Mike Cagley, Co-Host IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular
May 9, 2023
The Illinois women’s basketball team is blazing a spectacular trail and doing so at a pace beyond expectations. It’s hard to put success at the feet of one individual, because a successful team is the result of many factors, but in this case, I do think head coach Shauna Green is the catalyst for the success the program is experiencing.
As a co-host of the IlliniGuys Sports Spectacular, I have had the privilege of interviewing Coach Green a few times, having an extended conversation with her at the Ubben media event, and have interviewed associate head coach Calamity McEntire and assistant coach Britney Anderson. These moments have allowed me to get a clear picture of the early success of the Illini women’s basketball program under Coach Green. As an IlliniGuy, I must note that I am not an “Insider”, I leave that work to Brad and Ked. They have built strong relationships with multiple coaching staffs over the years, and I don’t want to appear to step on their toes.
Building a staff and bringing in strong coaching talent on the bench is a critical and an underappreciated responsibility of any head coach. When one looks at the staff that Coach Green has put together, it's clear she understands and executes this role very well.
Let’s take a quick look at the two assistant coaches that I’ve met, beginning with Calamity McEntire. If one gets the chance to interview Calamity, you’ll find a coach with an excellent sense of humor, a deep knowledge of basketball and an infectiously positive personality. An added benefit is her first name is at the top of my list of “people I know with great first names”.
All kidding aside, McEntire has the personality that kids and parents will gravitate towards. When you add that the competence required to be selected to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Associations NEXT UP program and the experience of having worked as a manager for the legendary Pat Summit at Tennessee, McEntire is indeed a key piece of Green’s staff.
Green’s newest hire, assistant coach Britney Anderson, is equally impressive. She comes with the calm confidence anchored by a successful stint at Stanford where she was a part of a team with a 92-12 record and a national title in 2021. Anderson has the additional benefit of starring for Virginia Tech as a player, which helps her in dealing with players and creating a kinship of similar experience very quickly.
Anderson has an easy-going personality that like McEntire is fully capable of pushing players to give their best effort for the team. It also helps that Anderson also has experience in corporate America after being a corporate recruiter. She understands the challenges that are faced by coaches, puts them into perspective and she has made the conscious decision to be where she wants to be - on the sideline coaching – and in Champaign-Urbana leading the Fighting Illini.
My encounters with the staff that Green has put together have been very positive. They accurately “read the room” when communicating, use humor as an asset, and most importantly connect with the recruits and the women they coach. We've heard the players provide feedback on the respect and affection they have for their coaches. This feedback was unsolicited and encouraging to hear.
Being able to make in-game adjustments in high stress situations is a huge benefit in coaching collegiate athletes. The ability for a coach's team to have a schematic advantage or to reverse another team’s schematic advantage is a critical factor in a team’s success. One only needs to look at the elite performances of the Illini defense in the second half of multiple games during the 2022 football season to see how in-game adjustments can pull a victory out from the jaws of defeat.
This season, the women's Fighting Illini basketball team was the surprise of the Big Ten and maybe even the nation. On January 8th, they faced the undefeated #3 Buckeyes on the road. In a game that the Illini lost 87-81, they were up 57-40 with 6:56 left in the 3rd quarter. The Illini ran out of gas and the deeper Buckeye roster prevailed, but the Illini handled the Buckeye press better than any team in the country had yet done. The Buckeyes improved to 17-0 after that victory over the Illini.
The strategy the Illini employed would change the trajectory of the season for Ohio State. Opposing coaches now had a model for attacking the Ohio State press thanks to the plan of Coach Green. When you look at the rest of the year, the Buckeyes had a fantastic year, but finished 8-7 after the Illini demonstrated how to break the press.
Being able to take the strength of an opposing team and find a way to negate that strength isn’t easy to do. Coach Green was capable of not only changing the dynamics of a single game but made a big change in the overall success of Ohio State’s season. Winning big requires this type of ability from the head coach.
The role of a head coach is to spearhead the recruitment process and to own the responsibility of closing on the players that the staff has decided they must sign. Clearly, Coach Green has the personality and ability to close and make a difference in the Illini women’s team roster. The staff uses a teamwork-based approach on recruiting and the staff has landed quite a few players who will contribute to the future Illini success. Recruits talk about how impressed they were with the contact they had with Coach Green and the rest of the staff. Building a close personal connection to a player is critical to construct when asking a player to commit to play for the Illini (or any other team).
The Illini women’s program has been outstanding at using the transfer portal from day one to augment a roster that had only won 7 games the year prior. Genesis Bryant and Makira Cook were key contributors to the team immediately. Addressing front line size to help Kendall Bostic, who puts up great numbers while constantly being outsized by her competition, was a key this spring. The transfer portal in 2023 has featured recruiting wins in the form of 6’3” wing/center Shay Bollin from Duke and 6’3” center Camille Hobby from North Carolina State.
The 2023 high school recruiting class will have Cori Allen of Montverde Academy and Gretchen Dolan of Williamsville South High School. Both are 5’10” and 5’11” respectively, providing the Illini size on the perimeter in the wing and the guard position. And both are capable scorers from anywhere on the floor. The success doesn't stop there as the 2024 high school recruiting class features 6’6” forward Hayven Smith and 6’1” Top 40 player Berry Wallace.
Coach Green has the personality that attracts both talented coaches and players to sign on to join her in an effort to win games for the Fighting Illini. Great leaders don't have to ask people to follow them up the hill to run into combat. People want to run behind great leaders (or with great leaders) to be a part of great things. Coach Green is building a team to accomplish great things.
Don't assume everything is now paint by numbers, this assessment of what Coach Green is building doesn't mean the Fighting Illini women's basketball team is guaranteed to be successful. Other teams are competing hard with competent coaches and hungry players. Other teams have established NIL structures led by individuals with long records of accomplishments in sales and fund raising. There are no easy layups ahead. But if there's a battle to be fought, it is reassuring to go into battle knowing your team has the right leader because she demonstrates excellent coaching and leadership skill sets on a daily basis.
Better be ready to watch more basketball come next November because you're not going to want to miss what is happening on the women's side of Illini basketball.
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