Friday, October 12, 2012

University of Memphis women's basketball team welcomes eight new faces

 article from

For two straight seasons, University of Memphis women's basketball coach Melissa McFerrin knew who she was working with before the season began.

She knew she had one of Conference USA's best in guard Brittany Carter, the Tigers' undisputed go-to player. McFerrin also had one of the league's top post players in Jasmine Lee, last season's C-USA Player of the Year. And there was defensive specialist Ramses Lonlack.

With those key players departed, McFerrin finds herself in the unfamiliar position. The Tigers' roster features eight newcomers, including five freshmen.

"I liken this to three years ago when we really didn't know what we had," McFerrin said. "As coaches, it's our job to figure out how to put it all together and help this team be as successful as we possibly can."

The Tigers are coming off their third consecutive 20-win season and a third straight trip to the postseason. But if those streaks are to continue, it will be with the help of a vastly different cast of players.

McFerrin has just three returning upperclassmen — senior forward Nicole Dickson and juniors Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and K. K. Harvey. The Tigers' other returning players are sophomores Lauren McGraw, Ann Jones and Jailyn Norris.

New to the team are freshmen Mooriah Rowser, Asianna Fuqua-Bey, Ariel Hearn of Arlington, Jaymie Jackson and Courtney Powell, and junior college transfer Devin Mack. Also joining the team are Middle Tennessee State senior transfer Jamila Ajanaku of Central High and Ole Miss junior transfer Pa'Sonna Hope. Both have applied for immediate eligibility and are awaiting word from the NCAA.

The Tigers' success this season will depend heavily on how quickly the newcomers adapt. Since practice began Oct. 1, McFerrin has been impressed with their approach, starting with this being the fastest one of her teams has had every player pass the fitness test.

"I like how we really try to apply the things that are taught in a practice setting," McFerrin said. "For a young team that has so many new faces, that's not always the case. This is a group that has high expectations for itself, both individually and collectively. I think they're going to react really well to that pressure, or expectation."

The Tigers' recruiting class last year was ranked 39th nationally by ESPN's HoopGurlz, McFerrin's highest-rated class since taking over the program in 2008. Rowser, a high-scoring guard from Rockville, Md., said the group is looking forward to contributing right away.

"We're getting used to everybody, the way they play, and getting used to the different styles," Rowser said. "But I think we're going to be pretty good. ... There's a lot of good players on this team and there's big competition between all of us. But I'm going to try to make an impact on the team any way I can."

Abdul-Qaadir, heading into her second year as the Tigers' starting point guard, likes what she's seen so far.

"I like that they're all athletic," she said. "They all hold capabilities that are going to fit on this team. I feel like we're going to be able to depend on them early in this season. When they get in the game, they're going to make crucial things happen.

"This is the most hardworking team I've been around since I've been in Memphis. I feel as though hard work beats everything else."

After playing Rhodes in an exhibition game Nov. 3, the Tigers open the season at home against Grambling State Nov. 9 as part of the WNIT preseason tournament.

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