Beyond Box Scores: Early practices yielding results
By Rob Daniels
Yep, the new UNCG women’s basketball coach is putting her own stamp on the program. A time stamp.
Wendy Palmer’s first group of UNCG Spartans has been preparing for its season on a different schedule, one in which shots go up before the sun does. In what is becoming a bit of a trend across various college sports, the Spartans routinely work out at 7 a.m. Or maybe 6. Or perhaps 5:30.
“I was shocked,” junior guard Dayshaun Richbow said, “because I am not used to getting up early in the morning.”
Well, she is now.
But Palmer, who replaced retired legend Lynne Agee in the spring, says the move isn’t the chest-thumping declaration of a new sheriff’s arrival; it’s more practical than political.
“In looking over their class schedules,” Palmer said last week, “I don’t think you get the best out of kids at 5 p.m. – especially when you’re taking over a program and trying to instill all of your philosophies. You need to get them as soon as possible. I’m not a morning person, but it was the best situation to be successful.”
That’s because change inevitably takes time. Offensive sets and defensive points of emphasis can differ between administrations. Updated terminology for familiar concepts means that Palmer’s players are learning a new dialect if not an entirely new language. To some extent, everybody’s a freshman.
To put all of that in the middle or late afternoon, the dreaded time frame that gave birth to America’s $27 billion a year “energy drink” industry, seemed counterproductive to a new staff. They decided they’d take their chances on a new schedule. Behold the additional benefits of the switch.
** Going early in the day compels players to adhere to a sane sleep schedule, a habit that few college students keep regardless of academic demands or extracurricular pursuits.
** It gives student-athletes access to class schedules and university-wide programs they might not otherwise use to their fullest.
“I love it,” senior forward Sarah Folwell said. “I have time in the afternoon to go to tutors. I’m definitely utilizing that and other free services that UNCG offers.”
** It ensures everybody’s awake for their first class of the day.
“Shockingly enough,” Palmer said, “a lot of the young ladies like it.”
The most important attribute of the schedule change may be in the big picture, one that stresses preparation and organization. The routine is a metaphor sounded by the pre-dawn dissonance of the alarm clock.
“I often bring life situations onto the court,” Palmer said. “Too often, athletes look at it and say, ‘Oh well, I didn’t get over that screen.’ Well, you know what? That’s adversity in life. Are you going to give in? Are you going to forget to do it? Are you not going to meet deadlines? Or are you going to press through it? So they’re rising to the challenge.”
As for her first team, Palmer is not burdened by presumptions. Hired after the NCAA-permitted window for April workouts with players, she convened her first full-squad practice without assuming too much.
“I didn’t have a chance to work out with them until they got back to school,” she said. “So what are you expecting? We’ve definitely gotten better (in practice). Any time you have change and transition, it’s not easy. It’s like being traded or a team going to another city.”
(Both of those things happened to Palmer in an 11-year WNBA playing career. She’s the leading scorer among the dozen or so NCAA Division I coaches with playing experience in the league. One of the teams that traded for her packed up and moved a year later.)
Preseason was rigorous and heavy on running, which the players embraced. They’d like to pick up the offensive pace, a universal desire that’s not always grounded in reality. That, Palmer said, must come in time.
“I would like for our defense to dictate our offense,” she said. “Offensively, we’d love to get layups all day. That’s not going to be the case. I like 1-4 sets. I like box sets. But I like them to flow.”
The Spartans open with a foe from their Big South Conference days when Liberty comes to Fleming Gym at 7 p.m. Friday. The new coach says she will be excited about a new challenge rather than tense.
And she figures to be well rested.
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