Minnesota’s Ashley Ellis-Milan leans in a little closer; in a low voice, she said, “We’re going to be pretty good.”
It’s like the junior forward doesn’t want the other media members or other players or other coaches to hear her say it. She’d rather “fly under the radar.”
According to the press populating the ballroom at the Big Ten Conference Basketball Media Day, the Gophers will finish fourth in the conference. The coaches have Minnesota pegged at No. 5.
That’s fine with Ellis-Milan; she knows better.
“We’re going to sneak in there,” she said, referring to the upper echelons of the Big Ten. “Not even sneak, we’re going to be in there.”
Her confidence certainly isn’t unfounded. A year ago, the Gophers finished third in the conference , and they earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite having only one senior on the active roster.
Minnesota 2008-09 returns four starters from that team, including senior guard Emily Fox, an All-Big Ten first team selection last season and a preseason first team selection this year. She averaged 17.2 points per game during 2007-08, fourth best in the conference.
Fox will lead a team that’s a little older, a little more experienced, and that knows what it takes to get to the women’s version of the Big Dance.
“Last year we had a very young basketball team and they learned and competed to get back to the NCAA tournament,” head coach Pam Borton said. “I think that experience was invaluable.”
Borton’s team will still have to relay that experience to some newcomers, however. The Gophers add four freshmen to the team — guard Kiara Buford, twins and forwards Brianna and Nicole Mastey, and forward Jackie Voigt. Fox said all four will be an important part of this year’s team.
“Coach Borton is expecting them to come in right away,” she said. “They’re kind of overwhelmed right now with practice just starting but they’re fitting in great and I think they’re going to contribute right away.”
Lavender just getting started
She was the first freshman in conference history to win Big Ten Player of the Year; third in the conference in scoring, first in the conference in rebounding; she led her team to a share of the regular season Big Ten title.
For most, that’s a pretty good career. For Ohio State sophomore center Jantel Lavender, that’s just the beginning.
Naturally, she’s the preseason pick to repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year. She’ll probably just keep doing what she did last year, right?
“You have to continue to add things to your game,” Lavender said.
For example, Buckeyes head coach Jim Foster said Lavender has been working on her range in the summer months. A three point shot would just be another tool for a player that already has plenty.
But will she have the green light to put up threes this year?
Foster thought about it for a few seconds, then said, “blinking yellow.”
Buckeyes, Boilermakers preseason favorites
The coaches went with last year’s Big Ten tournament champion; the media chose the regular season champs.
In the preseason polls released Sunday, Purdue and Ohio State were picked as the favorites to win the Big Ten crown by the coaches and media, respectively .
With forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton fully recovered from an ACL tear and guard Jodi Howell back after undergoing two surgeries last fall, the Boilermakers are one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten.
Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp may have trouble getting all her talented players in the game, but said, “It’s a very good problem to have.”
The Buckeyes will shoot for their fifth consecutive Big Ten title with Lavender leading the way.
“We know that we’re capable and we know we have everything we need to win the Big Ten,” she said. “If everybody keeps that in the back of their mind — that we are the best — then there won’t be any problems.”
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