Illinois women’s basketball maintains culture, identity despite roster, assistant coaching changes
October 7, 2021
Change is in the air for head coach Nancy Fahey and the Illinois women’s basketball team. With two starters gone in Jeanae Terry and Kennedi Myles, who transferred to Purdue and Marquette, respectively, the Illini have brought in three new freshmen, three transfers and two new assistant coaches to fill in the gaps of roster and coaching turnover.
Though Illinois has made moves in the transfer portal by bringing in Kendall Bostic (Michigan State), Sara Anastasieska (Duke) and De’Myla Brown (Chipola College), establishing and maintaining a sense of culture can be a challenge with so many new faces on campus.
“All three of them were from programs that win, programs that they were key players and programs where they scored,” Fahey said. “That was important to us.”
Illinois boasts a loaded freshman class, which includes four-star Minnesota Miss Basketball Adalia McKenzie, three-star Baltimore native Jayla Oden and North Carolina forward Keanna Rembert.
Junior Jada Peebles, who led the Illini in scoring, 3-pointers and minutes last season, has no concerns about the new kids on the block fitting in.
“I don’t think (our culture) was something that we had to really establish,” Peebles said. “We didn’t even have to say anything to them, even the new people coming in. They set a standard for themselves. They saw our standards and made it better right away.”
Aaliyah Nye is well aware of the role of freshmen immediately stepping into big roles, as she made 10 starts last year while leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 35.1%. Now a sophomore, the East Lansing, Michigan, native has taken on a leadership role in her second year in Champaign.
Nye recognized the need for the Illini to put in extra work after the team finished 5-18 and won two conference games last season.
“One big thing this year is 94+2. It just means giving extra,” Nye said. “The court is 94 feet, but who’s gonna take that ‘plus two.’ We have that mentality this year, like that fight mentality. Who’s gonna go the extra mile, who’s gonna put in the work and I think all of our players have that mentality.”
Assistant coaches Corry Irvin and Hernando Planells both arrived on campus this summer after Scott Merritt left for the associate head coaching job at Wisconsin and Vernette Skeete headed to the Southeastern Conference to take the co-associate head coaching position at Texas A&M.
Both coaches have head-coaching experience, as Irvin spent two seasons as the head coach at Saint Xavier University of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and 18 seasons as the head coach at Whitney Young High School in Chicago.
Planells spent 2012-2019 at Duke, though he most recently was the head coach at NAIA William Jessup University, which is located in Rocklin, California.
“Buy-in comes with time and trust,” Fahey said. “I’ve got three coaches that have all been head coaches, and if I walked in and I didn’t trust them and I didn’t let them do their thing and let them have input, then we would be broken.
“But, we’re not doing that. All relationships are built on that, and that’s with the team, that’s with my staff is to have that trust, and once you have that trust, a lot of special things can happen. But, it takes time, and you can’t rush it.”
Illinois’ new-look program opens its season in Champaign on Nov. 9 against North Carolina Central.