Oct. 25, 2000
After turning the corner a couple of seasons ago while arriving at the doorstep of the Final Four, the Bruins are now faced with life after Maylana Martin, Erica Gomez, Janae Hubbard, Marie Philman, Takiyah Jackson and Carly Funicello. That group formed the nucleus of a unit which compiled a 64-28 record (.695) over the last three seasons while making a school-best three straight trips to the NCAA tournament. Six letterwinners return, including three prime-time performers at the guard position.
LaCresha Flannigan, Michelle Greco and Nicole Kaczmarski have each earned All-Pac-10 honors in past seasons. The trio will form the core of the 2001 edition of UCLA women's basketball. Reserve forward Natalie Jarrett and guards Natalie Nakase and Jalina Bradley also return. They will be joined by returning redshirt Kristee Porter and six newcomers - junior frontcourt players Shalada Allen, Malika Leatham and Stacy Robertson, freshman guard Gennifer Arranaga and freshman forwards Jamila Veasley and Whitney Jones.
"This year's team, while lacking the game experience of a year ago, brings a number of exciting positives to the table," says Kathy Olivier, who is set to begin her eighth season as head coach at UCLA and 15th season overall on the Bruin bench. "We return several players with NCAA tournament exposure. We have added a great deal of overall quickness to the lineup, which will enable us to run more on offense and put more pressure on the ball on defense. I think we also will have a hungry, scrappy group which is willing to fight for everything it gets."
Quickness is the theme for this year's squad. The goal will be to use defense as an offensive catalyst and to beat the opponent down the floor. It is a style which will put guard play, a Bruin strength, at a premium.
At the center of that theme is senior LaCresha Flannigan. While capable of hitting the jump shot, she is more at home on the run. Attacking in transition, defense and offensive boards define her offensive game. Flannigan, however, is expected to be missing from the Bruin lineup for the first seven games of the season while completing the academic work necessary to regain her eligibility.
Also out for the first seven games of the year is Nicole Kaczmarski, who started for the Bruins from game one on, playing both the point and the shooting guard positions as a freshman. Kaczmarski was granted permission to take the Fall quarter off for personal reasons but is expected to rejoin the team by Dec. 16. Last season, Kaz, the leading returning scorer, showed high-quality ballhandling skills, the ability to creat her own shot and a knack for shooting from distance. She set a school record for three-point shots in a game and finished second in the Pac-10 in free throw percentage.
Junior Michelle Greco will be UCLA's backbone throughout the season and especially in the pre-season. Greco earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season as she truly developed into a complete player. She led the team in steals and free throw percentage while placing second in assists. Greco finished fourth on the team in scoring and had three 20-plus point scoring efforts. Her perimeter game came alive as she knocked down 34% of her three-pointers last season after failing to connect on a single trey as a freshman. The success of any backcourt is largely dependant on the efforts of the frontcourt. Faced with the loss of virtually its entire frontcourt lineup from last season, Olivier turned to the junior college ranks for instant, experienced aid.
"Both who we lost and the number of players we lost led us to the junior college ranks," said coach Olivier. "The transfers are better equipped to help out right away. They have experience on their side to ease the transition process and also possess a good base of fundamentals developed in a very competitive junior college environment. Many high-profile Division I programs have had success recruiting from the Texas junior colleges, and we expect the same."
"Quickness, intensity and versatility will be our team strengths. We are balanced inside and out, with several players who can be successful at multiple positions. We will be able to show multiple looks on both sides of the ball. Most of all, we want to push the tempo more than ever this season. I have been really impressed by what I have seen of the incoming class, and they will make us a complete team."
A loss to George Washington in the Mideast Regional ended the Bruin season in their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Over 106,000 fans witnessed Bruin women's basketball in action last season, and the home average of 3,713 per contest set a school record.
The loss of a player of Maylana Martin's caliber cannot be overstated. Named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a Kodak All-American after her junior year, Martin became just the third player in Pac-10 history to be voted to the all-conference team for four straight seasons. The 10th selection in the WNBA draft by the Minnesota Lynx, Martin finished her Bruin career with 2,101 points to rank second on the all-time school list and sixth on the conference career list. However, not as widely recognized, Martin ranked in the top-10 on the all-time school lists for blocked shots (4th), rebounds (4th) and steals (6th).
Sophomore NATALIE JARRETT (6-0) had knee surgery (ACL) in the spring of 1999 but returned in time to see action in eight games. She has a solid all-around game and could see her role expand. Jarrett will look to use her year in the program to her advantage as she competes for playing time with several incoming recruits. An honorable mention All-American by USA Today and Street and Smith's, Jarrett led Wenatchee HS in rebounding (9.7), blocked shots (3.2) and field goal percentage (44%) while averaging 14.0 points per game as a prep senior. She averaged 1.2 points and 0.9 boards for the Bruins in 2000.
"Natalie is a hard-worker with a huge heart," said Olivier. "Last season, she came in with an injury, which really prevented her from seeing a lot of playing time. However, she has worked hard in the off-season and is excited to start her sophomore year with new life. She will be doing a lot for us inside and outside, and I expect her to play a lot of minutes."
