Every college athletics team, whether experienced or not, has a learning process to get through before the season proper begins.
It might be learning at an advanced level or learning the basics of playing college sports, but all teams go through it. Indiana State's women's basketball team is in that process too — they just have a lot more to learn that most teams do.
The ISU women had an open practice at ISU Arena on Tuesday. A group of fans got to see what Vicki Hall's team is all about, though six Sycamores weren't practicing due to either illness or injury.
What Hall's team will be all about is more of a question mark than usual given the massive turnover from the 2019 season. Not a single Sycamore is back from a team that was 11-19 last year — eight former Sycamores could have been back based on remaining eligibility, but all departed. The only links to the 2019 team are Hall, assistant coach Luke Scheidecker, and former guard Tamara Lee, who is a graduate assistant.
So school has been in session for the entirety of the offseason as the new Sycamores have not only had to learn Hall's system and her expectations, but have had to learn about one another. It's a challenge, and it's one that Hall admits has it's good and bad days.
"It's not going to be perfect this year. We have young people that are trying to figure things out," Hall said. "You can see we have pieces and some really good things we can do, but at the same time, but we make some young mistakes sometimes."
Hall also said that ISU's roster — comprised of eight freshmen, four junior college transfers and two Division I transfers — is getting a lot more thrown at them than newbies typically might.
"I'm asking them to learn a whole lot more than most freshmen or new players to Division I and to learn quickly. It's going to come as fast as they learn," Hall said.
ISU junior college transfer center Pearl Dean acknowledged the challenge of it all.
"We've had to work hard, and with a whole new group? That makes it harder. We had to learn each other, but we took our time and learned. We've done a lot of team things to work on our cooperation together," said Dean, who played at Wabash Valley Community College last year.
A mantra heard often on Tuesday was attention to defensive detail. That's a frequent topic at ISU's practices. One of the advantages of having every player on the roster begin at the same starting point as that it clarifies the message as far as how the culture of the coach permeates to players.
"Defense is definitely the first priority we have. It's a lot of fun because the girls bring the energy. We still new and learning, so we're trying to talk more and get to know each other more. It helps everyone get in their spots. Defense is going to be what we pride ourselves in and it will turn into offensive buckets for us," ISU freshman point guard Sommer Pitzer said.
Hall said most of the offseason was spent on defense, though lately there's been more balance. Hall said considerable attention was paid to offense during Monday's practice.
"We didn't do anything offensively in the summer at all. I wanted to set the tone with them so they understood what that meant for me. If you don't defend? You won't play as much. Players equate things when it causes playing time or not
One thing that was evident in practice, even with the Sycamores short-handed, is that ISU will have some guard versatility. Pitzer, Caitlin Anderson, Marie Hunter and Jasmine Elder all handled the ball for at least one drill. Pitzer and Anderson were more of the traditional point guard variety. Elder and Hunter both flashed from the perimeter to take up duties inside the arc.
Del'Janae Williams was also a versatile threat and made her presence felt late in practice when she stepped in front of a pass, broke free for a transition opportunity, and then made a nice feed to Leandra Echi for a bucket.
Another intriguing aspect of ISU's practice was that post players Hattie Westerfield and Dean were on the floor together during much of the 5-on-5 period.
Hall said rotations aren't solid yet, especially with Mya Glanton, Lauryn Sipes, Adrian Folks, Jamyra McChristine, Cece Mayo and Alyssa Robben out. ISU will have a scrimmage on Friday and rotation spots may begin to solidify at that point.
"I met with our players the other day and I asked them where they think they are? How many minutes do they think they've earned? The big thing with me is what you earn and you earn every day. Every practice? You're fighting for your time," Hall said.
Hall also paid tribute to Alan Vickrey, who was officially added as an ISU's assistant coach last week. Vickrey coached Hall at Brebeuf when she was Miss Basketball in 1988. Vickrey was 470-246 in a high school coaching career that lasted from 1979-2001 at Brebeuf and Indianapolis North Central.
"I love Mr. Vickrey. He helped me become who I was as a player. He instilled a lot of work ethic and culture as far as being a good teammate and what it means to be a team. That's exactly what we need with this group — how to be selfless. To have somebody else with experience in that can do nothing but help our group," Hall said.