When Seton Hall women’s basketball head coach Tony Bozzella lost his 2015-16 starting rotation and proceeded to go about filling the void with six freshmen and a talented transfer, he never hid from the fact that last season was going to be a year of building from the ground up. Having now put together the bricks and mortar, Bozzella needs to find the design for his construction of players that will help swing the pendulum back to winning ways.
Bozzella saw his team finish with more losses than wins for the first time at Seton Hall last season, but by the same token, witnessed that talented transfer JaQuan Jackson transform into the No. 3 scorer in the Big East. But he also watched the maturation of several then freshmen in Kaela Hilaire, Shadeen Samuels, Deja Winters and Jayla Jones-Pack.
More changes followed this past off-season with departures and notable transfer additions. Donnaizha Fountain, a graduate transfer, comes in with collegiate experience at Temple and Georgia Tech. Her first action as a Pirate displayed how dynamic and versatile she is, as she scored 22 points while adding 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, two junior college transfers, Nicole Jimenez and Inja Butina, arrive with plenty of praise from Bozzella. Jimenez, a guard from Broward College, showed an ability to do everything she could be asked to do: score, facilitate and pounce on opponents’ mistakes. Meanwhile, Butina has been described as a “bull” by Bozzella and has shown a similar ability to put up numbers, but most importantly, to work.
“Obviously the three transfers we brought in, Donnaizha [Fountain], Inja [Butina] and Cole [Nicole Jimenez] have raised the level of competitiveness in this program,” Bozzella said.
Their addition, plus the development of the now-sophomore core, make for what Bozzella has called the most competitive Pirate team top to bottom that he has ever had. Now the question becomes: what formula will lead this deep assembly of players back to where the Pirates expect themselves to be?
Bozzella wants to play a run-and-gun style. Ideally, he aims to press teams, force mistakes and utilize his sharpshooters to capitalize on those mistakes. Although playing that high-paced style requires an understanding of not just attacking teams in transition, but defending teams in transition, something which Bozzella believes the team is still far from grasping.
“We’ve struggled defensively on transition all year,” Bozzella said. “And if we don’t start fixing that, we’re going to get run out of the gym. Because as much as we’re scoring the ball, we’ve got to play a lot better defense.”
Time will tell whether the Pirates can achieve the balance of when to press and knowing how to not get caught in quick changes of possession. But whatever style they choose will be helped by the fact that the team, seemingly, has settled on a formation of players that look to be more dominating in the frontcourt, with the same tenacity and speed in the backcourt.
Last season, the Pirates played primarily a small lineup, with three smaller guards, a stretch four and a traditional center down-low. However, in their exhibition against Jefferson on Nov. 4, the team played a taller lineup, with sophomore Jayla Jones-Pack and freshman Selena Philoxy both sharing time in the five spot. Meanwhile Taylor Brown, now eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, and Fountain helped the Pirates maintain a low-court dominance they lacked last season.
This increase in size did not take away from the Pirates’ athleticism, as Brown and Fountain, who totaled first and second in minutes among the team against Jefferson, proved they can provide a best-of-both-worlds with the skill of stretch forwards coupled with the strength of a traditional low-post player. Fountain, especially, proved her scoring prowess with those 22 points, while Brown showed the grace to go along with her grit, as she shot 5-for-6 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.
The backcourt had a similar dynamism to last year with Hilaire, the one holdover starter from last year alongside Jackson, paired alongside Jimenez to begin the game. Jackson and Butina rotated in, with the Pirates at times changing their shape to go smaller, but for the most part maintaining a taller front.
The irony and the issue is that while the Pirates seem to have improved in the half-court game, their aim is to be better in the transition game. Bozzella has added players that will seemingly help him play that high-flying style that had Walsh Gymnasium rocking for his first three seasons, but the players still need to handle the responsibilities that come with playing that way.
James Justice is a broadcast and visual media major from Caldwell, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.