By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Kevin McGuff hardly knows these women. He knows their names, their faces, even a little bit about their game. But in the way a coach knows a player, he has a lot to learn.
McGuff is in his first season as the Xavier women's basketball coach, having replaced Melanie Balcomb, who left for Vanderbilt after last season. The 32-year-old McGuff comes from Notre Dame, where he was an assistant for six years, including the Irish's national-championship season in 2000-01.
"I'm starting to get a chance to know them now," said McGuff, three weeks into practice. "What will be my next challenge is seeing who plays well together, who doesn't play well together. I really have no feel for them, but it's exciting to see everyone on the court at the same time."
Even a returning coach wouldn't know this team all that well.
Xavier returns just six players from last season's 12-19 team. Only four of those players received significant playing time, the majority going to returning seniors Amy Waugh and Reetta Piipari, who each played more than 35 minutes a game. So something such as a starting lineup or player rotation is just starting to play into McGuff's mind.
"I told the players I like them all and know them all the same," McGuff said, "and (the starting lineup) will be determined by them in practice."
Because McGuff and his coaching staff are so new, he'll be relying on Waugh's and Piipari's leadership, especially early in the season.
Waugh averaged 16.5 points and 6.3 assists last season to lead Xavier in both categories. As a point guard, she also led the Atlantic-10 Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.09. Last season, she was named to the A-10 second team and made the conference all-tournament team.
Piipari has started the last 65 Xavier games dating to her sophomore season, when she led the nation with 8.3 assists a game. Those numbers dropped last season with Waugh at the point, but Piipari still had 151 assists.
"It's Reetta's and my job to lead on and off the court," Waugh said. "It may be hard (adjusting to a new coaching staff) at first, but we don't have that many upperclassman who are used to one style."
As is common with many assistants when they become head coaches, McGuff said Xavier will show some of the tendencies his former boss, Muffet McGraw, instilled at Notre Dame. That means an emphasis on defense with a fast-paced offensive game plan.
First, McGuff said, he has to figure out what his players are capable of doing. Eight of Xavier's 11 players are freshmen or sophomores.
"I want to coach what I know and what I'm comfortable with," McGuff said, "but I want to give us a chance to be successful right away, so that means tailoring to our talent that we have here."
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