After winning only one Pac-12 game in her inaugural season at UW, Jody Wynn said the team hopes to be playing in a tournament next spring, but said improving each day is key.
Jody Wynn understands there’s no quick fix for a Washington women’s basketball team that set a school record in futility with just seven wins last season.
Heading into her second year, the Huskies coach isn’t making any grand NCAA tournament-or-bust promises.
What’s the point in that?
Especially when UW looks to be at the start of a long road to recovery.
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So rather than wins and losses, Wynn uses more intuitive metrics to gauge progress.
“That’s easy to say you don’t focus on (your record) when we’re not getting as many wins,” said the former Long Beach State coach who has five years remaining on a $2.6 million deal. “But we’re really just trying to focus on the process and having the culture here that we want to have every single day.
“That’s with our practice habits as well as our training habits. That is the biggest thing that we’ll focus on – the day-to-day process of being the best that we can be for that day.”
Wynn admits the Huskies are in dire need of vast improvements after a 2017-18 season in which UW finished 7-23 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-12.
The Huskies suffered another setback in the offseason when freshman guard Kierra Collier, who averaged 6.6 points and 2.1 assists while starting 14 games, transferred to Drake.
Still, Washington offset the loss of Collier with the unexpected return of senior guard Natalie Romeo, a three-point sharpshooter who was a vital bench performer on the 2016-17 team that advanced to the Sweet 16.
Romeo, who sat out last season due to an undisclosed medical condition, averaged 9.3 points and shot 38.8 percent behind the arc as a junior for the Huskies. She played the previous two seasons at Nebraska.
“We’re very excited,” Wynn said. “She’s just fun. She’s positive. She’s upbeat. She loves to play. She spent the year just really getting healthy and excited to play. She’s in the gym everyday. She’s training. She’s working hard in the weight room with our strength and conditioning coach.
“We had a chance to coach her this summer with some of our skill work and she can really shoot the ball. She’s got a high motor. That’s’ really going to help us in our system. The one thing I think she does really well is move without the ball and she can make her teammates better.”
The addition of Romeo and incoming freshman forward Haley Van Dyke, who led the state of California in scoring while averaging 29.8 points last season at Compolindo High School, significantly bolsters a cold Washington offense that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring at 67.1 points per game.
The Huskies relied heavily on sophomore guard Amber Melgoza who averaged 19.0 points and ranked second in the conference in scoring.
However, no other UW player averaged at least 10 points.
“(Van Dyke) is athletic,” Wynn said. “She can really, really run the floor. She can shoot the 3. She’ll help us immediately.”
UW’s other freshmen include lanky 6-foot guard Tyiona Watkins and Darcy Rees, a 6-4 forward from Australia.
Both newcomers should help a Husky defense that ranked last in the Pac-12 points allowed (76.0 ppg.), field-goal defense percentage (48.1) and three-point defense percentage (37.6).
Washington also returns a stable if unspectacular corps of role players, including point guard Jenna Moser and forward Hannah Johnson – a pair of graduate seniors – and junior forward Mai-Loni Henson.
It remains to be seen if sophomores Khayla Rooks, Alexis Griggsby, Missy Peterson and Fapou Semebene – who were pressed into action because of a spate of injuries – can consistently provide meaningful contributions.
And it’s unclear if center Deja Strother (Achilles) and sophomore forward Gigi Garcia (ACL) will return from injuries that kept them out last season.
Three months remain before Washington’s Nov. 8 opener at Alaska Airlines Arena against Cal State Fullerton and there are still plenty unanswered questions surrounding the Huskies.
For Wynn, she’s not concerned about a brutal non-conference schedule that includes Mississippi State, Duke and Ohio State.
Instead, she’s focusing on building habits in today’s practice that will help the Huskies win when the games start.
“Being competitive is going to be a constant with us,” Wynn said. “That’s really all that we can ask for in the sense that our players are hungry to win. We want to get to that NCAA tournament again and get this program back on the national map. But it’s a process and they understand that so we can’t take shortcuts. Every single day matters.
“If you ask me for how many wins we’re going to have this year or where we’re going to be in the postseason, I really can’t put a number on that right now. But I will say that we want to be playing come spring break next year. We don’t want to be vacationing.”
