MEAC / Spartan Women / Sports

Season Preview: Vickers era begins with a mix of experience and youth

NORFOLK, Va. – The interim tag has been removed from head coach Larry Vickers‘ title, thus ushering in a new era for Norfolk State women’s basketball.

Vickers will look to turn around a Spartans program that returns seven players from last year’s squad and welcomes six newcomers, but went 3-24 (3-13 MEAC) in 2015-16. Vickers, however, led NSU to its only three wins of the year last season after being named interim coach in late January, setting a good foundation for the future.

“Having been with this team from day one should add some stability,” said Vickers. “It’s easier to see our progress, our strengths and our weaknesses.”

When a team comes off a season like last year and has as much turnover as the Spartans did since last year, it can come with a lot of unknowns. However, Vickers welcomes the challenge and is confident in his plan to get the program back on the right track.

It helps to have a building block like Kayla Roberts, the 2014-15 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. Roberts, now a 6-1 junior, started all 27 games and averaged 27.7 minutes played per game. Her 10.1 points per game ranked her 24th in the MEAC, while she ranked 10th in the conference with 7.7 rebounds per game. She was named to the preseason All-MEAC second team.

“Hopefully we put some pieces around her to take some of the pressure off of her,” Vickers said.

Kieera Basey, Dominique Harper, Alexys Long, Kiara Phillips and Shayla Tanner will join Roberts as the Spartans’ top returnees from last season.

Basey, a 5-5 senior, played in 23 games and started 17 times, averaging 22.0 minutes per game. She brings much-needed experience to the point guard position. Harper, a 5-5 senior, averaged 12.1 minutes played in the 23 games she appeared in. Harper averaged 4.3 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.

Long, a 5-11 sophomore, appeared in all but one game last season and averaged 3.3 points, while averaging 10.4 minutes played per game. She proved to be an effective 3-point shooter, finishing third on the team with 12 3-pointers made for the season.

Phillips, a 5-11 senior, was fourth on the team in scoring at 7.4 points per game, while averaging 22.0 minutes per game in the 21 games she appeared in. Her 87.2-percent from the free-throw line led the team.

Up front, Tanner, a 6-3 junior, appeared in 22 games, averaging 10.8 minutes per game. She recorded 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in her action off the bench.

Tanner and Kayla Roberts will be joined up front by a familiar face – Nia Roberts, Kayla’s older sister. Nia, a 6-0 redshirt junior forward, brings an added dimension of physicality back to the NSU frontcourt. In her one year at NSU (2014-15), Roberts – who is one year older than Kayla – averaged 6.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per outing.

“Nia’s motor and effort help the entire team,” Vickers said. “She is willing to risk her body on every play. She loves the game and it shows in the way she plays.”

The seventh returner, sophomore guard Yazmen Hannah, is expected to miss the 2016-17 season after undergoing offseason surgery. She was named to the MEAC All-Rookie Team last season after averaging 8.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

The Spartan returners will be joined by a promising group of newcomers. Six players will be making their debuts with the Spartans this upcoming season, including four transfers and two true freshmen.

“Any situation like this is called a rebuild, but I did not want to do a rebuild with an all-freshman class,” Vickers said. “We brought some local products home, which we are excited about.”

Backcourt depth will come in the form Gabrielle Swinson, a 5-6 junior transfer guard from Virginia Beach who attended Bryant & Stratton College; Jordan Strode, a 5-8 redshirt senior transfer guard from Saint Joseph’s; Tyona Moses, a 5-11 freshman guard from Goldsboro, N.C.; and Treasure Doberson, a 5-5 redshirt freshman transfer guard from Virginia Union.

Swinson was a junior college All-American as a freshman in 2014-15, when she averaged 19.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Strode, meanwhile, is eligible immediately after graduating from St. Joseph’s. She averaged 2.5 points and 1.1 rebounds but was limited to 14 games due to injury last season.

“Swinson and Strode change the dynamics of our starting lineup with their speed,” Vickers said. “They should open up things for Kiara Phillips. Swinson will run the point, while Strode gives us athleticism on the wing. She shot the ball well (in the preseason) and if she continues to do that, we should have a better season than expected. ”

Moses scored more than 2,000 career high school points, capped by a senior season in which she averaged 26.6 points per game. Doberson redshirted last season while attending Virginia Union and joins the Spartans as a walk-on this year.

Khalilah Ali, a 6-0 redshirt senior transfer from Longwood, and true freshman De’Janaire Deas, a 6-0 forward/center from Albany, N.Y., will add height and depth to the Spartans frontcourt. Ali spent four seasons at Longwood, but was limited by injuries. She, like Strode, is a graduate transfer who is eligible immediately. Ali’s best season at Longwood was 2013-14, when she averaged 6.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Deas recorded more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a successful high school career in upstate New York. She tallied 18 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks per contest as a prep senior.

The Spartans’ new-look roster will get the chance to develop team chemistry early in the season with a road-heavy non-conference schedule, which begins Friday at UNC Wilmington.

The 2016-17 Norfolk State women’s basketball will consist of the following:

• Home non-conference matchups with Saint Augustine’s (Nov. 15), William and Mary (Dec. 15) and Lincoln (Dec. 18).

• Road non-conference dates with UNC-Wilmington (Nov.11), Old Dominion (Nov. 18), George Mason (Nov. 21), High Point (Nov. 30), Longwood (Dec. 3) UNCG (Dec. 21) and Towson (Dec. 29), as well as a two-day run at Lehigh’s Thanksgiving Tournament (Nov. 26 and Nov. 27).

• Home-and-home MEAC series with Bethune-Cookman (Jan. 28 home, Feb. 20 away), Hampton (Jan. 21 home, Feb. 27 away), Savannah State (Jan. 7 home, Feb. 6 away) and South Carolina State (Jan. 9 home, Feb. 4 away).

• Single-game MEAC home dates with Howard (Feb. 25), Maryland Eastern Shore (Feb. 11), defending MEAC Champion North Carolina A&T State (Jan. 30) and North Carolina Central (Jan. 14).

• Single-game road MEAC contests with Coppin State (Jan. 23), Delaware State (Jan. 16), Florida A&M (Feb. 18) and Morgan State (Jan. 30).

“I like what I’ve seen so far in practice, now we just have to translate that into the games,” Vickers said. “If we can remain healthy, it’s possible for us to really surprise some people this year.”

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