Some people are forced to grow up quicker than others, and the SIU women’s basketball team will learn this lesson firsthand during the 2012-13 season.
With no seniors and only two juniors, the Salukis are the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference. The team does, however, have four returning starters: Mercedes Griffin, Ariel Haynes, Alexus Patterson and Cartaesha Macklin, the reigning MVC Freshman of the Year.
“We are obviously expecting great things from her,” said coach Missy Tiber of Macklin at a press conference Tuesday. “This is a young lady that could have very well have been just fine with being freshman of the year in the league, but no, she got to work. Any weakness areas that she’s had, she has developed them.”
Macklin, who averaged 16.5 points per game last season, which was good for second in the MVC, said she is only as good as her teammates make her. She said she is fine with Tiber dubbing her a leader, though.
“I don’t feel pressure at all,” she said. “It’s actually fun that I’m able to be looked up to. It doesn’t take any effort from me to go out there and work hard. It’s just in my mentality.”
The Salukis will need a repeat performance from Macklin this season if they are going to make an improvement from last year’s 4-13 conference record and 8-22 overall showing.
Only one team from the MVC made it to the NCAA tournament during the 2011-12 season, but junior guard Sidney Goins said she thinks teams such as Creighton and Wichita State will be stronger this year because of experience.
She said she believes the freshmen on the team will be up to the challenge because of their tenacity.
“Being young, you don’t know, but you really do know,” she said. “You come in with a big ball of energy, and you’re ready to go. That’s a good thing for our freshmen because they know how to go hard. With other teams being older than us, the only issues are they have more team cohesion than us.”
One of those freshmen is point guard Rishonda Napier. Tiber said she thinks Napier has a chance to start this season, which would free up Macklin to be the natural scorer she is.
Napier said Tiber’s defensive schemes and types of ball screens and outlet passes are new to her, but she thinks she will find a place within the team.
“I think I fit in as our point guard and floor general — someone who’s going to facilitate and somebody who’s going to make other people better,” she said. “I’m just going to work and come out and play hard with these girls every night.”
She said she thinks the team’s chemistry is coming together. Goins said she agrees.
“We’ve progressed a long way,” she said. “(There is) a lot more enthusiasm at this point this season than at this point last season.”
Tiber said she notices that the team enjoys spending time together, something she and her coaching staff did not need to initiate.
She said she thinks the young team will be competitive against the powerhouses of the MVC.
“I think there is a lot of parity this year in the conference,” she said. “I just think there is a lot of great teams from Missouri State to the up-and-coming Wichita State. I think we’re going to be right there in the mix. I have a lot of confidence in this basketball team. I have full faith in our talent level and I believe we have put a nice group of kids together.”
Macklin said she thinks the team will be competitive as well.
“This year, I’m not saying we’re going to go out and blow people out, but I feel like we have the talent to compete at a top level.”
Even if the team does not have an overwhelmingly successful campaign, Macklin said she thinks the team will be set up nicely for seasons to come.
“We’re young right now, and with the class that (Tiber) put together, and with more time and experience together, I feel like we should be a dominant team in the next couple of years.”
This team will have a lot of kinks to work out to see where everyone fits in the beginning of the season, but the team’s aura is seemingly optimistic thus far, which is a stark contrast to the men’s program.
Tiber said she thinks her team’s depth will surprise the Saluki faithfuls.
“I think the biggest thing that they will see is that we have kids at every position that can play this game, and then we have subs and backups to those positions as well,” she said. “Though we only have 11 kids, we are very talented at those 11 kids.”
The Saluki women’s exhibition season will begin at 7:05 p.m. at SIU Arena against Central Methodist. The regular season starts at 7:05 p.m. Nov. 13 at SIU arena, when the Salukis will square off with Central Arkansas.