Team turnover for women’s basketball brings fresh faces

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By Bret Greenberg

The Illini women’s basketball team has five new faces, four new freshmen, three returning starters, two new point guards and one Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American.

With the team’s roster set at nine players, the new faces will need to step up to the line to meet head coach Jolette Law’s season expectations.

“We are changing the whole culture here and trying to start a dynasty,” Law said. “We are going to do things the right way. Just like our logo, anytime anyone plays the University of Illinois women’s basketball team, they know they are going to be in for a fight.”

Law likes what she has seen out of her new players individually. At the guard spot, freshman Fabiola Josil brings a scoring mentality and a quickness that will fit right in to the Illini’s style of play. The other two freshmen guards, Eboni Mitchell and Macie Blinn, are natural shooters that can be dangerous out on the perimeter.

“These new freshmen bring so much more energy,” junior Jenna Smith said. “They are willing to work so hard at practice. They just want to fit in and play. They are always asking me to shoot or play pick-up.”

In the post, the Illini added 6-foot-3 freshman Lana Rukavina. Law expects her to become a versatile post who can both face up and hit shots, as well as score with her back to the basket.

Junior college transfer Whitney Toone will bring two years of college basketball experience to the young Illini and depth at the thin forward position.

Another player who will see her first minutes on the court this season is redshirt freshman point guard Lydia McCully. Though she was unable to travel with the team last season, she did attend practice and learned Law’s system.

“Lydia is an added bonus for us,” Law said. “She’s had a year with me and she knows what to expect because she’s watched it. I’m going to put it out there that she is going to be in the running for freshmen of the year.”

However, McCully will need to demonstrate to Law that she can run an offense in both games and practice.

“I am going to have to slow down and teach my teammates what coach wants,” McCully said. “I think it’s a lot of pressure, but I’m just going to have to step it up a little bit. I think I’ll have to spend a lot more time in the gym and looking over plays.”

At this point last year, Illinois’ roster looked much different. After a couple players decided to leave the team at the end of last season. Law believes the players here now are truly dedicated to the program.

“It’s a positive thing when you’ve got players that want to be here and put on a jersey that says U of I and wear it with pride,” Law said. “It feels good because I can walk out and wave to my players, and see smiles instead of resistance or questioning of whether they want to be here or not.”