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October 10, 2011

Wolff with a plan to rebuild the Tech women's basketball program

By: Marc Mullen

There are many issues that the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team will face this season, and just glancing at the Hokies’ roster can reveal a number of those.

Tech will open its season on Friday, Nov. 11, at Old Dominion with a first-year head coach guiding a roster with just nine scholarship players – a roster with no seniors and one point guard. And that’s from a team that won just 11 games a season ago.

“Well, I think I’m more concerned with the thinness of the roster than the fact that there are no seniors,” Tech head coach Dennis Wolff said. “There are eight players that have played college basketball here, so they’ve all got different level of experiences based on how long they’ve been here.

“I’m not overly concerned about the lack of upperclassmen in regards to the senior class than I am to the fact that we only have one point guard, we don’t have a lot of depth on the perimeter and we’re going to have to strategically use our roster to avoid foul trouble.”

As stated, Wolff enters his first season as the coach of the Hokies and his first order of business after his hiring was to surround himself with a high-quality staff.

He brought in Chantelle Anderson, a three-time All-American at Vanderbilt, the school’s all-time leading scorer and a six-year veteran of the WNBA. He also brought in Billi Godsey, a former UMBC assistant coach and a four-year letterwinner at Hofstra, and Thomas Joyce, whom Wolff knew from his time at Boston University.

“When I was hired, I tried to take as much time as possible and have as an intelligible approach as I could to putting a staff together,” Wolff said. “And I consider myself very lucky that I was able to hire the people that I’ve hired.

“They all have a wealth of, and different types of, college basketball experiences. They all love the game, and they’ve all hit the ground running to try and help us get the program back on track.”

Once he got his staff in place, Wolff would next tackle his second order of business, which came with a price.

“I needed to institute a culture change,” he said. “There’s been a redefining of what the priorities are, and I think the girls have been very receptive. They’ve been very open-minded about the things we’ve talked to them about, and all of that has enabled us to develop relationships with them that then enables us to coach them.”

However, in regards to the culture change and getting back to the Hokies’ roster, anyone knowledgeable of the program who hadn’t heard the news over the summer would wonder what had happened to Shanel Harrison. The rising senior was on her way to becoming a 1,000-point scorer and could have climbed into the school’s top 10 all time in rebounds. But she was dismissed from the team on July 19.

“When I took over, I made it clear to the girls that we were going to start with a clean slate. If you had situations that had occurred under the previous staff, I would not hold that against anyone,” Wolff said. “It became apparent midway through the summer that Shanel’s idea of what it was to be a Virginia Tech basketball player and mine were not the same.

“So there were a couple of situations that occurred that kind of flew in the face of what I had talked to everyone about repeatedly. So I thought that, given the very short period of time and that there were already a couple of instances, it was probably in both of our best interests to go in a different direction.”

That was a bold move for a first-year coach, who again, can see the same problems that any fan can see with his roster. But sticking to a decision is what Wolff believes, and that also includes the game day lineup. The Hokies used 13 different starting lineups during the 2010-11 season, something Wolff does not envision this upcoming season.

“I think part of the change of culture is having consistency to what we’re doing and redefining their roles so everyone knows where they stand,” he said. “I don’t think they need to be in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think you should go through the preseason and kind of settle on who’s earned the playing time and then everything kind of settles in. I’m not big on dramatic changes of the lineup or things like that.”

Wolff then continued with the areas he believes most needed addressing.

“I think there has to be a focus on taking way better care of the ball,” he said. “There needs to be a focus on having a plan defensively that’s going to keep us in the games. There seemed not to be enough emphasis or at least a carryover to the girls on that. I’m sure Beth (Dunkenberger) emphasized defense, but the girls didn’t work hard enough on the defensive end, and we’re going to try and make that change.”

The old adage of “Rome wasn’t built in a day” isn’t lost on Wolff, who admits that he isn’t a goal-oriented guy, and he’s not going to reveal a number of ACC wins this team will need to reach to make the season a successful one. What he wants to do is get the program back on track.

“My mindset right now is as simple as we’re going to try and get this back to being a competitive basketball program,” he said. “With that in mind, I’m not going to get overly hung up in this first year with our wins and losses.

“We want to win as many games as we can, but I want to see the team get back to competing the way Virginia Tech teams on the women’s side have competed for a long time here. Hopefully, if we can get that mindset going, we’ll put ourselves back in a position to win games.

“But I think more than anything – and this is part of the message I’ve sent to the girls every day – I want to see them coming into this building acting like Coach Beamer has the football players acting and like Coach Greenberg has the men’s basketball players acting. We’re coming in here to work, and we’re going to be enthusiastic about it. We’re going to develop all the characteristics of a winning program.”

That also means bringing in high-quality players. Wolff, who had been a men’s basketball head coach for 15 years at Boston University prior to taking over as the director of basketball operations under Seth Greenberg at Tech, hasn’t seen any issues in his first go round on the recruiting trail.

“People haven’t looked at my lack of experience coaching women,” he said. “What a lot of the people have focused on is my experience coaching basketball. So they are looking at the fact that I’ve been a college coach for 34 years, and I was a head coach for 15 years. I’ve had some degree of success, and that translates into positive things for recruits’ families. I think that will help with getting those players.”

Wolff has a plan in place for the Tech women’s program. It’s just going to take time, talent and patience to see it through to the end.