Panthers Women’s Basketball: The Lance White Era
by Sean Magguilli
Pittsburgh Panthers Basketball officially entered a new era this week, the Lance White era.
The University of Pittsburgh women’s basketball team held their third practice Wednesday, October 3, at the Peterson Event Center, and it was the media’s first look at the newly hired head coach, Lance White. Last year, Head Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio disappointed fans and Pitt’s athletics department by falling to 10-20 with only two conference wins. In early April, Pitt fired her and gutted the rest of the coaching staff. Two weeks later, University of Pittsburgh Director of Athletics Heather Lyke announced the hiring of Lance White as head coach.
Lance White begins his first season with Pittsburgh as a first-time head coach. He came to Pittsburgh after 15 years as an associate head coach for Florida State. There, he helped the Seminoles to a 350-145 (.707) record overall; in his last four years, they had 25 or more wins per season. He did not make the journey north alone, however. White brought Associate Head Coach Danielle Atkinson with him after working with her for four years at Florida State. Lance is very vocal about how lucky he feels work with her, noting her ability to lead as a role model and her excellent recruiting skills and on numerous occasions.
Rounding out the coaching staff is Associate Head Coach Terri Mitchell, or as Lance described her, the best person he ever met. Mitchell spent 18 years at Marquette becoming the winningest coach in their history. Lance has stated he was surprised to get her to coach with him, as she had not coached since 2014, but believes in her ability to win games and teach the team’s young athletes.
Pitt has a solid 11 returning players this year, one of whom has been the biggest storyline this off-season. Redshirt senior Aysia Bug tore her ACL before the last year’s season, and had to sit out for its entirety. The injury seems to be behind her as she looked sharp and agile during Wednesday’s practice. Clearly, she is a leader of this team and an exceptional scorer. She celebrated her 23rd birthday yesterday, or as her teammates dubbed the occasion, ‘grandma’s birthday’.
After practice today, Aysia answered a few questions about the upcoming season.
Q: “Your team finished last in the ACC in rebounds last year, how do you turn that around?”
A: “Well rebounding has been coach’s biggest focus. Coach says it’s just about heart and playing hard.”
Q: “With this being the first year with a whole new coaching staff, what’s you and your teammates expectations for this year?”
A: “Post-season is the goal. Post-season.”
Q: “Who do you think will be the focal point of your offense this year?”
A: “Kalista [Walters], she led the ACC last year in field goal percentage, a strong center. I always say when she gets to the paint; she’s scoring.”
Q: “So you’re a redshirt senior, and you’re now in graduate school. What are you studying?”
A: “Health Information Systems, I want to work in administrative health care long term.”
Immediately after the interview, she made time to make some faces at her backcourt partner Jasmine Whitney while she was trying to do her own interview. Junior Jasmine Whitney, or as her teammates call her, “Jazz”, took over at point guard last year after Aysia’s injury. Even after a year of not being together on the court, the antics are alive and well. Truly a close-knit bunch.
Lance White’s coaching style plays a big role in their comradery. He is very vocally active on the court, and always motivates for an increase of pace and more aggression on rebounds.
In one instance during full court drills, Coach White stopped a possession when forward Kauai Bradley received a bounce pass towards the top of the three-point arc. Kauai held the ball while moving it up and away from the defender while she surveyed the court, but Lance immediately stepped in and exclaimed, “You got a lane here, and a lane there. You’re strong! Don’t bring it up to your head! Put your head down and drive in either of them!” Kauai nodded, and as soon as Lance resumed play, she cut right to the rim.
Senior Kauai Bradley came to Pittsburgh by way of Chicago, as did redshirt senior Aysia Bug. This year they play Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Chicago. The two do not get a lot of chances to play in front of their hometown friends and family often, so the opportunity to do so means a lot to both.
Lance White also stopped by briefly to talk about his players and new coaching staff.
Q: “Last year, Pitt finished second to last in the conference, and last overall in rebounding. How do you move forward from there?”
A: “It starts by being the best versions of ourselves and a team as we can. I want to grow and every practice both overall and in individual skill. From the time I got here, to now, we have become a better basketball team. From now until opening day, we will get even better.”
Q: “Speaking of opening days, the ACC opener this year is against the champions, Notre Dame. How daunting is that game as your head coaching debut?”
A: “Yeah, how exciting is that? Well, that’s why I came to the ACC, to play great basketball teams. I want to compete with the best teams in the country. For us, it’s a chance to show the world what we can do, and it’s a fun challenge.”
Q: “What are the biggest changes you want to bring to Pitt’s play style?”
A: “I’ve always believed that defense and rebounding changes programs. If we can limit the other team’s offensive boards, if we can take possessions away from them, we can change the direction of our team. Rebounding is a lot about heart and going after it, just being rougher and more physical.”
Q: “Where do you plan to generate most of your points this season?”
A: “Obviously, we are comfortable running the ball through Aysia and Kalista. But when we add in those shooters like Kyla [Nelson] and Alayna [Gribble] and Kauai, we create a lot of mismatches. I’m excited about the versatility of this team. Obviously, we are going to be small, but with a lot of options.”
Coach refused to make any comments on a starting five for this year, but he mentioned that he would likely use Jasmine Whitney as a point guard and Aysia Bug as a shooting guard.
Pittsburgh’s first action is not until October 30th, when they play Gannon in an exhibition game. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge against Northwestern is scheduled for November 29th, and they begin conference play January 3rd against Notre Dame on the road.