RICHMOND, Va. – Marlene Stollings has always been most comfortable in transition. As a player, she was at her best when the court was wide open and the possibilities were unlimited.
Her mindset in her first season as the coach of the VCU Women’s Basketball team isn’t much different. Stollings, who led Winthrop to an 18-13 record a year ago, will try to guide the Rams through a major makeover in 2012-13.
There has been heavy roster turnover. Four of the Rams’ top five scorers have either graduated or transferred, including All-American Courtney Hurt (22.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg) and Andrea Barbour (17.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg). VCU’s leading returning scorer is junior Robyn Parks, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season. There are five freshmen on the roster and several others with limited in-game experience.
But Stollings doesn’t seem bothered.
“It’s been an extraordinary journey so far,” she said. “We’re just looking and moving forward with all of our thoughts and actions. The transition has been a bit of a whirlwind in terms of our lateness of arriving here, but nonetheless, it’s been extraordinary so far.”
This year’s team will look different, and not just because of who is on the floor. Stollings, a prolific scorer in high school, as well as at Ohio University, calls her style of play “high octane.” It’s a totally new system, not just for the returning players, but for everybody.
In one season at Winthrop, Stollings was able to increase the Eagles’ scoring output from about 51 points per game to nearly 70. The Eagles also transformed from a 13-win team into an 18-win squad. Last year’s VCU team was fairly deliberate and built its offense around the playmaking of Barbour and Hurt’s toughness on the glass. VCU ranked 86th in the country in points per possession (0.91) and 101st in points per game (65.8). By comparison, Winthrop was tied for 25th (0.96) in points per possession and was 43rd in points scored (69.6).
Stollings says the Rams will push the ball in transition and won’t be shy about hoisting up 3-pointers “freely”, she says.
It’s a big change for a bunch of freshmen and a group of returnees used to a half-court style of play. You’d think there would be some reservations. But then, you’d be wrong.
“I love everything about it,” Parks said. “I love the up-tempo style. That’s where I come from. That’s what I do, so I just love it.”
Senior point guard Carleeda Green, who averaged 2.6 points and 1.2 assists per game last season for Beth Cunningham’s 19-15 squad, was looking forward to running the open floor.
“I love this style of play,” said Green. “It’s a little more open for me at the point guard position, and it’s something that I’ve always done. I’ve always been an up-tempo point guard and player, so it’s home for me. I can’t wait to get started with it.”
Despite the prospect of melding players from an old regime and high schoolers from different programs and different states, Stollings has been pleased with the team’s ability to process all the new information.
“I think that it’s actually positive that we’re all coming in new,” she said. “So I think that because of that, yes, there are challenges with implementing a new system, by all means, but I think they’re super receptive to it and they’re working tremendously hard. That’s what we talk about each and every day, just be open-minded and continue to do what we’re asking of you and you’re going to reap the benefits of it.”
Apparently, it’s a two-way street. Parks and Green both lauded Stollings’ coaching chops at Wednesday’s VCU Basketball media day.
“She’s a very good coach,” said Parks. “She’s great communicating with us, which is why I think everybody was so willing and open to learning her new style of play.”
The Rams open the 2012-13 season Nov. 12 at Elon, which gives Stollings about two more weeks to smooth out the rough edges. It’s unclear what this season holds. There are too many unknowns and hundreds of variables. VCU is a program in transition, but Stollings is perfectly fine with that.