New basketball coach spells fresh start for veteran squad

By Stuart Lieberman

All five starters return for the Illinois women’s basketball team this season, but if it seems as though they’re learning the Illini system for the first time, it’s because they are. With Hall of Fame coach Theresa Grentz stepping down following the 2006-07 season, a new face on the sideline brings a fresh perspective to an experienced team.

Head coach Jolette Law, formerly a top assistant at Rutgers under C. Vivian Stringer, has brought a new philosophy to the team, one that has already made an effect.

“I think coming in I’ve accepted (the women) and they’ve accepted me,” Law said. “We’re running a whole new system, a whole different technique. We are trying to instill a defensive philosophy on them.”

Law will use a combination of her own philosophy and what she has learned over the years from other coaches to mold the team into one with a championship mentality. Surrounding Law on the court will be Karen Middleton, an assistant coach at Stanford for 10 seasons; Tamika Louis, who served as head coach at community colleges and worked as a corporate manager for General Motors; and Patrick Klein, who served as an assistant coach at Ohio State the past two seasons.

Law said she and her staff hope to build upon the team’s 19-12 record from last season, aiming to win at least 20 games this season.

“What I am going to do is build on what they already have and just try to basically not let down what they did last year,” she said. “Ultimately, our goal is to contend for the Big Ten Championship and make it to the NCAAs.”

However, Law does not want her team to look too far ahead just yet.

“Right now it is getting past what was last year and trying to get them to embrace what we are about to do,” Law said.

During the first couple weeks of practice, Law said she has been doing a lot of teaching, and the players have been doing a lot of sitting.

“They’re not off, but they’re not where I expect them to be right now,” Law said. “They’re not used to a lot of things. As I teach, I got to contain the demand – that they keep giving, going game speed, giving 110 percent.”

Law intends to build off of last year’s success by implementing a strength and conditioning program.

Every day, the team has been running ladders, rushing layups and doing intense conditioning drills. Law conducts three to three-and-a-half hours of upbeat practice every day, which the women aren’t used to. But slowly, they are molding into the team she wants.

“I am extremely pleased that they are buying into this,” Law said. “It’s a lot of learning. It’s like learning a whole new foreign language.”

Meanwhile, Law said she will not necessarily use the same lineup the team had last season.

“Right now is a clean slate,” Law said. “I don’t even think about what was last year. I am happy that I have five contributors that started last year, but right now I go by what was given in practice and that’s what I tell them.”

Every woman on the team is going to have to prove herself – whether she was a starter last year or took the court as time expired.

“I’m new. I’m seeing what is right now,” Law said. “I don’t care if you were the leading scorer or rebounder; if you’re not putting out in practice I am going to go by what I see today. Whoever is working the hardest, whoever is putting it out every day, that is who is going to play.”

The players may not be used to her style of play just yet, but they have shown they will change their practice habits in order to crack the lineup.

“I feel comfortable that they are learning and are willing to learn,” Law said. “They are not resisting the change. They want it. That’s half the battle.”