Gia Pack - New Mexico State
New Mexico State guard Gia Pack will be a key part of helping the Aggies win their sixth straight WAC crown. Courtesy of the Western Athletic Conference.

WAC Hoops Media Day Session I Thoughts

DENVER — The first session of the WAC basketball media day is complete. From jokes about a blue dress to a straight-shooter coach, the first session had some interesting thoughts and quotes. Here are some takes from the Crowne Plaza Convention Center in Denver.

Blue Dress as Motivation to Teach Life Lessons

If you don’t remember, Kansas City women’s head coach Jacie Hoyt had to deal with an issue related to her fashion. 

The Kansas City women’s basketball account put out the following tweet.

A New Mexico State fan account that no longer exists on Twitter quote tweeted the Kansas City tweet with this:

“Okay…I’ve had enough of this.

UMKC promotes their WBB HC dressed in what I consider appropriate for an evening out on the town.

Are they claiming this is how she appears and dresses for her basketball camps?

This is just lame…and a misrepresentation.”

— Crimson Illustrated (@CIAggieSports) April 22, 2019

Well, at WAC Media Day, Hoyt spoke about the learning curve from the situation. 

“The first thing is just to be kind,” Hoyt said. “I think a lot of people hide behind the platforms of social media or a computer screen. And it’s really easy to say some things behind a screen that you wouldn’t say to other people’s face. And so, my message would just be to ‘be kind to other people.’ Also know that anytime you have any type of success or any type of platform, not everyone is going to agree with you and that’s okay.”

Hoyt’s ‘Roos are third in both the media and coaches polls, behind NM State and California Baptist. Hoyt returns the Preseason Player of the Year Ericka Mattingly and is coming off signing a new extension through the 2022-23 season. 

Will UTRGV Men Keep Up Winning Ways?

Since Lew Hill took over at UTRGV in 2016-17, UTRGV has increased its wins each season by five. 10 in 2016-17, 15 in 2017-18 and 20 in 2018-19. A 25-win season might seem unrealistic to some but not to Hill. The third-year head coach returns three guards that can wreak havoc, including WAC Defensive Player of the Year Javon Levi. And it will be up to Levi, Jordan Jackson and Leslie Varner III to help keep the winning ways going in Edinburg.

“I tell them that they got to match them,” Hill said in reference to his guards against other guards in the WAC. “They got to match them and exceed them. I go to our guys ‘you have to be as good or better.’ ‘You have to be as good or better.’ ‘You have to be as good or better.’ And if we match that in intensity, preparation, and the intelligence of the game, then we’ll be fine. We got to do more every day.”

UTRGV Women Feature New Faces 

Coming off an 18-win season and an overtime loss in the WAC Tournament Championship, UTRGV has a lot of new faces. Two grad transfers, two Division I transfers and four freshman join four returners in Lane Lord’s second season at the helm of the UTRGV women. One thing that Lord said during his press conference is it’s all about recruiting winners. And that is what he has done. 

“In the recruiting process, I think it’s very important to recruit winning cultures,” Lord said. “And players from winning programs. And that doesn’t matter what level … our transfers and our high school players, we have that culture and they’ve played in those types of situations and so that’s very important for us in recruiting.”

Lord will look for senior forward Megan Johnson to be the vocal leader. Johnson averaged 8.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game in 2018-19. 

How Does New Mexico State Replace Brooke Salas?  

I am sure that New Mexico State women’s basketball head coach Brooke Atkinson knew it would be one of the first questions. How do you replace Brooke Salas? Salas is a two-time WAC Player of the Year and also earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2018-19. She is second all-time in NM State scoring and led the WAC in scoring and rebounding during his final season in Las Cruces. So, how do you replace her?

“Probably not by one person,” Atkinson said. “By numbers. It’s going to have to be by committee. Other people will get opportunities. New players will step in. Glue players and other players, it’s their opportunity now.”

One player that will have a huge impact for the Aggies is Gia Pack. The senior guard was an All-WAC performer in 2018-19. Pack set a new WAC record during the WAC Tournament as she scored 86 points in three games to help the Aggies win the WAC for the fifth straight year.  

Barnes Talks About Fair Pay to Play, Preseason Poll

It’s been a hot topic and Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes was asked about the Fair Pay to Play bill that was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

“I think we’re in the beginning stages of it,” Barnes said. “I am one that believes that student-athletes are already given some benefits. But, also, there’s a lot of kids still struggling. I think it has more to do with background, where kids come from, from the disadvantages. I think we’ve done a lot of different things as far as helping them with tutoring and academics and places to play and locker rooms and things like that. 

But also, I think times are changing. I would definitely like to do more research. There’s more research to be done because I do believe in fairness. And I don’t want us to get in a situation, as far as the NCAA, where someone has more of an advantage than others. But I’m also one that we need to do something to help our student-athletes financially more than what we do.”

Bakersfield lost four of its top-5 scorers from a season ago. The ‘Runners were picked to finish 7th by the media and in a tie for sixth by the coaches. Barnes didn’t like that at all.

“I think we have a really good team and we got picked seventh,” Barnes said. “Someone text me this morning and said ‘we’re seventh, huh?’ … our guys, I’m sure, will be motivated when they see we’re seventh. We kind of knew coming in that with the guys that we lost and the few returners that we had, we would be picked low. But, it’s just about our team getting better.”

Billy Donlon Will Be Great for the ‘Roos

New Kansas City head coach Billy Donlon is going to be great for the ‘Roos.

Brandon McKissic (3) is one of five returners for new head coach Billy Donlon and the Kansas City basketball team. Courtesy of the WAC.

He started off his press conference by pointing out something he was passionate about; that the 10 players who entered the transfer portal upon Kareem Richardson being fired did so because Richardson was no longer their coach, not because of Donlon or anything else. 

Donlon is as straightforward as they come and he will ruffle feathers. But he says things how they are and even has a word of advice for those voting for Player of the Year candidates.

“The number one standard to being an all-conference player should be ‘did you impact winning?’,” Donlon said.  

It’s a message that Donlon is trying to get across to his new team. Jordan Giles, Brandon McKissic, Rob Whitfield, Marvin Nesbitt Jr. and Brandon Suggs all bought into Donlon’s philosophy and stayed at Kansas City. And it will pay off the ‘Roos. Donlon is passionate, honest about what needs to be done, and intense. Keep your eye on him when the 2019-20 season tips off.


About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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