© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
When the laws of probability are taught, the first example usually concerns flipping a coin. Every time a coin is flipped in the air, it has a 50:50 chance of landing on heads and a 50:50 chance of landing on tails. What is more, every flip is an independent event, unconnected to prior flips. Even if one gets heads for 10 straight coin tosses, the chances of getting a head on the 11th toss are exactly 50%. For ten years now, the Purdue women’s basketball program has had pre-seasons fraught with uncertainty, the future of the team as up in the air as a coin being tossed upwards. And for 10 years now, the results have come up heads.
Unfortunately, like earlier coin tosses, these past results have no bearing on what may happen this year. As we enter the 2007-2008 season, huge question marks swirl around the Boilers. With their first game of the season looming, it is not clear who will become the team’s “go to” player, who is going to be a consistent deep threat, and how long the starters can hold up.
It is certainly possible that the team will finish the season with far fewer wins than the Boiler faithful have come to expect. To admit this doesn’t make anyone a “hata” or evidence a lack of belief in the team. It’s just the laws of probability. On paper, the team has no business being ranked or expecting more than a .500 finish in the Big 10. As things stand, the team is returning 1 starter, and both its best player and only proven three point threat are out for the season. The starters are talented with great potential, but they are unproven and inexperienced. The bench players are even less experienced, and there is no proven consistent outside shooter to be found in either place. Of course, this hasn’t been the first time in recent memory that the team enters a season with little on paper, and, in the past, the Boilers have prevailed. But this year is a new toss, and anything can happen. This may be the season that Lady Luck finally catches up to the Boilermakers.
Things aren’t all doom and gloom for the Boilers, however, as they have a few aces up their sleeves. Is this Kalika France’s year to come out of nowhere to save the day? She may be the person on the team who can create her own shot and get to the rim when the team absolutely, positively needs a bucket. Will FahKara Malone’s progress continue on its meteoric pace? She may be the player who averages a double double in points and assists. Will Danielle Campbell emerge as our “go to” who can be counted to finish in the paint? Can Kiki or Natasha emerge as a solid second threat, preventing double teams and keying a strong defense? If any of these scenarios take place, the Boilers will be in a much better position than many predict.
The Boiler’s returning starter is sophomore point guard FahKara Malone. FahKara’s speed and court sense leads the Boiler’s defensive pressure and presses. She has the potential to be one of the country’s finest point guards before she leaves Purdue, and she will be the straw that stirs the Boiler’s drink this year. Malone is joined in the back court by Kalika France. Despite being on the team for half of last year, France’s potential remains a question mark. She clearly has the athletic ability, and she has committed to being a positive team leader. France battles tendonitis and one hopes she can hold up to the large number of minutes that will be asked of her.
Kiki Freeman will play the wing. Her athletic ability and defensive intensity are unquestioned. While it has been reported that Kiki has been working on her outside shot, she has not yet shown that she can hit consistently from further than 10 feet out , or step up when the team needs her to make a play. If Kiki can hit her jump shots during key times, she will be able to stretch defenses and take the pressure off the front court players.
Natasha Bogdanova returns from a red shirt season to play power forward. “Bogs” evidenced a world of potential when she was last seen on the court. If she has learned how to play under control and finish her shot attempts, she will be a huge difference maker. Natasha is a very good three point shooter, and her outside production may prove invaluable.
Danielle Campbell will anchor the team at center. Danielle has all the pieces to be a superior college center. She rebounds and defends well in the paint, can hit her shots consistently from 10 feet in, handles the ball well enough to blow by slower defenders, and won’t back down to anyone. Experience and confidence are the only things holding her back.
It is extremely unusual for a bench player to be elected team captain, and the fact that Lauren Mioton holds this position speaks to her leadership abilities. Lauren excelled last year at keeping the Boilers on an even keel, a skill that will be all the more essential given this team’s inexperience. Lauren isn’t going to wow anyone with dazzling plays, but her Steady Eddie demeanor is often just what the team needs.
Brittany Dildine has had 9 months to re-learn basketball after a 4 year hiatus playing volleyball. She’s a natural athlete who should be able to provide some needed minutes relief for the starters. “Back in the day” Brittany was a fearless defender, and a good passer with a gorgeous pull up jump shot. Rounding out the back court is freshman Michelle Clark. It is obvious that Michelle has a good mind for the game and is a natural point guard. Her minutes this year will hinge on her ability to keep her composure and run the team. If she nails her three point attempts at a 35% clip or better, however, we might be seeing a lot of the California native while FahKara moves over to the 2.
Freshman Sam Woods looks to be the newcomer with the greatest ability to contribute immediately. No doubt she will be asked to a great deal as she looks to be the first post player off the bench. Sam’s versatility is reminiscent of Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton’s. The question mark for Woods entering the season is her strength, as she may get pushed around by more physical post players. Physicality is no issue for Keshia Mosley. Keshia is an imposing presence in the paint. Mosley has extremely deceptive speed and jumping ability, and may mature into one of Purdue’s best post players of all time. Keshia’s initial challenge will be to get back on the court as she is currently suspended for violating team rules. Keshia brings something to the team that no other player can, so one hopes she returns soon. Laura Garriga rounds out the active members of the team. Time will tell if she has developed into a player that will see regular minutes. Jodi Howell and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton will be cheering the team from the sidelines this year. While it hurts to lose two starters, the Purdue faithful can be partially consoled by thinking ahead to how nice it will be have them in future years.
One of the most common story lines in the pre-season has been the low expectations that are being held for the team outside the boundaries of West Lafayette vs. the belief of the team and its fans that the Boilers will do pretty darn well this year. One of the main reasons given as to why the team will be more successful that predicted is the ability of head coach Sharon Versyp. As told by the believers; outsiders just don’t “get” just how good a coach she is. Well, I believe she’s an excellent coach as well. One who has gathered the right people around her and who runs a rock solid program from top to bottom. But that’s a whistle around her neck, not a magic wand. Right now she can only coach the players she’s got. Versyp won’t be boxing anyone out, taking any shots, nor running any plays. It’s going to be up to the players to take the tools the coaching staff has provided and execute on the court.
If the Boilers do as poorly as some are predicting this year, it doesn’t mean Versyp isn’t as good as advertised. Nor does it mean that the team is not talented, or not trying. It just will mean that Lady Luck’s coin finally came down tails for the Boilers after years of coming up heads. The adversity this year’s team will face is sure to help them grow as players and mature. Watching this evolution and growth is one of the most enjoyable aspects of college sports. It should be a great season.