Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph watched Kaela Davis win the national championship with South Carolina Sunday. It might have been a frustrating moment, as Davis was an All-ACC player who transferred from Tech two years ago in search of a national championship, but Joseph said it was not.
“I’m really happy for Kaela,” Joseph said Monday. “I am really pleased with how it all worked out for her because I think she’s an elite-level player.”
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for six consecutive seasons, the Yellow Jackets have made it once in the past five. Losing a player like Davis, a high-school McDonald’s All-America who was Joseph’s most high-profile signee in her 14 seasons, has changed the team’s course. Joseph is O.K. with that.
“Obviously, she made a great decision for herself,” said Joseph, who added that Davis left on good terms. “I think our program is in the healthiest place it’s been in four years. So it’s worked out for both of us.”
In the last three weeks, Tech won five consecutive WNIT games to reach the finals, where it lost to Michigan Saturday in triple overtime. The Jackets finished 10th in the ACC with an overall record of 22-15. In a league in which all eight teams that made the NCAA Tournament won at least one game, Tech was 5-11 in conference play. It was Joseph’s poorest league record since the 2005-06 season, her third. The Jackets were sabotaged by poor free-throw shooting and were 2-7 in league games decided by six points or fewer or in overtime.
However, the Jackets gained experience and confidence through the WNIT run. They will return 87 percent of their scoring and 80 percent of their minutes played. Among the returnees – post players Elo Edeferioka and Zaire O’Neal, who combined for 31.3 points and 25.3 rebounds in Tech’s final three games, and ACC freshman of the year Francsesca Pan.
“You look at our inside game with Elo and Zaire, that’s one of the best post combinations in the ACC returning,” Joseph said.
Said Joseph of Pan, “I’ve never coached a freshman like her, other than Ty Marshall and Alex Montgomery. They’re both pros. She’s an elite-level player.”
Tech’s incoming signing class is ranked 16th nationally, and Joseph said that she has secured a commitment from a graduate transfer “who’s going to be huge for us.” Commitments for the 2018 class are even more promising, she said.
Joseph’s comment that the team is its healthiest in four years referred to the 2012 season, when a senior-dominated team made the Jackets’ only Sweet 16 trip in school history. The 2017-18 team figures to have five seniors, six with the graduate transfer.
“I’ve always said, You’re as good as your seniors,” Joseph said. “After the Sweet 16 (season), we had a couple years where we were rebuilding where we didn’t have the luxury of having a lot of seniors.”
Around that Sweet 16 season, Joseph said she stopped being as selective in her recruiting as more players began recruiting Tech as much as the other way around. She became less discriminating, she said, regarding “players that fit our core values and fit Georgia Tech.”
The 2013 class would fit the pattern. Of the four players signed, including Davis, only one remained after her sophomore season, forward Katarina Vuckovic, who completed her career with the WNIT run. Mistakes made in recruiting and changes on the coaching staff have put Tech through a rebuilding phase that the Jackets may now be exiting.
“We’ve kind of gotten back to our core values, and that’s a blue-collar team,” she said. “We’re a team that values rebounding and defense. We built a program on that and got to the Sweet 16, like I said, and played for an ACC championship, and we kind of got away from that and went after more prolific scorers and top-20 players. Georgia Tech is a white-collar school with a blue-collar mentality. It’s one of those things where your student-athletes have to fit that to be successful.”
Tech will take a trip in August to Italy to play exhibition games, a chance for Pan and rising senior Antonia Peresson to play in their home country. The Jackets will be allowed practices for the trip in July. On Monday, two days after her team’s 37-game season had ended, Joseph sounded ready to get started.