SHALADA ALLEN (6-2, junior) is one of three frontcourt junior college players added to the Bruin roster for this season. A native of Paris, TX, Allen attended Chisum High School prior to enrolling at Kilgore, TX College. She averaged 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a year ago as a post player for the Lady Rangers. The marks ranked her 10th in the Junior College Region XIV in each category. Allen was also named to the Region XIV all-conference team. She shot 48% from the field and had 30 steals in 28 games for Kilgore.
"Shalada is someone who is going to be a role player for us. She can play defense and go to the boards. She has a big defensive presence and plays with a lot of heart," said Olivier. "She comes from a very good junior college program and is excited to be here. She is the type of player who will do anything she can to help the team."
MALIKA LEATHAM (6-2, junior) comes West after attending Blinn Junior College in Brenham, TX. The Houston native averaged 10.4 points in 27 games last year for the Buccaneers and ranked eighth in the Junior College Region XIV with 7.6 rebounds per game. A rugged inside defender, Leatham also had 46 steals last year.
Olivier reports, "Malika has a very aggressive personality, which should carry over well onto the court. She's not very tall for a center, but she plays big. She will bring intensity and a strong desire to win."
STACY ROBERTSON (6-0, junior) was a teammate of Allen at Kilgore Junior College last season and is a native of Dayton, TX. She was named to the 10-player JC All-Region XIV team as well as to the all-conference team after averaging 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. Robertson shot 54% from the field and connected on 50 three-points shots while shooting 37% from beyond the arc. A 74% free throw shooter, she also handed out 47 assists last season.
"Stacy has a nice shot and will help us on the perimeter. She is a real outside threat from long range," said Olivier. "Stacy comes from a good program at Kilgore JC and should come in and be able to compete right away. I think she will bring a leadership role to this team."
JAMILA VEASLEY (6-1, freshman) is the sister of former Bruin Aisha Veasley (1995-98) and attended Valley Christian High School in Cerritos, CA. The three-year prep starter has a size and quickness combination which should enable her to be effective both inside and on the perimeter. Jamila earned CIF 4-AA Player of the Year honors last season after averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game while leading her school to a league championship. "Like her sister, who did so many good things for us, Jamila is a hard-working, scrappy player who takes advantage of people's mistakes and gives you everything she has," said Olivier. "She will help our game by defending the inside and in rebounding."
KRISTEE PORTER (6-0, redshirt sophomore) was a standout on both the Bruin volleyball and track teams last season. She earned All-America honors for volleyball coach Andy Banachowski's squad, which was eliminated by eventual national champion Penn State in the 1999 Regional finals. Porter also excelled for coach Jeanette Bolden's track and field squad, placing sixth in the triple jump (41-5 3/4) at the 2000 Pac-10 conference championship meet. The Texas native played in four games for coach Olivier in her freshman season of 1999 and averaged 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds. Among those four games was a seven-point, seven-rebound performance in just four minutes of play against Pepperdine. Porter should join the team after the Christmas break.
"I am really excited to have an athlete like Kristee Porter on this team," Olivier stated. "Kristee is one of the best athletes on campus, and I'm hoping that she can bring the intensity she has shown in volleyball to basketball. She showed she can do it in limited minutes her freshman year."
WHITNEY JONES (5-10, freshman) is another multi-sport athlete who will join the Bruins in late December. Jones was a starting midfielder on the nationally-ranked soccer team. At San Clemente HS, she earned first-team All-CIF and all-county honors for basketball. She made 24 three-pointers last season on 43% shooting and averaged 15.2 points and 9.1 rebounds for the South Coast League champions
"Whitney is a good shooter and a good athlete," said Olivier. "Anyone who plays two sports at this high of a level has to be an asset to her team. Her soccer experience and fitness will help her in basketball."
The Bruin backcourt returns five letterwinners to the fold, three with starting experience. Senior LaCresha Flannigan, junior Michelle Greco and sophomore Nicole Kaczmarski all made it into coach Olivier's starting lineup last year, and each led the team in scoring in at least two games during the season. The three players all bring something a little different to the mix - Flannigan offers quickness and explosiveness, Greco adds defensive intensity and scoring ability, Kaczmarski adds outstanding all-around ability and a serious perimeter threat. Redshirt sophomore Natalie Nakase, who missed the 1999 season after suffering a serious knee injury in the summer of 1998, is ready to challenge for a larger role, sophomore Jalina Bradley had to deal with injuries last year in a developmental season.
LaCRESHA FLANNIGAN (5-7, senior) was the lone recruit inked by Olivier four years ago after being selected to the second five of the 1997 Cal-Hi Sports All-State team. She exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, earning all-conference honors while averaging 14.1 points overall and finishing second to Maylana Martin in scoring in Pac-10 games only with a 17.2 mark. Arthroscopic knee surgery (meniscus) both before and after last season seemed to take its toll on Flannigan over the course of the season in which she saw action in all 29 games. She paced the Bruins in scoring in the first two games of the season, including a season-high 17 in the overtime win over Texas, and has scored in double figures in 33 games over the past two years.
