Gibson anticipates improvement this season

LeDawn Gibson is no stranger exceeding expectations.

During her first season as head coach of the Florida A&M women’s basketball team, she led the Lady Rattlers to a victory over then-favored Coppin State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

In her second season, despite a heavily depleted roster due to injuries, she led the team to an 18-11 overall record, its best win total since a 17-win season in 2003.

The season included victories over out-of-conference opponents USF and the University of Florida.

“The schedule we played last year was very intense,” Gibson said. “The injuries hurt us when we got to the MEAC play. This year we’re hoping to stay injury-free.”

Gibson, now in her third season at FAMU, is still making improvements to her basketball team. She is dealing with another injury to start the season, this time to senior guard Christian Rateree.

For the first time since coming to Tallahassee in 2008, she has all three of her top scorers from the previous season at her disposal.

Juniors Antonia Bennett and Tameka McKelton, her top two scoring threats from last season, are back, both with preseason all-MEAC honors on their resumes. Gibson’s leading rebounder from last season, junior Quiana Donald, is also back and healthy.

“They’re working together as a unit,” Gibson said. “They’re supporting each other.”

Gibson’s coaching philosophy has always brought her success. She complied a 315-57 record in 12 years as the Winter Haven coach, leading her team to the state tournament eight times. Her team won the tournament in 2005 and 2007.

Her team buys into her philosophy and the results keep the women operating as a cohesive unit.

“Coach Gibson is the engine to our train,” McKelton said. “Without her nothing runs right. She’s always putting us in the right positions on the court to win.”

Toppling out-of-conference opponents and earning “signature victories” still pale in comparison to what Gibson still wants to do with her team.

“We have a tougher schedule this year,” she said. “We’re beefing up to get ready for the MEAC, the most important part of our season.”

Florida A&M’s regular season begins Friday at noon against the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark.