Shifting into high gear
Oregon women’s basketball head coach Paul Westhead was asked at last week’s media day how long, in his estimation, it would take the Ducks’ current players to fully adjust to his fast-breaking offensive system.
“A day, a week, (or) a lifetime,” Westhead said. “It’s really hard to predict. Being with them in the spring and the fall, their enthusiasm, their willingness to (understand the system) bodes well.”
Much has been made of the Ducks’ lack of “ideal players” for a fast break system, implying a longer adjustment time than most. But Westhead does have positional flexibility among his players that can suit whatever lineup fits him.
The players believe that the system fits them equally well.
“I absolutely love the running system,” redshirt junior Victoria Kenyon said. “It’s real similar to the European style of play, which I’m really familiar with. I’m much more comfortable.”
Kenyon is one of four players along with Lindsey Saffold, Aliyah Green and Tatianna Thomas listed liberally on the roster as a “guard/forward” — wing players in the fast-break offense. Kenyon and Saffold were both used as post players at times last season, in addition to a small forward role along the wings.
“(Coach Westhead’s system) encourages everybody to take advantage of our athleticism,” Kenyon said.
This includes the Ducks’ true post players, of which only three remain: Nicole Canepa, Ellyce Ironmonger and Amanda Johnson.
“I liked how she introduced herself … power forward,” Westhead said of the media day introduction of Johnson, the Ducks’ leading rebounder last season. “She’s a versatile player.”
Canepa, a lean 6-foot-5-inch post, missed 10 games last season due to injuries but is healthy for this season and can run the court well. The 6-foot-4-inch Ironmonger is a more grounded player who found success in former head coach Bev Smith’s half-court offense.
“You would not say on the surface that (Ironmonger) is the classic fast-break player, more of a slow-paced, methodical player,” Westhead said. “But she shoots that outside jumper so well that she fits what the trail big in my system does. I could travel around to a lot places trying to find someone who shoots the ball like that, and here she is.”
In the backcourt, Westhead has last year’s top two scorers in Micaela Cocks and Taylor Lilley along with Nia Jackson, who has returned from a torn ACL in her left knee, and junior college transfers Kristi Fallin and Candyce Flynn. For all the collective athletic talent present in the Oregon backcourt, each player must become accustomed to Westhead’s system.
“I still have a lot to learn,” Flynn said. “This is the real deal.”
Flynn, a native of Cleveland, spent last season at Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., where she won all-Great Rivers Athletic Conference honors after transferring in from Morehead State. She had just graduated from Rend Lake and was unsure of her future when Oregon assistant coach Keila Whittington came calling, scholarship in tow.
Having been with the Ducks for two months, Flynn has had her eyes opened repeatedly by Westhead.
“That if you think you’re going fast, you’re not going fast enough,” Flynn said. “You can always go faster, you can always do better. Where you’re at is never enough.
“It keeps me motivated. I think, if I think I’m doing this good, I need to be doing better.”
In the pursuit of going faster, Flynn and the Ducks hope to turn the program’s fortunes around in the process.
“My challenge is to make this team form the habit of winning,” Westhead said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.