Hokies looking to build on success of Brooks' first year

By Jimmy Robertson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Aside from maybe an NCAA Tournament berth, Kenny Brooks’ first season as the Virginia Tech women’s basketball head coach went about as well as one could expect considering the circumstances.

After all, the Hokies won 20 games. They found themselves ranked during the season. They received a postseason bid to the WNIT – and they won three games in that tournament.

Now, Brooks faces the task of replacing three talented seniors in Vanessa Panousis, Sami Hill and Sidney Cook. So who steps into those roles?

“I have no idea,” Brooks said, laughing.

Brooks addressed that and other topics related to his team, as he and standout player Regan Magarity represented Virginia Tech at the ACC Women’s Basketball Media Day held Thursday in Charlotte.

The Hokies, who were picked to finish 11th in the 15-team league by a blue ribbon panel that covers the league, went 20-14 in Brooks’ inaugural campaign, but not all went well. Tech struggled in ACC play, and much of the issues centered on the Hokies’ lack of depth. For the most part, Brooks played just six players. The five starters averaged more than 30 minutes per game.

Tech lost four seniors overall, but the Hokies return two starters and added five newcomers through the recruiting process, led by national junior college player of the year Taylor Emery and junior college transfer Alexis Jean. So Brooks hopes to be a little deeper this season, and he hopes that the depth can help the Hokies play better on defense, while turning the ball over less on offense.

“I think we’re equipped to do the things we have to do because we’re deeper,” he said. “Obviously, last year, we were playing six people. We had a slew of injuries, and it seemed like someone was out every game.

“This year, I think we can go nine deep legitimately, which will help us in so many areas that we needed to improve on – whether it’s rebounding because kids are fresher, whether it’s getting up and down the floor and using our athleticism. Last year, I was taking strategic timeouts, and they weren’t to talk about anything. It was just to rest kids.”

Magarity anchors the team after a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore. She nearly averaged a double-double, finishing at 13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. She did average a double-double in ACC play (13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

She also shot a team-best 51 percent from the floor, including a team-best 34.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. At 6-foot-3, she presents a matchup nightmare for opponents, and Brooks plans on continuing to take advantage of that.

“I can’t believe she’s not on the preseason all-conference team – but that’s good,” Brooks said. “That’s motivation for her. I think she’s one of the most underrated players in the league. She does so many things for us that are noticeable, but also so many things that are behind the scenes.

“She’s our leader. She’s probably too unselfish. I’m trying to get her to be a little more selfish and demand the ball a little more, but I think she’s going to have a tremendous year for us.”

The other returning starter is Chanette Hicks, who led the Hokies in scoring (16.1), assists (5.2) and steals (3.6). Hicks was the Hokies’ lone representative on a league preseason team.

Hicks’ continued development is paramount for the Hokies this season. Brooks wants to see his veteran point guard involve other players within Tech’s offense. In other words, the former point guard wants to see his current point guard become more of a true point guard – something he didn’t feel like he saw enough of last year.

“I think it’s similar to all the other relationships that I’ve had with my point guards throughout the years,” Brooks said. “It’s not very smooth in the beginning because I hold them accountable, and I expect so much from them that sometimes they feel like it’s overwhelming. Once they get it under control and understand it, they’re better for it.”

Then he added, “It’s kind of a hate/love, not love/hate – hate the beginning, love me later, hopefully.”

Tech also returns Kendyl Brooks, who led the Hokies with 62 3-pointers as a freshman. The coach’s daughter, along with Magarity and Hicks, form the nucleus of the 2017-18 squad.

Tech will be a perimeter-oriented bunch again. Aside from Magarity and Michelle Berry, a transfer from Georgia Tech, the Hokies lack a true post presence. Brooks announced Thursday that he planned to have freshmen Celeste Akoro and Sierra Votaw take redshirt seasons.

“I think we’re fast and we shoot the ball extremely well from long distance,” Brooks said, citing the strengths of his team. “We can put a team out there with five people capable of knocking down the 3-point shot. That makes me excited because that’s kind of the system that we’ve always run.

“We’re not going to be big. We know that, and we really try to use as an advantage as opposed to a disadvantage. We can play faster, and we can do different things.”

The Hokies open the season in two weeks with a game against Wagner on Nov. 10. They made a lot of progress in year No. 1 of Brooks’ tenure. The next step waits.

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