HOUGHTON - After taking some time to reflect on the 19-9 2013-14 season, Michigan Tech women's basketball coach Kim Cameron sat down with The Daily Mining Gazette to talk about the program's late season struggles and what lies ahead for the Huskies in part one of a two-part self-evaluation of the Huskies' recently concluded campaign.
Q: Now that you have had a few weeks to step back from it, how do you view this season? Did the team meet its own expectations?
Cameron: It is always disappointing when you don't make the (NCAA) Tournament. Starting from the beginning of the year, I thought we had an amazing start and to be 15-4 with so many questions as to who your leaders would be and who would step up - all those were questions unanswered going into the season.
So that first half so many different people stepped up and it was fun and it was exciting and we were winning close games.
And then the disappointing part - you are always hoping that you are playing your best basketball at the end of the year and I don't think that was the situation with us. That's very unfortunate. I think we were close, we were on the brink. But we never quite made the adjustment to be really good.
Q: Were you surprised how dependent that team came to be on sophomore center Kylie Moxley? You went 5-5 after she was lost for the season (Feb. 3) with a back injury.
Cameron: Yes. Yes, I was. Because there were games leading up to that point where Kylie didn't have her best game, and we would pull her in the first few minutes of both halves.
It's funny though, because now you look at it and think that you always knew she could go back in. You always knew she had two points in her or drawing a double team.
It is a big eye opener when that one person made that big of a difference.
Q: Did the team fail to adjust to her absence, especially offensively? It looked like you want to keep running the ball through the post even if that threat wasn't there anymore?
Cameron: We (assistant coach Maria Kasza and I) will take responsibility for that. Our two scoring people (Mackenzie Perttu and Dani Blake) need a post presence to be at their most successful. If they don't have that we have to find other ways to get them open. That was the way it went.
That being said, I do think it takes eight, nine, ten games to get comfortable again (with a different roster). You see it with the Michigan State (men's basketball) Spartans and you see it (in the NBA) with Oklahoma City and getting Russell Westbrook back and all of the sudden they lose four games. The reality is you have to learn how to play differently.
Q: You had suggested that Kylie might have made it back before the season ended. That didn't come to pass, obviously. Is the injury more serious than you originally thought? Will she be ready by next fall?
Cameron: We are hoping she is good to go by this summer. Obviously the biggest thing is her health. We are taking every step to make sure that she fixes and rests (her back).
Q: How frustrating was it to come one game away from almost any goal you want to look at? One more win and you could have tied for the GLIAC title. One more win and you likely make the NCAA Tournament. Do you second guess a lot when it is that slim of a margin?
Cameron: Absolutely. You go back to one play at Saginaw (Valley). You are 4.2 seconds away from that extra game. We were a possession away in a number of games. We were a timeout away against Northern, where we went up one. That's one stop away in the final minute. Especially when we are that close, it makes everything that much more significant.
That's what we have been stressing moving forward. You never know what possession it is going to be, what shot it will be that matters.
Q: On the plus side, how encouraging is it for the future of the team to have two sophomores (Perttu and Blake) be named to the First Team All-GLIAC? The team should be ready to take a step forward next season with them right?
Cameron: We have to learn from this season. And the future looks bright. We have a lot of talent still that have two years left to play. And both of them can get a lot better. We didn't see the best of either of them this season.
Q: What is the next step for Kenzie? Does she have to learn when and how to assert herself?
Cameron: Kenzie gets better with every situation she is put in. I'd like to think she is one-half game away from being able to make the right decisions. We put a lot of pressure on her at the end of the season and you do things a little out of your realm with that kind of pressure on. She wants that responsibility, but now she is learning what shots were the right ones, and what shots she should have passed on. She obviously has the talent and attitude to be a go-to scorer, but now she is learning how to do it the right way. She will be a lot better at that next year in terms of decision making.
Q: Is Dani Blake the ideal for how a player can develop in college? From raw redshirt to all-GLIAC in three years is a pretty impressive leap.
Cameron: And we are greedy too, because she can still get so much better. But yes, she has grown so much from her redshirt year to now. I don't know if she could have improved anymore in that span. But she can still improve.
Q: What is the next evolution of her game? Do you want her to try and extend her range to the three-point line?
Cameron: That is what coach Kasza wants! She wants her to start shooting threes and she is in my ear all the time about that. It is hard because you want to perfect the stuff around the basket. But how big of a threat would she be if they had to guard her around the three-point line? It's a tough decision to make. We will see how much coach Kasza can influence me.
In part two Wednesday, Cameron discusses Jillian Ritchie's offensive struggles, the next step for her freshmen and the strength of the GLIAC North.