PISCATAWAY, N.J. (October 25, 2012) – The Rutgers women’s basketball team hosted its annual media day on Thursday Oct. 25 at the RAC. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer and members of the 2012-13 squad met the media and discussed the season ahead. Coach Stringer is entering her 18th year at the helm of the Scarlet Knight program, 42nd year overall and is only 15 wins away from becoming the third coach in the women’s game to reach the 900-win plateau,
THE SENIOR CLASS
The Rutgers women’s basketball team opens the 2012-13 season with a well-crafted balance of veteran leadership and youthful enthusiasm, a mix that most programs strive for. The Scarlet Knights return three starters in McDonald’s All-Americans Chelsey Lee (Miami, Fla.), Monique Oliver (Las Vegas, Nev.) and Erica Wheeler (Miami, Fla.). This talented group of seniors is coupled with a deep pack of sophomores and freshmen, featuring two straight recruiting classes ranked third-best in the nation according to ESPNU HoopGurlz.
As the most senior member of the squad, Lee returns for her fifth-year following shoulder surgery that forced her to the sideline last season. A dynamic force in the paint, her rebounding and toughness on the defensive end was missed by the Scarlet Knights in 2011-12. She led RU in rebounding in back-to-back seasons as a sophomore and junior with over seven boards per game. Lee increased her offensive production in 2010-11 averaging a career-high 8.5 points per game with 16 double-digit scoring games and a team-best five double-doubles.
Also leading the Scarlet Knights in the frontcourt is Oliver, a two-time All-BIG EAST honoree. The most experienced player with 97 career games and 62 starts, she averaged career highs in scoring (11.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). The 6-2 center also averaged 1.8 blocks per game which ranked fourth in the conference. Oliver will look to add her third-straight All-BIG EAST accolade as one of Rutgers’ cornerstones on both ends of the floor.
The other senior in the starting lineup is Wheeler who emerged as an outside scoring threat for Rutgers during her junior season. Ranked 10th all-time in career three-point field goal percentage, she was second on the squad with 39 made three pointers in 2011-12. She posted 11 double-digit scoring outings, including two 20-point performances. Wheeler also led RU on the defensive end, pacing the team with 52 steals.
THE JUNIOR CLASS
Junior Alexis Burke (Bainbridge, Ga.), a transfer from the University of Illinois, will sit out the 2012-13 season per NCAA transfer rules. A no. 50 overall prospect by HoopGurlz and the No. 11 small forward, Burke was the Georgia Class 4A Player of the Year after leading Bainbridge High School to a 25-4 record. At Illinois, Buke appeared in 30 games last season making 12 starts with seven double figure scoring games.
THE SOPHOMORE CLASS
The 2011 recruiting class, ranked third-best according to ESPNU HoopGurlz, featured four players ranked in the top-100 and the entire five-member group returns for its sophomore season. Each saw significant playing time last season in preparation for the inevitable – a larger role in the Scarlet Knights championship run in 2012-13.
Leading the sophomore class is 6-0 wing Betnijah Laney (Clayton, Del.), who made a splash in her Scarlet Knight debut. Laney earned a start in the season opener becoming the first true freshman since 2006-07 to start the first game of the season. She added 18 points in the contest which marked the highest scoring output for a rookie in their debut since 1996. An All-BIG EAST Freshman Team selection, Laney led the RU freshmen in points (139), starts (11) and rebounds (124).
Fellow sophomore Briyona Canty (Willingboro, N.J.) showed flashes during her first season as a Scarlet Knight, appearing in 28 games, earning six starts. She averaged 2.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and tallied the most steals among freshmen with 31. Shakena Richardson (Neptune, N.J.), the point guard of the future, saw action in 29 games and the early experience in high pressure situations should prove invaluable as she looks to take over the reins as the floor general for Rutgers.
Rounding out the sophomore class is defensive specialist Syessence Davis (Neptune, N.J.) and 6-3 center Christa Evans (Jackson, N.J.). Davis saw action in 30 games with four starts as the 5-7 guard posted 30 steals, leading RU in steals six times, including two-or-more thefts in seven games. Evans helped sure up the frontcourt with the absence of Lee, appearing in 32 contests with four starts. She will look to add to that experience and provide the Scarlet Knights with quality depth off the bench.