Here’s the Q&A with Jody Wynn
(The last time I was in your office, this place was bare. Now you have a flat screen TV, leather furniture and neon “W” signs on the wall. So are you settled in?) “Oh yeah. Obviously, I want to put up photos and stuff of this past season of our team. They’re redoing the hallway in the coaches’ office area. They’re redoing the locker rooms and everything else. It’s a project that’s just starting and hopefully will be finished some time in early fall.”
(Do you have any input on the locker room renovations?) “Yeah. Both coach (Mike) Hopkins and his staff and my staff collaborated with the people. It’s pretty cool.”
(What do you want to see in the locker room?) “We got to be realistic here. Just a place where our players are comfortable and can be confident in. They have a lounge, which serves as their living room. They have a study area, TV and refrigerator and that kind of stuff. And then their locker room is obviously a place for them to dress and be comfortable. It’s going to be a really great renovation that is much needed and is exciting. The kids are really fired up about having a new space.”
(I find it interesting that many college locker rooms are nicer than pro locker rooms. Not just for basketball, but football as well.) “Maybe because for college students it’s kind of like being in a fraternity or a sorority. So it’s kind of like your team home. Whereas professional athletes it’s just a place for them to change and get their treatment.”
(I also think it’s because coaches uses those nice locker rooms as a recruiting tool.) “Oh, it’s big. Absolutely. It’s going to really help us.”
(Other than the locker room, what’s new this summer?) “I’ve been all over the world recruiting. We started out on July 6. The four of us have been to every major tournament in America. Paul went to Belarus to watch the U-17 Championships. I went to Canada. I’ve been to Oregon, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Toronto, Washington DC, Atlanta, Minnesota, Iowa and Southern California. That was my journey this July. July is a busy, busy month. It just ended yesterday (Sunday) so I got back late last night.”
(Any recruits we can talk about?) “No I can’t.”
(I’m half-joking here, but did you do all of that recruiting all over the country because there’s no local talent in Seattle?) “No. No. No. (Laughs) Even the talent here, all of the best teams go to major tournaments somewhere else. There’s no major tournaments here in this state. We’re watching all of those Seattle kids and Western United States as well as all over. It’s such an amazing city and great university so we can attract the best and the brightest.”
(Are you done recruiting for 2018?) “Yes.”
(Let’s talk about those kids. Who do you want to start with?) “Natalie Romeo. She’s back.”
(That’s right. I heard that may happen. But I was talking about the freshmen.) “We brought in three freshman. Haley Van Dyke is from Campolindo High School in Northern California. Comes to us as the California state leading scorer. Six foot one. Guard/forward. All of our freshmen were on campus this summer and taking summer school and training. They’re home now. Our Australian kid goes home August 17 after the B term. She’s still here because she has a different schedule than the others because she’s an international student. But yeah, (Van Dyke) is athletic. Can really, really run the floor. She can shoot the 3. She’ll help us immediately. Honestly, all three of them will help us immediately.”
(Do you think her talents translates to college basketball?) “To some sort. In high school, a lot of players have to carry the load like Amber Melgoza did when she was in high school. I don’t know. It doesn’t always transfer to immediate success at the collegiate level because those (college) players are used to playing at a very high level. They’ve been in the weight room for three years and they’ve been training with college coaches for 3-4 years. Sometimes it’s difficult as a freshman. But one thing I do know is she plays hard. She can shoot the 3. And she’s a strong kid. She’s a big strong kid. Or young lady, I should say. And she’s a great girl. So she has a chance to compete right away.”
(In this offense it would seem you need to know how to shoot the 3 because almost everyone has the green light.) “Yeah, we want everybody to shoot the 3 even the bigs that come in. We’ll work on stretching their range every year. It might not be automatically right from 3, but we definitely don’t want to place limits on anybody. We want to develop them as total basketball players.”
(The other freshmen?) “TT Watkins or Tyiona. TT is a great athlete. Long and lanky. Five foot 11. Six feet, maybe. Just can really make an impact immediately on the defensive end. Has a beautiful jump shot. Her mid-range game is really good. She’s working on shooting the 3 as well. High IQ kid. Comes from great high school coaching in Southern California. Both of those kids, Haley and TT played at the Nike EYBL level so they’ve been exposed to high level basketball at the club level. They’ve been playing with and against players that played in the Pac-12.”
