The East Tennessee State women’s basketball team and new head coach Brittney Ezell officially got to work on Monday, giving the program a fresh start after two consecutive losing seasons.
Ezell has been on the job since May, and the team’s first practice was Monday, although the new coach had the opportunity to previously see her players in individual workouts.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we have a lot of things to get done,” Ezell said. “I like their willingness to learn. They’re engaged and they seem willing to buy into a new system. I’ve been really thrilled with their desire to get better and be willing to learn. I tell them I learn new things every day.
“They genuinely want to be good. They’re learning how to do it right now.”
The Lady Bucs will be trying to erase the memories of the past two seasons. Once the top program in the Atlantic Sun Conference with three consecutive league championships from 2008-10, the team struggled to win eight games in each of Karen Kemp’s last two seasons, going 16-39.
Ezell inherits some talent. Destiny Mitchell has been an all-conference player and Tiana Burley has been unstoppable in the post at times.
“Destiny Mitchell has really shown a great deal of improvement,” Ezell said. “And Tiana Burley has gotten in better condition physically. She’s really been doing a lot on her own. She has to play more minutes. She’s a presence.”
Mitchell, a senior forward, led the team last year, averaging 11.0 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. Burley, a junior center, had a mid-season stretch where she scored more than 20 points four times in seven games. She averaged 9.5 while shooting a team-leading 51 percent from the field.
The top five scorers all return from last year’s team, including Cara Bowling (9.5), Brianna McQueen (8.6) and Shawn Randall (8.5). Three freshmen guards have been brought in.
“We only have 12 scholarship players and we’re going to try to utilize everybody,” said Ezell, who was head coach at Belmont for three years and went 18-14 last season. “The way my team has played in the past has been very blue collar. We do a lot of work on the defensive end. We take a lot of pride to be able to be disciplined on the offensive end and hopefully smart enough to play in the open floor without beating ourselves.”
ETSU has an exhibition game scheduled for Nov. 2 against Shepherd University before opening on the road against Memphis of the Big East Conference on Nov. 8.
The home opener is Nov. 21 against Morehead State.
“I think they’re excited, probably anxious, and maybe a little nervous,” Ezell said. “And I think the coaches mirror that as well.”