Anyone that knows Jose Fernandez knows not only that he loves his team, but that he's always been very open and honest about the state of his program. 2010-11 was his 11th season at USF, and he has had a consistent record of success in one of the toughest conferences in America. And he has been up against the same history, facilities, and tradition gap we've documented here in regards to the men's team.
Although he's made just one NCAA Tournament in 2006, his Bulls were probably the last team out twice (2007 and 2009), and he captured the WNIT Championship in 2009. But 2010-11 was a year with high expectations, but the Bulls finished 12-19 overall, and 3-13 in the Big East, falling to Pitt in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. For a team and a coach that had been to the post season for seven straight years, it was unexpected.
So when I had a chance to chat with Jose about his previous season, despite the struggles he was very open and honest about the struggle that was 2010-11. He's also excited for the future of this team, and gives some great insight here.
Q: We'll start with the bad stuff. When I saw you before the season, you were really excited about the upcoming year, and you said you might have one of the best teams you've had. Obviously that didn't pan out, and it was a rough year. What happened? You've had multiple successful teams here in the past, but what was missing this season?
Fernandez: You know I was optimistic about our team all year, but we just didn't get the results. I thought this was one of our most talented teams, but we have a record that doesn't show it. Each team is different, and I thought we did some good things. But our fouls committed was way up (the Bulls committed 622 this season, drawing 517 in 31 games), even though we were a much better free throw shooting team, and we committed less turnovers.
We certainly got hit by injuries, though that's not an excuse. Jasmine Wynne was coming off an ACL, and she got thrown into action pretty early. Kaneisha Saunders (groin) missed 10 conference games. Tahira Johnson blew her ACL before the season. Daleisha Carn and Sasha Bernard (transfers from Alabama and Indiana, respectively) ended up playing right away.
I still think we can play with anyone on the right night, but it didn't make the results. It was a combination of things. There were a lot of games we led in the second half that we didn't win. But we kept competing in a lot of them and I'm proud of that.
More with Coach Jose after the jump:
Q: Talk a bit about your incoming recruits for 2011.
Fernandez: We've got a lot of people that I like. Inga Orekhova is a great pickup, she originally signed with Northwestern, but ended up at Northeast Oklahoma JC, and now she comes to us. She was originally an ESPN Top 40 player, and I think she'll like the weather here, it's much closer to her high school in San Diego. She's going to help us right away.
We also got Caitlyn Rowe from Gulf Coast Community College, and she'll help us right away on the front line where we lose some people. We added Tamara Taylor and Shalethia Stringfield too, and they'll help us in the backcourt, and both are freshman. I really think we filled some needs with this class.
Q: You also lost your leading scorer Andrea Smith to an ACL injury during the last game of the year. How's her recovery progress?
Fernandez: Dr. James Andrews did her surgery, because when her twin sister (the Bulls Andrell Smith) had the same injury in junior college, the family felt really comfortable with them. So far it's good, but Andrea has a chance to make a lot of money playing professionally someday, and we don't want to jeopardize that. So we'll make sure she's fully recovered and healthy before we put her back on the court.
Q: You graduate two of your front court starters in Porche Grant and Leondra Doomes-Stevens in the post. Who do you see taking their place on the block?
Fernandez: I think Akila McDonald is getting better, and she got a lot of experience this year. Caitlyn Rowe brings a lot of experience at the junior college level, she won a national championship with Andrea and Andrell at Gulf Coast (Community College). And Tahira Johnson played a lot as a freshman, and we'll get her back off her ACL surgery (Johnson didn't play at all last season).
Q: I'm sure you're as excited as anyone for the new Muma Facility. What does it mean for your team right away?
Fernandez: It's just huge. We work so hard to make connectoins with coaches and AAU and we work so hard, and this facility solves all our facility and arena issues right away. It gives our players 24 hour access to an awesome facility.
When we're recruiting, we're not just up against the Big East, but the SEC and the ACC. We have a lot to sell here, and even more now. The playing field we compete on has increased in that area. We're competing to get to the NCAA's, and this really helps us get there. And we move in around June 10th-June 15th, and I can't wait.
Q: To follow up on that, when you're out recruiting, what makes a USF player? You've always been an athletic team that wants to get up and down and force turnovers and the pace. So what do you look for when trying to find the next generation of Bulls?
Fernandez: The first thing we want is good people. We need people that are going to be good representatives of the program. As far as players, we want them to be long and athletic, and be able to create off the bounce and shoot the three. All you can do is recruit the type of kid that fits what you want to do, and coach them as best as you can to succeed to play big time basketball.
Many thanks to Coach Fernandez for his time. And we'll throw in a free plug he didn't ask for... check out josefernandezhoops.com for summer camp information for your kids up to 8th grade, as well as high school and AAU team camp information.