Louisville Head Coach Jeff Walz Provides Team Update

The head coach of the Louisville women's basketball program speaks for the first time since the end of their 2020-21 season.
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(Photo of Jeff Walz: Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Speaking for the first time since their season-ending loss to Stanford in the Elite Eight, Louisville women's basketball Jeff Walz took some time to meet with the media. He provided a wide array of updates surrounding the program, including the new transfers, what he is expecting out of the returning players, Dana Evans being drafted, recruiting and more.

Below is the transcript from the press conference, as well as the video:

(Opening Statement)

First, I just want to start off by saying thank you to all of you. I don't think we've had an end of the year follow up since the smoke alarm was going off down there in San Antonio. There were no injuries, there was slight some smoke inhalation - they had a guy that got a little too much smoke coming out there. But the word was either the popcorn machine, or the hot dog roller had caught on fire. So everything was good. But just want to say thank you all for for covering us this entire season. What a crazy year it's been, but very grateful that we were actually to be able to have a season, and complete it - what I thought was a pretty darn good year. Obviously it didn't end the way we would have liked to it to end, but the way this sport works - all of these sports - only one team is finishing in the year with a win. Unfortunately for us, it was not us. But I was really proud of how we competed, and how we played this entire season. Staff-wise, everybody will be returning again. Very fortunate. Stephanie Norman's going on 15 years now, Adrienne Johnson's been here all 15 also, I think Sam (Purcell)'s going on eight or nine. It's pretty remarkable, the continuity, that we've been able to have here as a staff. I think that's a reason that we've been able to have the success that we have had in recruiting and on the court. Just a little update on that within our program. Then just want to give our thoughts and prayers to Angel (McCoughtry). Just absolutely devastating news with her ACL. She was really just starting to get back, and I thought playing really well. Unfortunately, now she'll have to go through another ACL surgery and rehab. It sounds from everything I've read, and going back and forth with her on text message, that she's got the right frame of mind right now. She wants to come back, and give it a shot again of still playing. Just wanted to make sure we put out our thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery for Angel.

(On transfers Emily Engstler and Chelsie Hall)

Really, really excited about both of them. Emily was averaging close to a double double at Syracuse, we had the opportunity to play against her six times throughout her career, and very familiar with what she can do, and how she plays. I think she will come in and be instant help. We needed some help in rebounding, we needed some just bigger wings, bigger guard area - because she she can play the three, the four, the five if we have to. Really excited about what she's going to bring to the table. She shoots the three and about a 40% clip, she loves to to rebound the ball, her mid range game is solid. I think she's going to be a huge asset to our team this upcoming season. Then Chelsea Hall, transferring in from Vanderbilt, gives us some point guard depth. It's a position where - Chelsea is a true point guard. She distributes it, she hasn't taken a ton of threes, because that's not what she's first looking to do. But she can make them. She can really run a team. So excited to be able to bring someone in that's got that type of experience, to go along with Kianna (Smith, and Hailey (Van Lith) and Mykasa (Robinson) now well go back to playing some point guard, instead of having to play the three and the four at times. Those two transfers are going to give us some instant minutes, being able to handle the college load. Then Payton Verhulst and Sydni Schetnan are two freshmen that - Payton is right now going up to the U19 tryouts, to try and go in and make that team, that will play this summer. Syd is going to be coming down here in June, and then she's finishing up with some some volleyball tournaments, because she is coming in as a two sport athlete. We're really, really looking forward to having those two be a part of things, and I really think both of them are going to be fighting for minutes as well. Syd brings us some size at 6-5 that we need, she can block shots, she rebounds, and we'll continue to work on our offensive game. But she has the ability to step out and shoot the ball, so excited about that. Then Payton - just really, really talented. Not one that's going to blow by you with amazing speed, but she's very crafty and understands how to play the game. She's a stat sheet stuffer is what I think of her as. It's a kid at the end of the night, you might not be wowed by individual plays she makes, but when you look at the stat sheet, I think you're going to be impressed with the numbers that, that she puts up. We had a few that have moved on, but I really think we've added some really, really important pieces that can help us take that next step next year, and get back competing for another Final Four.

