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October 17, 2013

Staley spurs offense with new system

If you can't knock down a shot, the best defense in the world can only take you so far.

For Dawn Staley, that 'so far' has been impressive - 25 wins in back-to-back seasons and consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012. While elite, Staley's swarming, defensive-dominated teams (they only allowed 50.3 points per game last season) have been led by dynamic individual scorers rather than a balanced threat, and on any given night, any one person can simply go cold.

Getting over that hump and improving her team's all-around offense was a goal for Staley in the offseason, and never one to stick with something that's broken, Staley swapped out her old offense for a new one almost entirely over the summer and into fall practice. She said the installation process so far has been encouraging.

"It's been great," Staley said. "We've had the first six weeks of school to put the new offense in. It's a continuity offense, which everybody touches the basketball.

"We put it in because we felt like we put our other sets in, our players will be able to better read defenses. As an offensive player, you have to be able to read defenses in order to be effective, and they've done extremely well with it."

Staley said the idea came from watching other programs perform and adopting what she considers best practices in the business.

"I talked to a couple of coaches about this particular offense that they've been running for years," Staley said. "I was always hesitant to put this type of offense in because you have to be good passers, and we've struggled in that department.

"This summer, when we were able to work with our kids, the only things we worked on were ball-handling, passing and shooting. No offenses, no defenses, we just put in a lot of skill work. Our players have bought into it, and our players are better passers, better shooters, better at handling the basketball.

"So I thought it was a perfect opportunity to put this kind of offense in."

Last year, the offense ran through senior point guard Iesia Walker (9.8 ppg). Now, a new quarterback for a new offense is needed.

"Iesia made a point to want to be the quarterback of our offense and defense," Staley said. "That's pretty hard shoes to fill for us, and that's hard to ask any of our young players to do. I'm quite sure the game is going to be called differently."

Khadijah Sessions (5.8 ppg) will take over that point guard role and direct an offense replacing three starters.

"Khadijah has done a total 180," Staley said. "Last year when she came in, she actually couldn't even practice for a long time because she was recovering from a knee injury at Myrtle Beach. She sat back last year and saw some of the things Iesia was able to do from a leadership standpoint, and I think she knew that was going to be a hole for us to fill, and she got her mind right in the postseason after last season, into the summer and now into practice.

"I think her teammates see her that way as well, because they've chosen her to be one of the tri-captains. I love where Khadijah is as far as her mentality."

Where can the new offense lead Staley?

"I want our team to set a goal of winning an SEC championship," Staley said. "Because if we're talking about winning an SEC championship, we're talking about winning a national championship. I do feel like we'll be in contention to do that."

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