(And the other freshman?) “Darcy Rees. She’s a 6-4 freshman from Adelaide, Australia. … She’s been playing WNBL – a pretty high level – back in Australia, but just not getting paid as a pro. At 6-4, she can shoot the 3. She runs the floor really well. She’s got good timing defensively. All three of them have just got to get stronger and get everyday coaching.”
(Does Darcy project as a late bloomer?) “I just don’t know. I think she’s a quick learner. This summer when we were able to work with her, she picks up things really fast. She’s a tireless worker. She’s got to get a lot stronger. But at 6-4, she’s going to provide us some length inside, but at the same time has the ability to shoot the ball on the perimeter.”
(You guys really needed size inside against the Pac-12 teams. So would that get her on the court?) “Perhaps. For us we want to play as many as we can. We just have to get them ready. Height, we can talk about it. Of course we can use some height and kids that can really rebound, but we’re not going to get caught up in saying we don’t have height so we’re never going to win. That’s not something we do just because our system might be a little different.”
(And Natalie Romeo.) “Yeah, she’s working really hard. She’s in summer school right now. She spent the year working really hard. She did great academically. She was on the Dean’s list this last quarter. She’s doing a great job. So she’s here on campus working and getting ready and excited to have her senior season.”
(Can you talk about what happened to her last season?) “No, I can’t. I can just tell you that she was out for medical reasons. HIPAA laws.”
(Ok, then can you talk about your how you handled it all and your thoughts on Romeo?) “Yeah. She’s a great girl. We’re very excited. She’s just fun. She’s positive. She’s upbeat. She loves to play. She spent the year just really getting healthy and excited to play. She’s in the gym everyday. She’s training. She’s working hard in the weight room with our strength and conditioning coach. We had a chance to coach her this summer with some of our skill work and she can really shoot the ball. She’s got a high motor. That’s’ really going to help us in our system. The one thing I think she does really well is move without the ball and she can make her teammates better. Those are two things that sometimes a lot of college players struggle with because in high school they usually play with the ball in their hands 100 percent of the time so they don’t know how to move without the ball. … Natalie does a really nice job and fits in with what we’re trying to do. Having her on the court alongside Jenna (Moser) is going to be great.”
(Did you see much of her last year at Washington and is she anything close to that?) “I saw a little bit. She’s one of those players that just works. Kinda like Jenna Moser, just doesn’t get tired on the court. Just can go. I’m excited. She can really shoot the ball. I’m excited to being able to work with her on her passing and playmaking this summer.”
(Before we start talking about next season, what’s your takeaway from last season?) “That sometimes through all of the adversity from the beginning in the summer, the transition and everything and to the games, we learned so much about what’s important. Whether it’s with individual players or us as a staff. Or collectively as a program, sometimes we learn more in defeat and learn more about each other. Although it was hard, I think we definitely are going in the right direction that we want to go in.”
(We’ve talked about this before the season and during the season, but I’ll ask again, did you focus on the record as the losses were mounting?) “Not really. That’s easy to say you don’t focus on it when we’re not getting as many wins. We’re really just trying to focus on the process and having the culture here that we want have every single day. That’s with our practice habits as well as our training habits. That is the biggest thing that we’ll focus on – the day-to-day process of being the best that we can be for that day. If everybody is doing the best that they can for that amount of time that we’re together, then that’s all that anybody can ask and you’re going to get better. We just ask the girl to have that effort and positive attitude every single day and train at their maximum for that day – and do everything you can for that day. That’s how you get better. … It’s going to be nice to have returners. Although they were returners last year, it was almost like everybody was a freshman because of the new system. Now when we say certain things terminology-wise or when we’re asking for certain things in practice, you’re going to have upperclassmen that are going to be able to guide the younger freshman.”
(It’s almost impossible to do it now in late July, but at some point in time during the season will you have to teach this team how to win?) “We’re trying to do that in practice everyday. We keep practice very competitive. Winning drills is very important. The value of knowing what it takes down the stretch. Obviously, learning to win is important but it starts with everyday in practice – winning the day. If we win the day, we’ll be able to eventually win those games.”