(On if Hailey Van Lith will become the 'lead guard' with Dana Evans heading to the WNBA)

I think with our team coming back, you're going to have several players that it's not going to be a one where you're just looking to get it to this person as the point guard. Kianna, Hailey, they've played plenty of point throughout their career. I don't think we're really going to have just one where we're saying, 'get them the ball'. I think you're gonna see the ball move a little bit better this year, just because I think we're going to have that balance at that spot.

(On what next steps he wants to see out of Ahlana Smith)

For her, it's going to be consistency. What Ahlana has to do, is start showing consistency day in and day out. I joke with her in our end-of-year or meeting, I said, "you know, you were the last one in, and the first one out". For accounting purposes, that works out sometimes. But unfortunately, I don't think she wants to be an accountant. So I need you to be the first one in the gym, and then make sure you are the last one out. You can't be the last one and the first one out, it's not going to work. She's really been working on trying to make sure that when she gets into the gym, she's using that time wisely. Right now she's actually down in Puerto Rico trying out for the Puerto Rican national team, which is a great experience for her to be playing against some of those pros. So I'm thinking that's really going to benefit her.

(On what Hailey Van Lith can improve on for next year)

I think you'll see a little bit more of a role where she's going to be more assertive. As a freshman at times, you're trying to get a feel feel for things, and when you've got a player of Dana's abilities as a senior, you kind of just let the game play. You're letting Dana do what Dana does. and she was pretty impressive. Now, I think Hailey is ready to take that next step, where you'll start seeing her be more aggressive. At the offensive end scoring the basketball, and verbally on both ends of the floor.

(On what having multiple former players on WNBA rosters says about the program)

Well, I'm excited for them. Just to get drafted is quite an accomplishment these days with 12 teams. It's not like you've got 22, 23 teams, you've only got 36 picks. Just to hear your name called is a great accomplishment, and then to be able to go into camp and hopefully stick, speaks volumes for you as a player. I think we've proven ourselves as a program here, of what we're able to do to help players reach their dreams, and that's playing professionally. Even if it's not in the dunk the WNBA. Monique Reid just had another fantastic year in Egypt, won a championship and re-signed again with the team that she played with. We have players that are playing all over - Sam Fuehring was just the Player of the Year in Germany in her league. We take a lot of pride in not only having great success here as a program, but then helping prepare these student-athletes for success in their next career. If it's on the basketball court, or off. We take great pride in it, and we're looking forward to going out and watching these players play this summer.

(On what it means for the program to continuously have an impact with the US National Team)

It's always an honor. I've had the opportunity to be a part of coaching five teams - five USA basketball teams. Two as an assistant, and three as a head coach. I tell Carol Callen, who runs it, that I'd be a manager. If she needed someone, I'd come in managed for her. I just think it's such a great opportunity to be a part of. As a player, whenever you get the opportunity to put USA across your chest, it's pretty pad powerful when you're out there playing.

(On his reaction upon hearing about Angel McCoughtry's injury, and what his conversations with have been like)

As soon as she got hurt - I was actually watching my daughter play volleyball, so I wasn't watching the game. But as soon as I got the news, I texted her. We still have a great relationship, and she texted me right back. I was just really try and try to check on her, to make sure she was doing okay. We had great conversation, a lot of it's between her and I, but trying to keep her positive. She is a person of faith also, that God's got a plan for all of us. It's just frustrating trying to figure out what that plan is at times, and it might not always be what you think it should be. Just trying to make sure that she stays as positive as she can, and to know that she has a huge support group back here in Louisville.

(On what improvements both Liz Dixon and Olivia Cochran need to make)

You look at Liz right now, Liz is - I'm excited for her. She's excited, because she saw the progress that she had from year one to year two. When you see your hard work starting to pay off, it's a lot easier to get back in that gym and keep working. She went home, like they all did here, for a few weeks, and then she'll be coming back here in a few weeks. We're looking forward to getting back in the gym, because it's going to be a big year for her. We need her to make that next step again. We're excited about that. Olivia is getting a great experience right now. She's going to be traveling with the USA 3x3 team, that consists of three pros, over to Europe. They have a qualifying tournament for the Olympics. She's an alternate right now, in case one of the players is not able to play in the tournament - the actual qualifying tournament. But she'll get the fly over with them, train with them, practice with them. If everybody stays healthy like we hope they do, she won't get that opportunity to actually play. But, if she's needed, then she will get a chance to. She's over there with three pros, and four pros including herself. It's a pretty neat opportunity that she has in front of herself. Also is really giving her some motivation to train a little bit harder, to make sure she she's ready in case that presents itself.

