July 31, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Matt Daniel’s “Home of Higher Herd Hoops” has become a full house.
After the rigors of the road in the offseason, Daniel heads toward his second season as the Marshall women’s basketball coach planning on a NCAA-maximum 15 scholarship players for 2013-14.
With a 9-21 record and last-place Conference USA finish in his debut season, Daniel did a roster makeover.
The Herd has six returnees from last season, bolstered by three junior college signees, five freshmen and one Division I transfer to date, with the coach expecting to add another of those – from in-state, he said -- in the coming weeks before classes begin in late August. There are no walk-ons.
He’s also trying to build the Herd hoops reputation down another avenue, too.
In the revamped Conference USA, Daniel has been chosen as the league coaches’ “captain” – the 2013-14 C-USA representative to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
“Given the circumstances of everything that’s gone on, I thought we did a phenomenal job recruiting,” Daniel said in his Henderson Center office on Wednesday. “Our staff has really focused and we did a good job of piecing together a roster that we’re really pleased with.
“This is the first summer in women’s basketball that you can work with the kids, and I’ve been amazed. Never in my coaching career -- assistant or head coach – have I had a group jell so well, so quickly, personality-wise.
“Now, there’s still a lot to learn basketball-wise and we haven’t even started to dive into that, but they get along great, and seem to be good kids. And in the classroom, 11 players took 13 classes, and we got 9 A’s.”
Daniel, heading toward his sixth season as a head coach, will have only three seniors in 2013-14 – frontcourt players Erica Woods, Orlandria Williams and Suporia Dickens. Returning juniors are forward Chukwuka Ezeigbo and guard Justine Boerger, with point guard Norrisha Victrum a sophomore.
The Herd’s JUCO newcomers are forward-guards Leah Scott of Iowa Western CC and Aja Sorrells of Hutchinson (Kan.) CC, as well as point guard Andrea “AJ” Johnson of Northeast (Neb.) CC. Daniel said all will be juniors this season, although it’s possible Scott could gain an additional season of eligibility.
The recruits from high school are guards Kiana Evans of Huntington, McKenzie Akers of Princeton and Enjonae Chambers of Conway, Ark. Frontcourt signees are Chelsey Romero of Hampton, Va., and Maya Singleton of Upper Marlboro, Md.
Singleton will sit out 2013-14 as an academic non-qualifier. Forward Ashley Lambert will sit out as a junior transfer from UMBC, as will the other Division I transfer that Daniel is expecting.
That leaves him 13 available players for the coming season, against a schedule that includes 16 games in an improved C-USA. However, Daniel figures the Herd will be much more adaptable to play the push-it style he wants at both ends of the floor.
And if women’s college hoops creates a more free-flowing game by introducing some rule changes and officials’ points of emphasis that some say are coming, a sport with less contact will work in the favor of an MU club like to defend hard on the perimeter and has added more length in the frontcourt, too.
A schedule that includes 18 home dates could boost the Herd, too.
“This team is quite a bit more adaptable to what we want to do,” Daniel said. “It would be hard not to be more adaptive than we were last year, but I am really pleased with the roster we’ve assembled. The hope is that is shows in the area of arena performance.
“I like their personalities and their versatility. They’re gym rats as a whole; they want to work on their games. I don’t think we have one person on our roster now that’s just satisfied with just being here.
“They’re hungry for success and that’s something we went out and looked for, as much as talent. Mentality in who we got was huge. We’ll take care of the ball better. Our basketball IQ was raised. We are longer all over the floor, hopefully be able to rebound it better.
“We obviously have to get better in every phase and I think we have a roster that will help us do that.”
Daniel already has four recruiting commitments for the 2015-16 entering class, all from in-state or the Tri-State. It’s a trend he’d like to continue in building the Marshall program.
“We currently have three (scholarships) available in the 2014 class next year, and I’m not sure whether we’ll use those or not,” he said. “It depends on how things come together this season.”
He said the Herd’s talent chase has opened some eyes, too.
“We wanted to change the mentality of just everything, and you look at our roster right now and we’ll have three kids from in-state of our 15,” Daniel said. “Go two years down the road and those three will still be here, and we’ve got those
four Tri-State commitments coming in, so half of our roster will be from our area.
“I don’t think that when we were hired, that anybody thought we would or we could do that. It’s something I said that we would do, and I take a lot of pride doing it with local talent. We want to run a program of complete class.
“That’s important to me, and I think it’s funny that, pun not intended, this is a complete class that we just signed. Make 10 additions to a roster? Most people are trying to fill two or three scholarships a year. We filled 10.”
Daniel, 36, is enthused about his additional role as the C-USA conduit with the WBCA, too.
“Every conference appoints, elects, selects a head coach in the conference to be the conference’s voice to the WBCA and is the hub of information from the WBCA to the league’s coaches,” he said. “I did it two years (of his four) at Central Arkansas (for the Southland Conference).
“It’s very time-consuming, but I consider it an honor and I think it’s important. As we put Marshall Women’s Basketball on the national map – which we are trying to do on a big scale – I think it’s important we have as many voices out there as possible. I’m happy to represent Conference USA and Marshall.”
The Herd’s schedule is in a waiting period for some touch-ups elsewhere in C-USA before it becomes official.
Outside the league, Marshall’s home dates include Morehead State, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Wofford, Delaware State and Navy. The Herd also faces West Virginia in a Dec. 14 afternoon date at the Charleston Civic Center, and goes to Robert Morris and NJIT.
In C-USA, Daniel’s club faces Charlotte home-and-home, and has other Henderson Center dates against Tulane, UAB, Tulsa, East Carolina, Louisiana Tech, FAU at UT-San Antonio. Marshall visits North Texas, Rice, UTEP, Old Dominion, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and FIU.
The Herd plays four teams that played in the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Navy, Tulsa, WVU and Middle Tennessee.
“We’ve got quite a few return games of series put together before I got here,” Daniel said. “It’s a good schedule.
“Indiana State beat us on road last year, WVU is always tough, Navy has been in the NCAA back-to-back-to-back. We inherited series with Morehead, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky and Navy. Those series end this year. Robert Morris and New Jersey Tech will return games to us (in 2014-15).
The revamped Conference USA includes 10 teams that were in the top 140 of the final RPI last season. Western Kentucky, No. 99, joins the following year when Tulane, Tulsa and ECU exit.
Besides Tulsa and Middle in last season’s NCAA bracket, UAB, East Carolina, FIU, Tulane, Old Dominion and Charlotte were in the Postseason WNIT field.
“Conference USA in women’s basketball got a lot tougher,” Daniel said. “Charlotte was in the ‘first four’ out of the NCAA, Middle was an NCAA Tournament team. Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech have won NCAA championships and been in a bunch of Final Fours (13).
“It’s a tough league.”