Nov. 3, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Suporia Dickens has been there, done that.
Now, she’s ready to do more, as Marshall opens its second women’s basketball season under coach Matt Daniel.
“It’s an advantage having played in the system last year,” said Dickens, a 5-foot-10 senior whose play rose significantly in the final half of last season. “But not much because the other new girls caught on fairly quick.
“I think that’s an advantage for the team because the new players can come to those of us back and ask for help without always having to ask the coaches. We’ve got a lot of new talent this year (10 on a 16-player roster; 13 eligible this season), a lot of players who can do different things, versatile, so those of us returning have to get used to playing with them.”
The Thundering Herd finally gets to play another opponent Monday at 7 p.m., when Kentucky Christian makes the short trip east on I-64 for an exhibition game at the Henderson Center. Daniel’s team plays its regular-season opener Friday in a lunchtime (11:30 a.m.) tipoff against Bluefield (Va.).
Daniel’s young team plays seven of its first eight and 10 of its first 12 regular-season games at home.
Dickens – her teammates and coaches call her “Portie” – averaged 8.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for a 9-21 team last season. She started 26 of 30 games, averaging 27 minutes.
In Conference USA play, however, those scoring and rebounding numbers rose to 10.1 and 6.7. Dickens’ 21 points against Rice and 17 boards versus Houston were Herd season highs.
She will play the four spot for Daniel’s team again.
“Her versatility allows us to use her in a variety of ways on both sides of the ball,” Daniel said, “which only increases our chances in schemes. I think just being around our staff for a year and adjusting to the type of style we want on the floor -- and behavior -- only benefits her and is contagious to the rest of our team.”
Dickens, of Freeport, Ill., came to Marshall after one junior college season at Highland (Kan.) Community College. She started 10 games (played in 29) as a Herd sophomore, averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds.
“A lot has changed,” said Dickens, 22. “It’s definitely more competition trying to earn a spot this year, but I think it will help us in the long run. That’s because we’re competing in practice and we’ll be competing in games, so we should be improved because of that. And Coach Daniel told us he’s only going to be able to play 9 or 10 people, so that brings even more competition.
“I do think having all of those home games early will be extremely beneficial because I think we play better at home. It’s our own court, where we practice. We’re more comfortable there. That makes a difference.”
Dickens emerged as a 3-point shooter late last season, and she said she will look more often for her shot in 2013-14. She also wants to increase her rebounding.
“I feel like I talk more on the court than I did last year,” Dickens said when asked how her game has changed as she begins her final MU season. “I don’t know why, guess I’m more comfortable. It’s more about offering encouragement, so people don’t get down.”
Daniel said Dickens’ growth in the last year has been significant.
“Her confidence has grown so much since we’ve been here,” the Herd coach said, “and I believe the better you feel, the better you perform, for the most part.”
Asked to name a couple of newcomers who might be eye-openers to Henderson Center fans, Dickens picked two freshmen – guard McKenzie Akers and 6-1 post player Chelsey Romero.
“McKenzie, she’s a shooter,” Dickens said. “It’s like she never misses in practice, so we try to get her the ball when she’s open, to get our assists up. Then, Chelsey, she goes hard. She’s a good match for ‘Cheek’ (6-3 junior and returning starter Chukwuka Ezeigbo) in practice. I think she will bring a lot to the team this season.”
Dickens said Marshall is motivated by the C-USA coaches’ preseason poll, which voted the Herd 16th and last.
“They’ve counted us out,” she said. “It’s a lot of motivation for us, and it will keep us working hard to reach our goal.
“We want to win the conference and go to the tournament. After last season, we know we have a long way to go, but that pushes us.”