The Northwestern State women’s basketball team has an interesting mix of returning players with tons of minutes to their named and a crop of new players that will be asked to contribute early and often.
Lady Demon fans will get their first look at the 2019-20 team on Tuesday as the season tips off inside Prather Coliseum against LeTourneau, the first of three straight home games to start the year.
Among the many goals fourth-year head coach Jordan Dupuy has for his team this season, one seems has worked its way to the top of the list.
“We want to free up athletes to be athletes and take away a lot of the thinking,” Dupuy said. “Chaos is one of the hardest things to be able to scout and prepare for because even I as a coach don’t know when they’re going to run and jump and create.
“That’s how I want to keep teams off balance. Kind of taking away a lot of the complexity of our schemes in order to just have people react instead of think.”
Part of the way Dupuy hopes to generate that chaos is by simplifying things for his team. Gone are the complexities within both the offense and defense allowing the Lady Demons to play with more pace and quickness with a very athletic roster.
“There is structure to it, but just trying to take away as much thinking as possible because it slows us down,” Dupuy said. “With that being said, there’s going to be times where we give up a lot of layups because of how we’re going to play. In the fourth quarter, hopefully we’ll wear teams down with our depth.”
While Dupuy only returns one starter, Victoria Miller, from a year ago, names like Gabby Bell, Jasmyn Johnson, and Jocelyn Scott are familiar to Northwestern State fans. Even with some experience on the roster, the Lady Demons still add seven new players to the program and will ask many of them to contribute often.
“The ones that have been here with me have caught on,” Dupuy said. “They know what to expect every single day and the pace that we’re trying to play and practice. They haven’t needed to adjust.
“The biggest adjustment has come from our newcomers. Not only the pace that we are trying to play but the amount of information that’s being given to them. We’ve tried to cut down on the complexity of our scheme so we can utilize our athleticism, speed and depth. We’re going to need the newcomers to step up in order to achieve what it is we want to achieve.”
Even though they lost four starters from last season, the Lady Demons have plenty of experience returning in 2019-20. Gabby Bell, Jocelyn Scott, Jasmyn Johnson, and Kira Bonner each averaged over 15 minutes per game this past season.
Bell, Scott and Johnson are all entering their fourth season under head coach Jordan Dupuy and lead the way in the experience column. Two seasons ago, the trio combined to start 64 games for the Lady Demons – Bell (26), Scott (23), Johnson (15). Those numbers are expected to be the same or greater entering this year.
The offense starts with senior Gabby Bell at the point. In her fourth year under Dupuy, who calls her a coach on the floor, Bell will take the reins offensively.
“Gabby understands how we want to play and is a real leader on the court,” Dupuy said. “There are a lot of things that don’t have to come from me because she is able to make those corrections.
She’s making great decisions and the work she’s done shooting has been incredible. She’s gotten so much better and has the freedom to shoot whenever she wants because of that.”
Her understanding of the offense is clear, evidenced by her performance two seasons ago. Bell averaged 5.5 points and 4.4 assists per game, ranking her fourth in Southland Conference in helpers at season’s end. Even in a reduced role this past year, she still produced a solid 2.9 assist per game average.
A primary option for Bell on the offensive end will be fellow senior Vitoria Miller.
Her play at the end of the 2018-19 season was a big bright spot for the Lady Demons, averaging nearly 10 points per game in the final two weeks of the season. She is expected to take on a bigger role this season, especially with the addition of the 3-ball to her repertoire, making her more dynamic on the offensive end.
According to Dupuy, there is no better player that understands the chaos he wants on the floor than senior Jasmyn Johnson. Serving as another leader on and off the floor along with Bell, Johnson has thrived in the chaos.
“We’ve got to make sure and keep her healthy,” Dupuy said. “But her ability to score has improved from deep and around the rim with both hands. She’s probably the best on the team at understanding what we want to do defensively.”
Two players that stand to benefit the most from the Lady Demons’ style are second-year transfer Kira Bonner and junior Lacee Savage. With Bonner’s ability to score at all three levels and Savage’s pure athleticism it boils down to a mentality and belief in their skills that will help NSU succeed.
“Lacee is the most athletic person we have and has the most upside,” Dupuy said. “She has to realize that’s what she is and can be for us. She has the confidence of all the coaches and her teammates and could be an all-conference type player if she develops that mentality.”
Among the new faces on the team, freshman Tristen Washington (East Ascension HS) and transfer Kalen Green (Seward County CC) have impressed the most.
“Tristen does a great job of handling the ball and understands what we want to do,” Dupuy said. “She plays extremely hard and works extra every day outside of practice. Love what she brings to the table. She just needs to be more vocal, which wasn’t necessarily her role in high school.
“Kalen is a quick guard and handles the ball fairly well. She just needs to get better with her decision making and ability to execute things. Being a combo guard, she has to do a better job at taking care of the ball but has the ability to score quickly with either hand, pull up, or shoot the three.”
Another transfer, Nakaylis Washington (Hinds CC) displayed her talent and expects to be a major part of the game plan for the Lady Demons.
“Nakaylis can be very good for us on both ends,” Dupuy said. “She could be one that could be a starter at some point if that conditioning gets there. Maybe by the time conference season arrives she’ll be able to be there. We’re expecting big things from her.”
The biggest hurdle the new faces have to overcome is the adjustment to the pace and speed in which Dupuy wants his team to play. It is a process that takes time and will bleed into the start of the regular season. But once those players reach that level of conditioning to be able to contribute more and for longer periods, the depth of the Lady Demons stands to be impressive.
A pair of freshmen, Anessa Dussette (Manvel HS) and Karyn Ford (YES PrepGulfton HS), both from the greater Houston area, fall squarely into that category.
“Anessa and Karyn are going to contribute for us,” Dupuy said. “They still have some time to go before being able to play at this pace consistently. Once they get there, they can do several things for us offensively, because of where they can score on the floor.”
With an interesting mix of experience and new faces, NSU hopes to build on what was a solid finish to the 2018-19 season.
The Lady Demons won three of their last five games to end the year, making a late push towards the conference tournament, falling just short of a spot in the field. NSU defeated Houston Baptist, Southeastern LA, and Central Arkansas during that stretch, with a pair of four-point wins against the Lions (60-56) and Sugar Bears (78-74).
“Every year we’re trying to go in and compete to be at the top of our conference,” Dupuy said. “Like I preach to them, I don’t worry about where we’re projected, I don’t worry about what we should be doing at the end and what our results should be.
“We should get lost in the process every single day. I tell them don’t worry about results and where we’re going to be at the end, let’s do what we’re supposed to be doing now and the results will take care of themselves.”
Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services