GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T women's basketball team will be opening up the 2012-13 season on Friday night by taking on No. 18 Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.
It's a demanding start to what will be a competitive season, but first-year head coach Tarrell Robinson is eager for the challenge, hoping it will set a good tone for the remainder of the season.
"Playing Nebraska to start the season off gives us an idea of what level you need to play to be in the top 25 in the country, in reference to how intense you need to be, how you need to consistently play hard," Robinson said. "I think that's a problem that our girls have. They don't always play hard. They take breaks on the court. We've got to improve from that."
While his team has the talent, he's looking for them to commit to giving it their all. Stepping into the role as head coach of the program in May, Robinson inherited a roster that included the following returnees--a career 1,000 point scorer and two-time All-MEAC player (JaQuayla Berry), a guard who is closing in on the school's all-time assists record (Amber Calvin), a 6-time MEAC Rookie of the Week and an All-MEAC Rookie (Tiffanie Adair), and a two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Week (Tracy King). He also inherited a large and seasoned sophomore class.
Berry, Calvin and Adair all earned preseason All-MEAC selections last week. The Aggies were picked to finish fifth in the MEAC by the league's head coaches and sports information directors.
"I use it as motivation for them. I ask them, 'What do you think that means?'" asked Robinson. "Obviously, we have the most players nominated between the first and second teams, so why would we be a fifth-place pick? Is it because (former head coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs) is gone and they understand that there's a transition, or do they know that you all don't play hard, and that you all, with that talent, that you all don't always show up? That's motivation for us. Last time I was here, we were always No. 1. Obviously, there's been a change in powers and we've got to get it back."
The Aggies will work to get that power back on Friday, facing off against the Cornhuskers, who went 24-9 last season. Nebraska features a pair of 2012 Naismith Trophy Midseason 32 players in senior point guard Lindsey Moore and junior forward Jordan Hooper. Moore finished last season with Big 10 second-team honors, after averaging 15.7 points, 5.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Hooper earned AP All-America honorable mention honors and Big Ten 1st Team honors averaging 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
"I think that if we're good enough, if we do those things, we'll be in the game," Robinson said. "I think if we do, again, what we work on every day and what we pride ourselves on, we'll be ok."
Robinson has the luxury of going to a deep bench against the Cornhuskers.
"I think we're at least eight to nine players deep. I'm confident that anytime that I can sub people in for certain individuals. We have versatility," he said. "Being versatile is important, and I think it gives us an edge going into games."
Robinson has seen great strides in his team so far, and growth from their two preseason scrimmages against UNC Greensboro and East Carolina. He's preached defense to his team all preseason, and was able to see that the lessons are being learned.
"I think in the two scrimmages, they saw that it works. With a new staff and new philosophies, when they go against opponents , seeing that it's successful [is important] because then they'll be more confident in what we're teaching and what we're saying, and then they'll do it harder," he said. "I expect us to be in tip-top shape and ready to roll around conference time. I think we're moving in the right direction. Right now it's a matter of building the right consistency."