THE FRESHMAN CLASS
Rutgers hauled in another nationally-recognized and highly-touted recruiting class with the addition of four ESPNU HoopGurlz Top-100 prospects for the 2012-13 campaign. It was the second-straight third-ranked group for the Scarlet Knights and third top-five class in the past five seasons.
Headlining this year’s recruits is Rachel Hollivay (Columbus, Miss.), the No. 2 ranked post and ninth-rated player in the country overall. The 6-4 post and native of Columbus, Miss. was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. In addition to her scholastic exploits, she was also invited to Colorado Springs, Colo. on two occasions for the U16 and U17 National Team Trials.
Adding to a stable of guards is 6-1 wing Kahleah Copper (Philadelphia, Pa.). The No. 17 overall ranked player and fifth-rated win from Prep Charter where she helped the Huskies to a Public League Championship as a junior in addition to claiming Most Valuable Player accolades.
Ariel Butts (Columbus, Ga.), a 6-3 post and Precious Person (Jonesboro, Ga.), a 6-1 guard are the final members of the nationally-ranked recruiting class. Both Georgia natives, Butts averaged a triple-double as a junior at Carver High School in Columbus. She also appeared on the ESPNU top-100 list at 75th overall and as the ninth-best post player. Person was a four-star recruit (69th overall, 28th-best guard) out of Charles Drew in Rex, Ga. She helped guide her high school squad to the 4-AAA Championship and a state playoff berth.
HEAD COACH C. VIVIAN STRINGER:
On the new team and a different feel of this year: I really, really, really, enjoy this team. They’re easy to work with, They work hard, and they just want to please. They don’t worry about what happened before, and they’re interested in starting clean.
I don’t think anyone is going to outwork us. This summer they spent an awful lot of time going to amusement parks and cooking dinner for each other and recognizing what family means.
On having greater depth in the post position: We’ve always been thin in the post, and especially with the loss of Chelsey Lee last year, people would just come at Monique Oliver. If you look at our size this year, we have nice size.
We always play a tough schedule. We’ll always continue to challenge ourselves against the best competition in the country. We don’t mind where we play or when we play. Once we played three top-10 teams in eight days. We’ll take you anywhere, it doesn’t really matter. We measure the growth, not the wins, necessarily. Technically where the growth is, is what shows you’re ready for NCAA postseason play.
On Monique Oliver recognizing her position on the team as a leader: It’s to the point now that we’re growing as a team and we understand that it’s not about us as individuals, but about who can best do what needs to be done right now.
On playing time: With the exception of Alexis Burke who has to sit out for transfer rules … I expect to see everyone’s name on the score sheet. Everyone’s contributing every day in practice because they’re not favoring each other. They’re going at it. That can be difficult to understand that you go to war while you’re on the floor, but then you can be friends afterwards.
Senior Forward Chelsey Lee:
On her readiness to play after coming back from her shoulder injury: I feel completely healthy. I’ll be honest; I do get nervous sometimes when I set screens because some people just run through them. I just try not to think about it, because when I do, it affects the way I play.
It helps that I started practicing in December because I was so out of shape [after coming back from my injury].
On herself and Monique being the two key posts : I think this could be the first time in a long time, that we have a really dominant presence in the post. We have four post players, including the new freshman and myself, Mo and Christa, whereas before it was just myself and Mo having to watch our fouls. Now there’s so many of us, we don’t have to hold back while we’re playing.
Sophomore Guard/Forward Betnijah Laney:
On growing as a player from freshman year to now: I’m definitely more comfortable now because I’m more experienced. I know what to expect from coach, and overall I just know more of what I’m doing. Last year it was new to me and I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but now I know what to expect.
On hitting the medium range shot: It’s definitely something I’ve been working on in the offseason. I’m confident I’ll be able to come in and hit the mid-range shots throughout the season.
On the seniors who graduated and the new leadership: We definitely miss [the graduated seniors], but there also comes a time when people have to move on. I don’t think we’ll dwell on that too much. We have seniors that are definitely stepping up and taking ownership of the team.