet Sixteen and sell out those NCAA games at the Galen Center. The future looks great. We just gotta get out there, and play exciting basketball."
Last season, the Trojans served up plenty of excitement, playing out 12 games that were decided by five or fewer points. One of those nailbiters turned out to be one of the most exciting wins by the Women of Troy in years, as USC edged No. 2 Stanford 73-72 for its first win over the Cardinal since 2004. Stanford would go on to reach the NCAA championship game, but the Trojans would fall short of the postseason after the injury bug bit again late in the season, taking top scorer and rebounder Parker out of the picture with a knee injury during the final week of the regular season.
USC finished 17-13 overall on the year after earning the No. 4 seed into the Pac-10 Tournament with a 10-8 conference mark. Six of USC's top seven scorers are back for more, including the Trojans' top three point producers Cameron, LeNoir and guard Heather Oliver. All told, USC returns those three starters along with Cameron -- who matched LeNoir with 40 threes last year -- sophomore center Kari LaPlante and versatile juniors Hailey Dunham and Aarika Hughes as key contributors from the 2007-08 squad.
That load of talent and experience will combine forces with a solid set of newcomers to Troy, although there is no denying the dramatic changes that have slammed the USC roster once again.
Until a week before the season began, there were two additional shining Trojan stars set to make their long-awaited debuts at Troy. McDonald's All-Americans Jacki Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath came to USC a year apart, but both now remain sidelined by repeat knee injuries. Gilbreath's redshirt freshman season has been stalled by a second tear to her right ACL, and Gemelos will now miss a third consecutive season at USC after tearing her ACL and cartilage in her left knee -- this after back-to-back tears in her right knee kept her off the court for her first two years at Troy.
"We've lost two McDonald's All-Americans to injuries for the second straight year," Trakh said. "You shake your head and wonder why this kind of thing happens to such good kids. But both are great kids, and both are looking to come back and have great years next year.
"We have lot of good kids here. We're going to move forward and address winning -- winning the Pac-10 Tournament and reaching the NCAAs."
In spite of the upsetting losses of Gemelos and Gilbreath, the rocky start to the the season has signs of smoothing. USC's senior strength of Cameron, LeNoir and Parker are already keyed in to provide stability as leaders, and they have some undeniably talented youth ready to make strides as new Women of Troy.
Guard Daniela Roark will make her debut this season after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. And three true freshmen will hit the hardwood at Troy as well. Two of those newcomers were teammates as McDonald's All-Americans -- and opponents as first- and second-place finishers in the national 3-point shootout following the game. Three-point champ Ashley Corral will team back up with fellow All-American Briana Gilbreath (younger sister of Stefanie) as fast fits in the USC backcourt as freshmen, along with 6-3 freshman forward Michelle Jenkins.
Corral garnered extra experience over the summer as a member of the U.S. 18-Under National Team competing in Argentina. She led the USA squad in minutes playing the point, and will serve as a formidable one-two punch for the Trojans as a backup to senior All-Pac-10 guard LeNoir.
"Camille has come back to be one of the top guards in the conference," Trakh said. "She's backed up by Ashley Corral, who is a great point guard, a great player. We have two really competitive kids at point guard and that's a luxury we haven't had in a few years."
While LeNoir and Corral are primed to run point for the Trojans, USC has a similarly established presence in the paint in 2007 All-Pac-10 Second Team pick Parker and 6-5 sophomore LaPlante.
"I have an elite post in Nadia Parker. She's become one of the top post kids in the Pac-10. She was our leading scorer and rebounder, but if you've seen how far this kid's grown. I think both she and Camille are WNBA prospects. Nadia is a shot blocker who can get up and down the floor, get in the paint, and back it up and hit a 15-foot jump shot."
While Parker and LaPlante loom large at the center, the Trojans have tabbed two juniors for time at forward. Dunham and Hughes have already displayed their deftness on the dribble and on the perimeter, but their versatility and agility will put them in rotation into the paint as well.
"At the 4 we'll have two converted guards, Aarika and Hailey. Offensively it will give us a matchup advantage because they can get up and down the floor."
Hughes was USC's most effective shooter from outside the arc, going 18-of-44 from 3-point range for a 41 percent average. But when it comes to acknowledge 3-point prowess, eyes fall quickly on Cameron, who set USC's season record for threes with 72 made in her first season at Troy. Now a fifth-year senior, Cameron is primed for a powerful final season as a Trojan.
"Brynn is doing really well," Trakh said. "She has a great shot, and she's looking as good as she was in her freshman year."
Coming up behind Cameron and LeNoir's team-leading 40 threes from last season is junior guard Oliver. Oliver started 22 games and earned Pac-10 Defensive honorable mention in her first season at USC last year. "Ollie is looking even better," Trakh said. "She has a great 3-point shot and is a great defender." As for USC's newest additions to active roster, Trakh likes what he sees. "Michelle Jenkins was a member of four state championship teams. Look to her to give us some quality minutes as a role player," Trakh said of his freshman post player. "Daniela going to be really good at the guard, and Briana will challenge for a starting position. She's 6-2, has a great work ethic and can block shots.
"It's going to be fun. We're running a new spread offense, with pick and rolls for Camille and Ashley. I think we can average 78 points per game. We've always been a good defensive team. We want to get out there and play a tough matchup. That's what we want to do."
The test begins on the road for the Trojans, with USC's 2008-09 schedule kicking off with a trip to Raleigh, N.C. After a visit to the Wolfpack Invitational to open against Charlotte and then face either North Carolina State or Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USC returns to California to play Trakh and his staff's former program, Pepperdine. Aside from a trip to Hawai'i for the Women's Seasider Challenge for matchups with Utah Valley and BYU, the bulk of the nonconference stretch will be played on home turf. USC has UC Santa Barbara, Michigan, Montana State and Utah tabbed for visits to Troy and the Women of Troy Basketball Classic bringing Duke, Harvard and Siena to town. The Trojans take on the Blue Devils in a bigtime clash on December 19.
After a December 30 tilt with Utah, 2009 marks the start of conference clashes. The Pac-10 has been a battleground for years, and the competition level for the coming season has the makings of yet another full plate for conference squads. "Stanford is going to be really strong again. Cal's going to be really good and so will ASU, and we'll be in the mix somewhere too. UCLA's talented, too," Trakh said of his sense of the Pac-10 frontrunners.
"We've got to win some nonconference games on our way into Pac-10. We need to get our wins early so that we have 18 or 19 wins and there's not as much pressure late in the season. It's very, very important. Two years ago we felt we were going to be there, but things happened. Hopefully this year we can do it."