The Lady Rattlers of the Florida A&M University women’s basketball team will officially kick off their regular season with a match up against Albany State University’s Lady Rams, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
With a new coaching staff, a strong corps of returning players, and a talented group of incoming freshman, the Lady Rattlers said they are confident about the upcoming season.
This season will also be the inaugural season of head coach LaDawn Gibson. The Winter Haven native took over after FAMU’s athletic director, William Hayes, decided not to renew former head women’s coach Debra Clark’s contract.
During her seven seasons at FAMU, Clark compiled a 100-109 record, including a 14-17 record last season. Gibson came to FAMU after amassing a 331-48 record at Winter Haven High School over a 12-year tenure. She clinched nine district titles, eight regional titles and two state championships.
“I wanted a chance to rebuild the good name that Florida A&M has,” Gibson said. “It’s a winning school, a winning tradition and I want to bring it back and I think I can do it-me and my coaching staff.”
Gibson brought Stephan Joyner, who coached at Johnson C. Smith University, and Latasha Shipman, who coached at Shaw University, to FAMU as assistants.
Since taking over, Gibson has introduced an up-tempo offense and stressed a balanced half court press. Gibson said she wants a fast paced game.
“We’re going to do a lot of press and run,” Gibson said. “We’re going to play a lot of team basketball. It’s not going to be individualized.”
Players said Gibson’s scheme is a much faster pace than the Lady Rattlers are used to.
“We’re a little more [intense],” said senior guard Deidra Jones. “As far as our game goes, it’s going to be a little more pressure-pressing here and there.”
The Powder Springs, Ga. native, is just one of the returning players whose experience will be vital to a successful season, Gibson said.
“The group of seniors that were here last year … they’re familiar with each other on the court,” Gibson said. “They play hard and they work hard to keep their positions and the girls behind them are working just as hard. [The seniors] are familiar with the MEAC. They’re familiar with the league. The experience they have will help us out a lot.”
Jones said she has been with the team through all the obstacles and this will motivate her this season.
“Being a senior having experienced, going through the ups and downs of a season- how my sophomore year we made it to the semi finals and the showing last year that’s just motivation to work harder,” Jones said.
With this type of experience and knowledge to support them, the incoming freshmen said they have exemplary leadership to guide them.
The returning players said they are also enthusiastic about helping the incoming players with their transition.
“We’re just trying to get them all on the same page-showing them the difference between college ball and high school ball but they’re working hard and doing well,” Jones said.
Antonia Bennett, a freshman forward from Lakeland, came to FAMU already familiar with Gibson.
“I played against Coach [Gibson] in high school and she’s such a great coach,” Bennett said. “Everyone listens to what she has to say. Everything she’s doing is great and will benefit us in the end.”
Gibson said one of her early priorities was to get everyone adjusted with each other and the changes to “become a unit.”
Players said this has been a success.
“We have a good chemistry,” Jones said. “We all sat down as a team [and] talked about our goals. We all just clicked from the first day.”
The coaching staff and players are all on the same accord and said they aim to capture the MEAC title.
“[Our goal is to] do our best and make it to the MEAC championship,” Bennett said.
The Lady Rattlers are focused and urge all to come out and support them as they embark on a wonderful journey.
“We’re expecting a good season-that’s what we’re working towards,” Jones said.