(I can see you guys increasing the talent level, but not all the time does the best team win.) “Yeah, sometimes the scoreboard is a liar. I think we won in a lot of different ways last year and not necessarily on the scoreboard. When we look back at the course of the year and what we were able to do against certain opponents and have certain players step up in certain situations, we won a lot of really small wins. So they can draw from those experiences. Last year, they didn’t have a lot of experience to draw from individually and collectively we had none. Now we can draw back on those experiences. We understand how practices are going to be managed. We understand how the course of the season is going to be managed so there’s a little bit more comfortableness to everybody right now.”
(Let’s get a quick take on your team starting with Amber.) “She’s doing great. She’s working hard. She had a really good summer. She was in summer school the first term with most of the returners. She’s excited to build off of a very successful sophomore year. Understands that she’s no longer going to be a surprise. Her freshman year she averaged 2.1 points per game and I think she played in two conference games. Just to have that experience has really helped her maturity. Understanding that making her teammates better is the next challenge and defensively and trying to build on the areas where she wants to be a complete all-around basketball player.”
(Hannah Johnson.) “She’s a graduate. She finished her first term of summer school. She’s getting her Master’s degree in the IL program, which is exciting for her to be a part of that program. She’s all about UW. She bleeds purple and gold. She’s a Seattleite, an implant from Southern California that claims this is her home. She’s excited for a great senior season. She was injured in the fall of last year so it set her back a little bit in regards to her preseason performances and where she wanted to be. So coming in this upcoming year healthy is going to be a top priority for her.”
(Jenna Moser.) “Jenna is also a graduate. She’s back.”
(Did you know that was going to happen during the season?) “We knew that she had another year of eligibility so we proposed it to her during the year. But we also wanted her to complete her entire season before making any type of decision, think about it afterwards and not just make a rash decision.”
(I ask because she participated in Senior Day.) “She did because there was no guarantee that she was going to come back. She had a great internship with Nike last summer and they offered her a position again this year. She’s a business finance major and has a lot of career opportunities. But to be able to earn her Master’s degree was there. So Hannah is in the coaching side of the Master’s program and Jenna is in the administration side. So Jenna is still currently in summer school. I’m excited to have her back. To have those two as leaders of the program who understand what it takes and what we’re asking for everyday is going to really help with the start of things in the preseason.”
(Mai-Loni Henson.) “I thought she had a great sophomore season. It was a little bit of an inconsistency that she would agree with in regards to her numbers or performance. But the one thing that was consistent was her worth ethic and her desire to improve and get better. She was somebody that we could put at point guard or forward. She played a little point guard in high school so she can pass the ball. She’s an unselfish player that will help. Like Amber, she didn’t play much her freshman year. They got a lot of experience last year by shouldering the minutes and by the end of the year, Mai-Loni was one of our most improved players. She pressured herself to be a certain type of player early on in the year and I think by the end of the year, she was playing the most minutes. She didn’t try to do too much and it made her a lot more successful in a lot of different ways. And she really started to value defense.”
(And last year’s freshmen.) “Missy Peterson had a really rocky freshman year because she came in having surgery in high school so she wasn’t cleared to play until right before the season started. So she didn’t have that training under her. She probably had the best spring of everybody on the team. Her spring was outstanding. She’s trying to remain healthy. That’s the big thing. A big strong guard that shot percentage-wise was really strong for us – the best on the team. She was hurt. She hurt her knee during Pac-12 play. And her foot. She just didn’t have a healthy freshman year. Didn’t finish the season out for us. Missed the last two months of the season. But she’ll be ready to go come fall.”
(Khayla Rooks.) “Man, that kid. Her IQ. You look at her and you think, I don’t know. But her IQ is incredible. Like Missy, the two of them play together a lot in drills this spring and those two can really make people better. Khayla is an unselfish basketball player. She can shoot the 3 and got a good taste of quality minutes as a freshman. By the end of the year, she did great in the conference tournament. She was somebody that we could rely on. She’s a comforting player for us as coaches because you just think she’s not going to make a lot of mistakes. She might now wow you, but she’s going to make the right reads offensively. She’s working on getting in better shape so she can really help us on the defensive end and the boards.”
