Like most powerhouse programs in college basketball, the Oregon Ducks women's basketball roster has seen a lot of roster turnover in the past couple of years. In fact, only two players remain from just two seasons ago, and those two players didn't even play a second that whole year.
The 2021-22 Ducks team will have some returning faces and some brand new ones as well. Seven players from last year's team moved on from the program while seven new players are listed on the 2021-22 roster.
Head Coach Kelly Graves met with the media for the first time this season to discuss his new group as practice began this week. He said that this offseason has brought the team closer together than they ever were last year during the eccentric COVID season.
"180 degree difference from last year at this time," Graves said. "We were practicing in masks, we weren't having post-practice meals, we were unable to meet together even to watch a video. It's incredible the difference that this one year has made. I think it's already added to our team chemistry.
"We're a closer-knit group already because we're able to spend time with each other."
While the team may be closer than ever, it will be an adjustment for the players, especially some of the veterans, with new assistant coaches Mike Moser and Jackie Nared Hairston replacing longtime assistants Mark Campbell and Xavier Lopez. Graves had an interesting analogy to compare how the new coaching staff brings a refreshing feel to the team.
"I'm reminded of that Subway commercial — eat fresh refresh," Graves said. "It's been wonderful. They've stepped in, and things have moved onward and upward."
Moser, a former Oregon men's basketball player, spent time working with the Dallas Mavericks in player development and analysis before returning to Eugene. He also played professional basketball overseas following his college career.
"Mike is terrific," Graves said. "I think the fact that he played pro basketball for a long time and was coaching in the NBA, I think he brings a higher level of expertise. I think it's really helped us, and we've got a lot of pros on our team."
Nared Hairston spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with Arizona and helped the Wildcats reach the national championship game in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005. She also is making her return to Oregon as she was the director of creativity and video for the women's basketball team during the 2017-18 season. Nared Hairston played collegiately for Saint Mary's and was named to two First-Team All-West Coast Conference teams.
"She's really good defensively, having spent a couple years in Arizona," Graves said of Nared Hairston. "I think we're gonna be even better on that side of the ball."
Overall, Graves said that the atmosphere around the office is better and that so far it's been "a great marriage."
The Ducks bring back a lot of production from last year, including leading scorer and rebounder Nyara Sabally, as well as Sedona Prince, Te-Hina Paopao, Maddie Scherr, Kylee Watson, and Sydney Parrish. While it is still early in the year, Graves has seen a lot of improvement from his young players, highlighting Scherr, Watson and Parrish as three players who are primed to take their game to the next level and have grown in the leadership category.
"I think we all saw the maturation of Maddie Scherr last year during the postseason," Graves said. "I thought she stepped in when Te-Hina got hurt and played really well in the NCAA tournament. In fact, I don't know if I've ever had a player not score in a game and make a bigger impact than she did in our Georgia game."
Scherr did not score in the Ducks' second-round win but recorded six assists and four steals and did not turn the ball over. Graves said that she has taking her defensive and offensive games to another level and has been a lot better.
For Watson, the member of the historic 2020 "Fab Five" class that played the fewest last season, Graves expects to see a different player this year after how hard she has worked in the offseason. He noted that he expects her to be more assertive and confident in her game.
Graves believes that Parrish could "step in and make a huge impact" because of her shooting prowess.
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The Ducks were quite busy in the offseason, grabbing players from the transfer portal and the recruiting trail. Five players were brought in as transfers and two freshmen should get some playing time as well.
Graves said that he is unsure if there has been a decision made toward the eligibility of Georgia State transfer Taylor Hosendove, but he said that her paperwork has been submitted and "now it's in the hands of the NCAA."
Missouri transfer Shannon Dufficy made have a stronger case to play immediately because she is a graduate transfer.
Graves mentioned at the conclusion of last season after the Sweet 16 loss to Louisville that he thought he tried to squeeze too many players into the rotation with only so many minutes to go around. With a crowded backcourt and a ton of talent up front, he may find himself in a similar situation again.
"I really like our versatility. We've got players at all different positions who can impact the game," Graves said. "I think we'll probably have some kind of a hybrid of the ball screen and the spread-it-out motion that we've kind of employed for most of my tenure here with an eye to getting it inside.
"I don't know yet as far as where we're at in terms of rotation. That'll play itself out."
While Oregon is still an elite program, it would appear the Ducks have a bit of a hill to climb in the Pac-12 as the national champion and the national runner-up both represented the conference last year. With the Ducks having a new roster, they will have to prove themselves on the court if they are to make a deeper run in 2021-22.
"This is a whole new group. We haven't proven anything yet," Graves said. "We want to build our own legacy here. But make no mistake about it — I think we're still considered one of the best teams in the country. I think that puts a target on your chest.
"I'm really happy for Stanford winning it all last year. I'm glad that they did, and now it's our chance, or our obligation, to knock them off. That's what we want to do."
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