Oregon women’s basketball head coach Paul Westhead saw the media day introductions fitting. After welcoming members of the media and speaking briefly about his goals for the season — namely, playing fast and exciting basketball — his players introduced themselves.
School year, position, name. Down the line. Quick and efficient.
No doubts remain that Westhead, the only coach in history to guide an NBA champion (Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-1980) and WNBA champion (Phoenix Mercury, 2007) has put his stamp on the program.
“I think the players are excited about playing the new style and playing the fastbreak system that I have,” Westhead said. “It’ll be interesting if, five or 10 days into practice, they are still excited about playing the new style, because they’re going to find out it’s very demanding.
“Fastbreak basketball is an intriguing thing. You have to really work hard to be good at it and that’s our test, just how hard we’re going to work and how good we’re going to be.”
That enthusiasm is spreading among the Ducks.
“You kind of get anxious,” said senior guard Taylor Lilley. “I want to start so we can get on a roll.”
Lilley’s junior season never fully got off the ground, as she missed eight games with shin injuries and a concussion. Health could be the difference between an electrifying first season for Westhead and a disappointing one as he welcomes Lilley and guard Nia Jackson (who missed all of 2008-09 with a torn ACL) back into the fold full-time.
“I had my right knee scoped (this summer), but I feel good. There’s really no problems right now,” Lilley said. “I’m just moving on.”
Westhead’s only health concerns to date are the pulled hamstring of sophomore forward Jasmin Holliday and the ACL in the right knee of freshman guard Aliyah Green. The Portland native, who spent her senior season at Jefferson High School, tore the ligament during her senior year and is unable to practice fully with the team.
“It’s getting stronger,” she said. “We don’t have a time for when I’m supposed to be back on the floor.”
Physical fitness is the litmus test of choice for a fast-breaking team. Oregon’s returning players understood what was expected of them during Westhead’s first practices last spring, which were two hours a week (the NCAA’s maximum practice time for the period) of non-stop motion and activity, even for shooting and defensive drills.
“Your first couple days at it, it feels really good,” Lilley said. “You’ve just gotta keep pushing through that block, that mental fatigue. That’s when, on the court, it’s going to show in games.”
“The great thing about our new system,” said junior forward Victoria Kenyon, “is there’s not a set structure, a set thing of rules. There’s lots of running and taking advantage of your athleticism.”
In many ways this year’s team is a new look team in the terms of personnel as well. Sophomore Darriel Gaynor transferred out of the conference, Ellie Manou moved back to her home country of Australia, and redshirt senior Rita Kollo graduated without ever playing in an actual game due to a foot injury.
But the concern of this year’s team won’t be about the players lost. It will be about
The Ducks have to wait until Nov. 3, an exhibition game against Southern Oregon, to be turned loose. But the introduction should be short and sweet.