(Alexis Griggsby.) “She had a rough freshman year. Very inconsistent with practices, which led to inconsistence with games. I just think sometimes freshmen aren’t ready for it all. And we couldn’t afford to redshirt her. We needed her to play. We were down numbers. All of those freshmen, we needed them to contribute. I think she could have benefited from a redshirt year, but instead she played quality minutes. She made big shots, timely shots. She was one of our hustle players. She took a lot of charges for us. She’s not afraid to sacrifice her body. She was just glad for that year to be over with so she could be a sophomore in the sense that maturity wise, being away from home, working and training and now she knows what it takes. It’s been a good offseason for her.”
(And I’m missing one freshman.) “Fapou Semebene. Again, a kid that at the end of the year was hurt. She was in a boot I think the last couple of the weeks of the season. Again, she’s just trying to get healthy this summer. It’s been a summer where she’s just had to really concentrate on getting her body healthy. Improving her range, improving her finishing skills are two areas she’s really worked on. And trying to get healthy.”
(Lots of injured players trying to get healthy.) “And then you got Deja (Strothers) and Gigi (Garcia).”
(What’s their status?) “Both of them are out indefinitely through their injuries. Deja is still trying to recover from that Achillies and Gigi is still trying to recover from the ACL. There’s no timetable.”
(Your lineup changed just about every game last season. Will you continue doing that and if so, why?) “It’s not like I purposely say, we’re going to mix it up this day.”
(Are you sure?) “No. Not at all. I know it looks like that from the outside. Last year, we ended the year with seven kids that could do anything. I think Mack (Mackenzie Wieburg) and Jenna were mainstays. And Amber, Mai-Loni and Hannah. Throw in Rooks here and there. Ideally, we want to play 10. We want to play 11. If we could play 12, that would be awesome because of our system and our style. We want players that know they have a new opportunity every week regardless of what happened last week. We want our practices competitive. We want our players to stay fresh and hungry and not rest on their laurels so to speak. I just think it creates a healthier atmosphere. I think there’s less jealously. There’s less well I’m not going to play so I’m not going to work that hard attitude. It makes practices fun. And I think it creates healthier relationships. We mix things up based on what we saw in practice everyday. It could be a matchup situation for our next opponent. And when you’re open and honest with the players, they respect that.”
(After winning just seven games last season, what’s the next step for this program?) “Being competitive is going to be a constant with us. That’s really all that we can ask for in the sense that our players are hungry to win. We want to get to that NCAA tournament again and get this program back on the national map. But it’s a process and they understand that so we can’t take shortcuts. Every single day matters. If you ask me for how many wins we’re going to have this year or where we’re going to be in the postseason, I really can’t put a number on that right now. But I will say that we want to be playing come Spring Break next year. We don’t want to be vacationing.”
(And your schedule.) “Oh my God, it’s a monster schedule, right? My goodness.”
(Were there a couple of old contracts from the previous regime or is this all your doing?) “Derek and I. We’ve always kind of done that from our days coaching at Pepperdine through USC and Long Beach. We’ve played monsters. I think that for us, our conference is the best in the nation, so every single night is extremely competitive. I think it’s a great opportunity to expose our team and our players and coaches against some of the best in the business. We’re going to a great tournament in Florida and open up with Duke. That’s going to be awesome. Mississippi State and Ohio State are coming in here. Mississippi State is probably going to have the No. 1 draft choice in (Teaira) McCowan. It’s a great opportunity. And it’s great for the fans and the city of Seattle and the community to come and support high-level basketball.”
(How did you get Mississippi State in here?) “Mississippi State is coming in a return to play at Oregon and they called Derek and said, we’re coming into Oregon and do you want to have us come in? We said, yeah sure. Why not? What an awesome opportunity. It’s Dec. 20. Not too many programs can say they played against teams that have gone to the national championship. I just think it’s awesome. It’s a great opportunity for our program. We want to recruit high-level student-athletes here and let them know that they’re going to get exposed across the country to great programs and day in a day out it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for them to play here at UDub.”
( I think it’s frightening. You’re braver than I am.) “I love it. I love the challenge. It’s awesome. There’s nothing to lose. What pride?”
(Yeah, but you know there’s coaches who stack their preseason schedule to make sure they get wins.) “You could. And some coaches do that. I’m OK with who we are as coaches. I just think that if we lose, it’s OK. We’re going to compete and we’re going to prepare really hard. That’s why we’re here at Washington. We’re here to play against the best of the best.”