Anytime you get the opportunity to play for your country, or play on an international stage, I want them to do it. Those opportunities - people think they come around all the time, and they don't. When you get the opportunity, take advantage of it. See what you can do, and if you can make the team, great. Because they're still playing, and they're playing very competitive basketball. I encourage them to do that, I push them to do it. Then when we get them back here on campus, whatever that time will be, we'll make the most of that. Come time for us to start our season, we'll be prepared and ready to play.

(On how encouraged he was to see the amount of fans at the Kentucky Derby)

It was great. I mean, it's something that we talk about all the time. Our freshmen did not have an experience of what you're used to having here in Louisville. We we still average close to 3,000, which what's crazy about that, and I told our kids throughout the year, I think that would have put us in the top 30 or 35 in the country attendance-wise on a non COVID year. What we were able to do during a COVID season with attendance, is what only 30 teams can do better of when it's not. We're fortunate to have the fans that we did, but without a doubt, we're hoping to be able to get back to where we can get to eight to 10 to 12,000 in there like we normally do, so our players can experience what it's really like to see our fans cheering for them, and to have that home court advantage.

(On his plans once the mandatory recruiting dead period is lifted on June 1)

We're excited about June 1. The only difference coming up with June 1, is we're actually going to be able to have kids come on for unofficial and official visits. That's going to be great to be able to have in person contact, sit down face to face, not just with the players but with the parents. These zoom calls are fantastic, but you don't get to feel the whole experience in the room with somebody, feeling body language, seeing how they're responding to questions. So I'm excited about that. The camp side of it, it should should be announced here in a day or two, that we're having two one-day elite camps, and that's all we're doing this year just because of all the COVID protocols that we would have had gone through to having a whole week camp, and trying to do a team camp. Hopefully next year we can get back into a normal camp year. And then, July 1 starts when we're allowed back out off campus to go watch kids in person, which I'm really excited about that. It has been a challenge just trying to go off of video. You watch some of these games on these different sites, and they forget to turn the cameras so you're watching an end to the court with nobody on it, and then you only get to watch the kid on offense because they forget to do it the whole first half. They're things like that we're really looking forward to being able to get back out. But there are some things that I hope will stay. Because of COVID, I think we have learned a lot. That you can do a zoom meeting for a home visit, at times, in September - instead of going out the entire month of September. I can stay at home and actually get to know my freshmen who are just on campus for the first two weeks, before I head out for about an entire month recruiting. I think there are a few things that we've learned that can that will stick, and can help make our game better.

(On if he anticipates adding more players to the roster before the 2021-22 season)

You know, I never say no. We'll have to wait and find out. Part of it is, I'm not sure the portal is finished for this year. Because a lot of players have been at home, and now all of a sudden summer school is going to start up in June, and I think there might be some more that start popping, as I like to say, jumping into that portal when they realize, "oh, it's not what I thought", there may have been a coaching change. I don't ever say never.

(On what it was like to watch Dana Evans get drafted)

Well, we weren't actually able to be there. I was watching it with my family and my girls, just waiting to see her name pop up. Finally they called her name, and it's just exciting to see her - it's what they worked so hard for. I told her, it doesn't matter if you go first or go 13th or 20th, now you got to go and make a team. You got to go show everybody. Because the difference between WNBA and college, is they draft all these players, but it doesn't mean their spot's open. You got to go take somebody's job from them. In college, when I sign you to a scholarship, that's because somebody graduated or moved on, and that scholarship's yours. Where professionally, you get drafted, you're going to camp - they're only keeping possibly 12, but there might be 18 there. It's a whole new ballgame, and I think that's one of the things that we try to make sure we educate our players about. That now it's a job, now you're battling for work.

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