Amy Williams learns something new about her team every day. Since taking over the helm as the Nebraska women’s basketball head coach, she has discovered the various personality traits and quirks of her athletes. Now that pre-season basketball practices are in full swing, Williams is able to pick up on those traits much quicker.
“We totaled up before Monday’s practice that we had had a total of 19 hours on the basketball court with our team before that,” Williams said. “It’s something we’re really excited to be spending 20 hours per week and getting a little more comfortable with our team and comfortable with our new system and comfortable with each other.”
Now that the team is able to be together more often, Williams and her staff are also able to better evaluate their players.
“Every day there is something new that is surprising me,” Williams said. “Like I mentioned, we had the couple of hours per week in the summertime but 19 hours of total time on the court with your group is not enough to really evaluate. We’ve watched lots of film as a team but for the most part, what we can see right now, we’re going to continue to learn about them here in the next several weeks and probably throughout the entire season.”
Part of players getting to know a new staff and vice versa is learning how everyone operates. For Williams, she quickly discovered that her team has a hard time loosening up.
“We’ve been talking about that,” Williams said. “We’ve been having individual meetings this week with all of our players and the one thing resounding that my staff has been alluding to is that the team takes itself way too serious. We’re trying to get them to lighten up a little bit and have fun. As we’ve been working through that a bit, we’ve been seeing some really fun personalities shining through.”
Williams believes that has to do with an individual player’s mindset of focusing a little too hard on becoming the best. That can then lead to that player taking everything a little too seriously.
“We’re just trying to send the message that you can laugh and have a good time and pump your fist and celebrate your successes out here on the court and still be working to get better,” Williams said.
More news and notes from Wednesday’s press conference:
>> Williams confirmed that forward Rachel Blackburn will be out for the 2016-17 season with a knee injury that requires surgery. Blackburn’s injury is tied to chronic knee pain that she has suffered since she was young.
“We’ll be trying to help repair some of that,” Williams said.
Blackburn’s surgery is schedule for Thursday, Oct. 13. Until then, Williams said that Blackburn has elected to stay in practice.
“It shows a little bit about her toughness,” Williams said. “What we’ve seen every day in practice, I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ She really brings something to the table but it’s definitely something we are supporting her through and we will miss and it’s going to be very difficult to replace.”
>> As for players stepping up in Blackburn’s absence, Williams specifically mentioned freshman guard/forward Grace Mitchell.
“We’ve been very excited about some of the other players in the position,” Williams said. “We’ve had some openness from, in particular, one of our freshman Grace Mitchell. She has been open to kind of sliding over and playing a slightly out-of-position to be able to help make up for Rachel’s absence.”
>> Leaders are emerging on the team, which Williams and her staff are excited about.
“We’ve had leadership evolving and coming from a bunch of different areas,” Williams said. “Obviously, I think, we’ve been very pleased… Jessica Shepard just with her status on the team and her past performances is kind of an obvious go-to and we’ve been very, very pleased with the way she’s really coming on and taking that role of being a leader for the team seriously.”
Williams also noted both seniors — center Allie Havers and guard Esther Ramacieri — as leaders. She credited both, along with other unnamed players, for their work ethic and for leading by example.
>> Speaking specifically about Shepard, Williams is working with her and the entire team on being good to one another. Their motto? “If you want to have a good team, be a great teammate,” Williams said.
With that in mind, Williams is choosing to focus on the teammate aspect over anything else when it comes to her expectations for Shepard.
“That’s going to be the expectations that I have for Jess,” Williams said. “That’s going to be the expectation that I have for everyone else on our team. Aside from that, I don’t have any expectations. I don’t feel like she has to be first team all-league player or anything like that. We’re not to going to set those boundaries. We’re going to have her focus on being a great teammate and what can she do to make our team successful.”
>> Hardest working player on the team? Williams credits that to guards Maddie Simon and Emily Wood, as well as Mitchell.
>> When it comes to the point guard position, Williams highlighted quite a few of her players that are able to fill that role. That includes Esther, Rylie Cascio Jensen, Hannah Whitish and Emily Wood.
“With the transition, we have had a little bit of uncertainty in the point guard position,” Williams said. “Right now, it’s point guard by committee. We’ve had a lot of different players stepping into that role and filling in. Fortunately, in some of our transition schemes, our guards are interchangeable and we need lots of players to play.”
As for identifying someone specifically at point guard, Williams thinks they’ll carry the committee approach into the season. If someone really rises to the challenge, the staff may reevaluate.
>> The team’s motto over the summer? “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Williams said.
With that motto in mind, the team took on quite a few new challenges. That included pool workouts, swimming, etc. Williams felt the team handled those challenges with a great attitude and worked to get better each week.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.