Injuries and graduations meant new coach Jody Wynn had only six healthy scholarship players at practice Thursday. The season starts Nov. 12.
After several minutes of prodding and pleading produced undesired results, Jody Wynn had seen enough. The new Washington women’s basketball coach blew her whistle, stopped a Thursday-morning practice and verbally lit into her team.
“Who are you going to be?” she yelled as the wide-eyed young women stared blankly at her. “Are you going to be slow, short and out of shape?
“Or are you going to be tough, fast and smart? Be tough! … I don’t see any All-Americans out here, but your effort will make up for your shortcomings. I promise you that.”
Last season the Huskies had an All-American and the consensus national player of the year in Kelsey Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, but she graduated. So did record-setting center Chantel Osahor and three-year starter Katie Collier.
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Sophomore guard Aarion McDonald transferred to Arizona during the offseason, and senior guard Natalie Romeo is out indefinitely due to undisclosed medical reasons, Wynn announced at Thursday’s media day.
Romeo, a three-point specialist and UW’s lone returning starter who averaged 9.3 points in 2016-17, is one of several players absent due to injuries.
Redshirt-freshman forward GiGi Garcia will miss a second straight season due to an anterior-cruciate ligament injury.
Three of UW’s five returners have missed time during fall practice, which began Oct. 1, due to injuries, including: forward Hannah Johnson (broken hand), center Deja Strother (lower-body extremity) and forward Mai-Loni Henson (back).
As the number of injured players grows, Wynn digs in and pushes even harder at practice. She won’t let the Huskies, who were picked last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, feel sorry for themselves.
“I can’t ask them to fight through adversity in a positive manner and have a pity party because we’re losing players,” said Wynn, who had just six healthy scholarship players Thursday. “Those were the cards that have been dealt. I can’t change it. So instead of being miserable every single day … I just have to give my energy in a positive manner to the girls that can practice.
“And then make sure that the girls who are not practicing still understand that we care for them. It’s not easy. But life isn’t easy, either.”
The Huskies held tryouts to expand the roster, but haven’t added any new walk-ons yet.
Wynn expects Henson and Strother will return before the Nov. 12 opener, but the rash of injuries has forced her to improvise practice plans and modify the pressure defense she used at Long Beach State, which typically relies on 10-12 players.
“It’s a complete opposite of what we’re used to,” said Johnson, a fourth-year junior and UW’s most experienced player who averaged 3.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 16.5 minutes last season. “I’m talking a (180)-degree complete opposite because we’re more up-tempo defensively, trapping and pressing. Our main focus is defense. We are focused on scoring the ball by defense.”
Without its top six scorers from a team that averaged 85.0 points per game and ranked sixth in the nation in scoring last season, the Huskies will rely on an equal-opportunity offense under Wynn.
“Whoever gets the ball and is feeling it and gets the right look and the right shot, then that’s what we want,” said sophomore guard Amber Melgoza, who averaged 2.1 points and 7.9 minutes last season. “Last year I didn’t really get many minutes, and now I’m stepping in and I’m looking forward to that.
“The one thing that I learned from Kelsey Plum last year was that if you want to be the best, then you’ve got to put your work in the gym. Do the extra things, and at the end it’s really going to pay off.”
• Washington awarded a scholarship to senior walk-on point guard Jenna Moser, who is vying for a spot in the starting lineup. She appeared in 14 games over the past two seasons and scored four points.
• Gary Hill Jr. has been named the play-by-play host for the 2017-18 season. He replaces Steve Sandmeyer and joins analyst Elise Woodward on radio broadcasts.
• A Pac-12 record-tying six women’s basketball teams are in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches poll, including Washington, which tied with California for 25th in the rankings. The others are No. 7 UCLA, No. 9 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon and No. 17 Oregon State.