Jeff Walz: Great expectations for Louisville women’s basketball

Jeff Walz is engulfed by media prior to UofL women's basketball tipoff luncheon.
Jeff Walz is engulfed by media prior to the UofL women’s basketball tipoff luncheon at the Downtown Marriott.

A crowd of more than 650 people showed up for the 2015 tip-off luncheon for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team Wednesday at the Downtown Marriott. Quite a contrast from a few years ago when the event was drawing maybe 300 fans.

Coach Jeff Walz, entering his ninth season at UofL, acknowledging the growing support, along with the sense of anticipation for the upcoming season.  “It’s all about expectations,” he told the media before lunch. “When I first got here we were talking about getting past the second round in the NCAA,” he said. “Now we’re talking about Final Fours and winning championships. I’m really proud of where this program is now but we’re not satisfied.”

During his first eight seasons, Walz has a 208-77 won-lost record. His teams have been to the Sweet 16 six times and have finished as national runner-up twice while turning out five WNBA draft picks, including Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel.

Walz said recruiting success has made it possible to raise expectations. “In order to have expectations, you have to have great players. You can coach as much as you want, but if you don’t have players who can perform it really doesn’t matter.”

His 2015 recruiting class includes five players ranked among the top 50 in the country, including Asia Durr, considered among the best in the class. It also includes 6-foot-3 Samantha Fuering, 6-foot-4 Erin DeGrate, Taja Cole and Brianna Jones.

Another addition is Briahanna Jackson, an outstanding transfer guard from Central Florida University, who was introduced publicly for the first time during the luncheon. She’s good enough to possibly nail down a starting spot.

“We have a wonderful group of young women,” he said during the luncheon. “This has been one of the most enjoyable pre-seasons that I have had.  They work hard, they have a great sense of humor and they care about each other. You’re going to be excited about this group.”

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Walz also took a moment to express his appreciation to Tom Jurich for hiring him. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Tom Jurich giving me this opportunity nine years ago,” he said.

Alluding to his one-time stuttering challenge, Walz said “it took some courage for Tom to hire me. This (making public speeches) was something I didn’t do very well, speaking in front of people, speaking to the media. It’s part of the job. You have to go out there and sell your product and sell your university.

“I’m grateful to Tom for giving the opportunity. It’s hard to believe I’m going on year nine. I plan on being here for many more years.”

Shoni Schimmel head and shoulders above in a game of all-stars

What a show it was, one for the record books.

Shoni Schimmel hasn’t even earned a starting spot on her own team yet, but Saturday she was the undisputed Most Valuable Player in the WNBA all-star game, leading the East to a 126-125 win over the West.soco5hn0drav7h9q1n8ekf3nj6112013.png-final

There Shoni was again, with that familiar behind-the-shoulder flip over 6-foot-8 Britney Griner in the fourth quarter. Making it look easy, following an earlier layup against the same player.

The former All-American at the University of Louisville, now a backup guard for the Atlanta Dream, now owns the all-star game record with 29 points, collecting 11 field goals, including seven of 16 three-point attempts. She also handed out eight assists, including two to Angel McCoughtry another former UofL star who had 13 points.

Twenty five of those points came in the second half, including nine in the third quarter, nine in the fourth, and seven more in overtime.

Seventeen members of her direct and extended family were in the crowd of 14,486 at Phoenix, as well as hundreds of other Native Americans, including many who followed Shoni to games during her years at UofL.

Any reservations (no pun intended) Atlanta Coach Michael Cooper, who also happened to be the East coach, may have had about inserting Shoni Schimmel into his own team’s starting lineup should have been dispelled after her latest performance.

Shoni Schimmel settles in quickly at Atlanta

Shoni Schimmel couldn’t have gotten off to any better start in her debut in the Women’s National Basketball Association, scoring 26 points and making 21 assists in her first two games.

Meanwhile, Angel McCoughtry, another former University of Louisville All American, is leading the league in scoring with 24 points per game.  Their team is undefeated after two games.

The Dream will celebrate Native American Night on Friday, May 30 when it hosts Seattle in honor of Shoni who grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

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Asia Taylor has averaged just under nine minutes in two games with the Minnesota Lynx, averaging two points per game.

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The Los Angeles Sparks cut former U of L standout Antonita Slaughter and the Connecticut Sun waived former University of Kentucky center DeNesha Stallworth.

Documentary in the works on Angel McCoughtry

Coming soon a TV movie/documentary featuring Angel McCoughtry.

That’s the word from Stephen Philms, a Atlanta-based creative director, who was in McCoughtry’s entourage during her Louisville homecoming this week. Philms said the production will trace her life from a youngster in Baltimore, through her career with the University of Louisville women’s basketball team and on to the Atlanta Dream.

Then, of course, there’s her basketball in Turkey during the off season and the upcoming Olympics. Expect the production to also include some of McCoughtry’s music. She writes and sings as well, you know.

“We’re in the early stages and there’s lot of work ahead,” he said. “She’s had a fascinating life, overcoming many challenges with exceptional commitment and talents.”

Also in McCoughtry’s entourage was Ilene Hauser, a marketing representative from NIKE, who was assisting with media relations during Angel’s induction into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Angel is one of three players on the Atlanta Dream with a NIKE contract,” said Hauser. “We take an active interest in her career.”

And, yes, they are acquainted with World Wide Wes.

McCoughtry, Corso etched into Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame

Angel McCoughtry was among eight honorees inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame Wednesday in Louisville. She made it to the Hall of Fame faster than any other nominee in history, just three years after graduating from the University of Louisville. Just another in a series of milestones she will surpass, having already achieved legendary status in her adopted home town. She’s on her way to greatness with the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA, having been named rookie of the year in 2009. Next stop is the Olympics as a member of U.S. women’s team.

Lee Corso poses with his wife Betsy at the ceremonies  but not before saying he’s pulling for the University of Louisville to be in the Big 12 Conference. “They better invite Louisville if they know what’s good for the conference,” he said. Corso, who coached at U of L from 1969 to 1972, said he was never happier in his life than “those days at the old Fairgrounds stadium.”

 Seth Hancock (left), also a member of the 2012 class, gets together with Tom Jurich and Charlie Strong prior to the ceremonies. Hancock is the owner of Claiborne Farm, home of Swale, winner of the 1984 Kentucky Derby, and Blame, winner of the 2010 Breeders Cup Classic. Hancock and Strong are longtime friends. The last time we photographed these three people together Charlie Strong was named head football coach at the University of Louisville in 2009.  (Photos copyright (c) 2012, CSWorks)