Brick by brick: McNeill building defense-first script
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
As coaches and players are still in stages of the feeling-out process, every East Carolina women's basketball practice still is a little different.
First-year Pirate coach Kim McNeill views all of her players as freshmen in her system, not putting too much stock into what they did in the past, and she strives to win with a defense-first style that worked for her at Hartford the last three seasons.
Raven Johnson, one of two seniors on the Pirates' active roster, said it goes beyond just strength to produce quality defense and rebounding and a new winning formula for ECU moving forward.
"You have to build that endurance up," said Johnson, who was the leading rebounder on an ECU team a year ago that was led by three different coaches and finished 16-15. "It's endurance and strength about equally. You have to be able to get up and down the floor, because we play now at a very fast pace. We need to be strong and in shape to keep up."
Not being fully effective in all regards as desired could be why McNeill described the preseason so far as a roller-coaster ride featuring various moments and emotions.
"We have grown in some ways and in some ways we are kind of stagnant, and obviously the season is right around the corner," she said. "We talk about building that foundation and we have to start layering some bricks. I'm at the point where I am looking at small victories, because our system does take time to get used to and, really, at Hartford, it took us three years.
"My last year at Hartford is when we were able to implement the whole system."
That system is led by defense.
"It's not just one defense, but we play several different defenses," said McNeill, whose first game with the Pirates is Nov. 6 against Middle Tennessee. "That's why I've really been stressing communication to each other, because we will switch defenses out of timeouts and switch after free throws, so everybody has to be on the same page. You can't have two people in one defense, one person in one and two in another."
Hartford was second in the country last year in steals per game, turnovers forced and turnover margin. It marked the third straight year the Hawks were top 10 in the country in both steals and turnover margin.
Those statistics excited Pirate point guard Lashonda Monk, a junior and Greensboro native who last year grabbed an American Athletic Conference single-season record 116 steals. She also scored in double figures in 22 games.
"A lot of the defensive plays that she has put in so far sets up getting a lot of steals and deflections, so I'm really excited about that," Monk said. "I know that defensively I can get after it, and that will create a lot of scoring off fast breaks and stuff like that."
Tuesday's practice came one day after AAC media day when East Carolina was picked 11th out of 12 teams in the league preseason poll. The Pirates tied for the seventh in the standings last season despite their multiple coaching transitions.
Johnson, Monk and McNeill represented ECU at media day in Philadelphia.
"Me and Raven being two of the upperclassmen on the team, it was important to bond with our new coach and let her get to know us more and us getting to know her more," Monk said. "She is kind of like one of us and is goofy. She laughs just like us."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.