With the Bucs picked as co-favorites along with Mercer in the Southern Conference preseason coaches' poll, they are now the hunted instead of the hunters. Still, the Bucs, who finished 20-13 with a Women's NIT appearance last season, will be the underdogs in a number of games. That's because Ezell has put together another challenging schedule that starts with road games at Cincinnati and Michigan State — and includes games against South Carolina and Tennessee.
Earlier this week at Wild Wing Café, she met with members of the media to discuss the upcoming season.
The Bucs lost three-time All-Southern Conference player Tianna Tarter and her team-leading 17.7 points per game to graduation. They do return Erica Haynes-Overton, who was named the Southern Conference defensive player of the year and freshman of the year, last season.
While the two formed a dynamic backcourt, the strength of this year's team could be in the post with returning players like Brittney Snowden and Raven Dean accounting for a combined 14 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Last year, you were so guard-oriented with Tarter and Haynes-Overton. Is it fair to say you're now embracing more of an inside-out philosophy?
Ezell: "Yes, because we're much bigger with more depth. We've brought in some things that will allow Raven and Sadasia (Tipps) to be more of hybrid players. I don't think we will ever go away from being a pressure team, but our post players are athletic this year and should be fun to watch."
Still, could we expect to see a team that feels as comfortable playing in the half-court as they are in a full-court game?
Ezell: "Yeah, I think that's what is unique about this group. We're going to be able to play a lot of different styles. We still want to play fast and get up and down the court. Our staple is still our defense and we tell our kids that defense travels. We can take it on the road with us. If the shots aren't falling and we're principled defensively, we will be all right."
What are the biggest changes that players have to adjust from high school to competing at this level?
Ezell: "It's the speed of the game and going from the big fish in a small pond to now you're swimming with other big fishes. You're 18 and now you're playing against a 23-year-old young woman. In high school, a lot of times they just go out and play with what they do instinctually. Here, it's much more cerebral where they have to think through things and go through scouting reports. You also have the big challenge of time management, which can be overwhelming."
The players talked about being so excited about the season. How much are you looking forward to it as a coach?
Ezell: "Truthfully, I wish we had another month of practice. They're excited about playing Cincinnati and Michigan State. They're excited about the preseason poll, while I'm not and try to be the ying to their yang. I told them we're not the No. 1 team in the conference yet, but we can be if we do things the right way."
Many coaches try to pad their record with an easier schedule. Why have you taken the opposite approach and taken on teams like defending national champion Notre Dame and Tennessee?
Ezell: "My record may not be as good as some of the other mid-major coaches in the country, but I don't really care. I know what we're doing is we're giving our kids an awesome experience and we're giving our fans something exciting to watch. We're growing our brand and I think our president really appreciates that. We're taking ETSU exciting places where we've raised the university's profile."