Friday, November 20, 2020

Freshmen could be pivotal for Furman women

Furman women's basketball coach Jackie Carson expects
freshmen to make an impact this season. Photo courtesy of Furman

Furman women's basketball coach Jackie Carson said this offseason has been one like no other. Preparing for the season during a pandemic has made for a very different looking practice. When the 2020-21 season begins next week, the Paladins could look quite different as well.

While this year's team features a pair of seniors who will be four-year starters, freshmen make up half of the roster. The eight new Paladins hail from as far away as Greece and from as nearby as Greenville High. Carson said during a typical summer, her team would have the opportunity to build body strength, take a class and mesh together as a team. Not having those opportunities has been a challenge.

"Thinking back over the last six months of being on Zooms (meetings) with this group, not even realizing until they got here that half of them had never met in person," Carson said. "Some had never met me or my staff (in person). We literally recruited them via Zoom, so when they arrived in August it was the first time they'd ever been on campus.

"It's been a lot of getting to know each other and trying to recognize everyone's strengths. We didn't have that summer to not only gel as a team - knowing half your team is brand new, but we also didn't have that summer of team bonding. And bonding looks a lot different right now at six feet apart with masks on."

While the challenges have been different, Carson is excited about watching the newcomers contribute. Following the graduation of Le'Jzae Davidson (14.2 points per game) and Taylor Petty (8.8 ppg), and the transfer departures of Milica Manojlovic (7.2 ppg, 5.0 assists per game) and Lindsey Taylor (6.6 ppg), some freshmen will likely have to step up quickly.

"Our freshmen class is pretty special and they're going to be an immediate impact class," Carson said. "I think people are going to be very surprised by them. They've been phenomenal so far."

Carson said her four seniors this year provide great leadership. That group includes returning starters Tierra Hodges (11.9 ppg, 10.4 rebounds per game) and Celena Taborn (8.7 ppg).

Hodges is one of 25 players, and the only one from the Southern Conference, named to the preseason watch list for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award. Hodges, who led the SoCon in rebounding last season, is a preseason All-SoCon pick. She enters this season ranked 10th in school history with 655 career rebounds.

Taborn overcame injuries to shatter her own single-season school record for field goal percentage last season, making 67.1 percent of her shots. That topped her previous record of 64.2 percent set as a sophomore. Taborn, who's tied with Carson for ninth in school history in career blocked shots (99), is the only Paladin ever to shoot above 60 percent for her career at 63.1.

"Tierra is a special young lady. She's a tremendous leader, both vocally and by her actions on the court. If you thought she was good last year, wait until you see her now. She really took the offseason serious and improved her game," Carson said.

"Last year was really hard for Celena, injury-wise. So much to the point where a lot of people told her, 'you probably need to retire.' She was like, 'I can do it. I can push through.' This (year) is probably the best that we could see of her."

Furman is set to open the season at Clemson on Wednesday at 2 p.m. before hosting Presbyterian on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. For college basketball teams this season though, "fluid" will be the keyword when it comes to the schedule. Carson said that can be used as a motivational tool.

"We don't who our opponent could be day-to-day or week-to-week. We could add a game on two days notice, or lose a game with no notice," Carson said. "So for us, it's been focusing on what our principles are and what our program is all about. We might not know who we're going to play, but we do know what Furman women's basketball is all about.

"It's helped us focus on what makes our program go. We haven't talked about our core values ever as much as we have talked about them this year."

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