"LaCresha seemed to be affected most by the lack of continuity in our lineup due to the large number of injuries we suffered as a team last season," said Olivier. "We were unable to consistently generate a transition attack in which LaCresha proved to be very effective the previous season. She has a very explosive first step to the basket - the quickest I've ever seen in my years of coaching - and the ability to get her shot off in traffic despite her lack of size."
MICHELLE GRECO (5-9, junior) put in a lot of gym time over the years to try to make herself into a big-time player. She came to UCLA as more of a scorer than a shooter and has worked hard to become both. She was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team and to the NCAA West Regional all-tournament squad. This past season, she earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. She started in six games and finished fourth on the team in scoring (9.2), including a career-best 26 points in a game at Stanford. She led the team in steals with an average of 2.2 per game (third in the Pac-10) and a free throw percentage of .864 (fourth-best seasonal mark in the history of the program). Greco was also second on the team in assists (2.3 per game). She had finished second on the team (73) and ninth in the conference (2.15 avg.) in steals as a freshman.
"Greco is in an ideal position," Olivier said. "As a junior, she feels like she's one of the leaders, and she knows she is a huge component to this team. She has shown that she can play against anyone in the country. In fact, her best games have been against the nation's best teams. If she can stay healthy, she can play against anyone. We are looking for her to take her leadership skills to a new level."
NICOLE KACZMARSKI (5-11, sophomore) was one of the most highly-recruited athletes ever to enroll at UCLA. Listed as the number one prep point guard in the country by several publications, Kaz did not disappoint and earned a spot on the all-conference freshman team. She averaged 11.7 points per game to rank second on the team and was the team leader in three-point shots made with 36. She nailed a school-record seven three-pointers in a game at Washington State last season on her way to a career-best 21 points. Kaz connected on 84% of her free throws to rank second in the conference and seventh on the all-time school list for a season. In addition, she closed out the 2000 season by hitting her last 19 free throws and will take aim at that school record of 24. She will get more scoring opportunities this season, a role she is more than capable of handling after setting a Long Island high school record with 2,583 career points for a 23.1 average.
"Kaz is looking forward to a new role on the team," reported Olivier. "Last year, she was the second-leading scorer, and with the seniors gone, she's in a more comfortable role where she is expected to step up. That is something that she has always done, and she enjoys that pressure. Now as a sophomore, she knows what to expect, which will make her that much more productive."
JALINA BRADLEY (5-7, sophomore) is a LaCresha Flannigan-like player who can get a lot of her points from her defense. Quickness is the name of her game. She missed 12 games last season due to injury (fractured right foot) while seeing action off the bench in nine contests. As a prepster at Channel Islands HS, she averaged 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and shot 80% from the free throw line. She made all four of her attempts from the charity stripe for the Bruins last season.
"A.J. was just starting to see good minutes when she injured her foot a year ago," Olivier said. "She has since worked hard in the off-season and is physically fit to reclaim her position on the team. She provides great defensive pressure and is a quick, fiery, aggressive player who will go up against anyone and is not afraid of any challenge. "
NATALIE NAKASE (5-2, redshirt sophomore) will provide support at the point guard position. She saw action in 11 games in 2000 after sitting out the 1999 season following knee surgery. Her emerging leadership skills and knowledge of the system should help her earn more playing time.
She was named the County Player of the Year by the Orange County Register after helping lead Marina HS to the 1998 CIF championship. Nakase averaged 13.5 points and 8.0 assists in her senior season.
"Nat's leadership on and off the court is her best quality," said Olivier. "She is the kind of player who works hard to do all the little things that are important on a team. She's a naggy defender and a good ball distributer who can push the ball up the court and get it to the right people at the right time."
GENNIFER ARRANAGA (5-6, freshman) was a four-year starter at Centennial High School in Corona, CA. She helped her team to a pair of league titles while being named all-league in each of her four seasons. Arranaga averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in her final prep season. An extremely quick athlete, she reached the finals of the CIF 100 meter event as a freshman.
"Gennifer is a great athlete who is in great shape," said Olivier. "She's another defender who plays low to the ground and is constantly moving on the court and grabbing loose balls. Her defense generates her offense. Gennifer fits in well with the team and is extremely proud to a Bruin."
This year's schedule should again rank as one of the nation's most challenging. Seven of the non-conference games (Duke, Utah, BYU, San Diego, Old Dominion, Pepperdine and Georgia) will be played against teams which earned bids to the 2000 NCAA tournament. An additional game against LSU, yet another tournament team, could also be played on November 11 in the second round of the Women's Sports Foundation Classic in Albuquerque. In addition, the Bruins will face Pac-10 conference tournament teams from Oregon, Arizona and Stanford. A local matchup with Long Beach State and road trips to BYU and Colorado are also on tap.
"Once again, we are playing a high-quality pre-season schedule to prepare us for the Pac-10, which will be just as good as last year, if not better," said Olivier. "As we saw last year, this conference is strong from 1-10."