Friday, October 16, 2020

Lady Dawgs Hold First Practice

UGA Sports Communications

The University of Georgia Lady Dawgs opened the 2020-21 campaign with its first official practice Thursday afternoon at the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility.

Entering its sixth year under the direction of head coach Joni Taylor, Georgia returns four starters and 10 players off last season’s squad. The Lady Dawgs welcome back close to 90 percent of their scoring and rebounding to go along with three eligible newcomers — Sarah Ashlee Barker (Birmingham, Ala.), Zoesha Smith (Brunswick, Ga.) and Mikayla Coombs (Buford, Ga./UConn transfer).

Georgia enters the 2020-21 season needing just three wins to reach the 1,000-victory mark in program history. The LadyDawgs would join Tennessee as the lone SEC programs to reach that feat. In addition, Georgia has made appearances in 33 of 38 NCAA tournaments and is one of three programs nationwide (Tennessee and Wisconsin-Green Bay) to boast a winning record in every season.

Taylor, along with seniors Gabby Connally and Jenna Staiti, offered the following comments during Thursday’s zoom call with media.

Coach Joni Taylor

Opening statement...

"Our call to action is to show up. From a basketball standpoint we need to show up better, stronger and faster. Two years ago, we were the youngest team in the SEC and one of the youngest teams in the country, those ladies are all seniors now. We're returning heavy leadership, heavy experience, and it's time for us to show up. Considering the world we're living in now, with a health crisis going on, it's also time to show up as a citizen, as an advocate, as a role model, as an ally and as a daughter. Those words really epitomize not only what we want to do on the basketball court, but what we want to do in the city of Athens and our community."

On her message to the team...

"Our message has always been about what legacy they're leaving. It's always been to lead with grace, humility, compassion, seek to understand before you're understood and what you can do for others. During quarantine and the social injustice that we have been facing, that's been our conversation."

On the conversations she’s had with the team during the offseason...

"What I'm most proud of is how our family has really shown up. We have a great culture and that has shown itself to be true during difficult times. They have an ability to educate themselves, to help, to look outward instead of inward and to seek and understand everyone's experiences. The conversation we always have is about seeing each other's perspectives. We are a program of 15 wonderful coaches, staff and players, but if we can sit down and seek to understand before we're understood, at the end of the day, if I get it wrong, you're going to know my heart. We want the best for each other and that's what is leading us."

Gabby Conally, Senior, Guard

On staying consistent this year...

"It's about showing up every day and doing what is asked of us and even more. It's not just about what we do in practice, but also coming in to get extra shots and doing the little things. If we do something wrong, it isn't going to translate how it's supposed to. We give our best effort with the right attitude and are willing to listen to our teammates if we're doing something wrong, because great programs not only have coaches who lead, but players who lead. That really translates to a team culture, because we want the best for one another and the program."

On what expectations she has coming into this season...

"As a team, we want to make a deep run in the tournament. We want to get back to Georgia Basketball. Giving it everything we have to get in the best position possible to reach the Final Four and win a national championship."

On the conversations they have had with Joni Taylor on social justice...

"She sat us down as a team and told us about her experiences growing up in Mississippi. She told us about instances in her life that we can shed a light on to get a deeper understanding of what she's dealt with to get to where she is today. We all look at her as a role model, so for her to do that shows how great of a person she is. It made me apply those things to my life. Coach Joni [Taylor] is an awesome coach, but the one thing I'm going to remember about her is the kind of person she is."

Jenna Staiti, Redshirt Senior, Center

On what goals she has for herself this season...

“Obviously, our first goal is we want to make it to the [NCAA] Tournament, we want to get as far as we can. Especially with this being my last run and having three other seniors with me. That and winning too. Obviously winning is important but yeah just seeing how far we can get this year is something big to me.”

On what more she feels like she can do this year... 

“I feel like there is a lot more I need to do this year that I didn’t do last year. Which was, if I’m not getting the ball right away or I’m if I’m not getting any touches, I need to figure out a way to get the ball. Whether that’s rebounding better, set better screens and getting my teammates open. Especially with what we’re running this year, it doesn’t seem like a big thing, but me sprinting the lane, it will collapse the defense and then get my teammates open. It’s just little things that I need to do that will help me with the big picture.”

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