Like most coaches, Hampton University’s David Six spends little time wondering “What if …?” about his roster. There are too many games, players, combinations and possibilities in his direct field of vision to dwell on hypotheticals.
Still, the Pirates’ women’s hoops coach can be forgiven for the occasional longing look down his bench or out onto the practice floor. Though HU (7-3) is off to a solid start, and the three-time defending MEAC champs remain a conference favorite, he doesn’t have nearly the team he thought last summer.
Injuries have robbed the team of depth and forced him to juggle starting lineups and minutes, as players recover and adapt to new roles.
“I think we’ve played pretty well, considering some of the things we’ve been through,” Six said, in the midst of a 13-day break before competing in the Toledo Invitational next weekend. “We’ve played very well in spots. I can’t complain about the effort. We’ve had many different starting lineups and we’ve been kind of putting a band-aid on things. We’re trying during this break to re-invent ourselves a little bit.”
The Lady Pirates have notable wins against Southeastern Conference schools LSU and Mississippi State, and a couple of competitive losses, to South Carolina and DePaul, at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
Through last week’s games, HU was 11th in the nation in scoring defense (48.7 ppg) and 24th in field goal percentage defense (.327). The Lady Pirates force opponents into an average of 23.1 turnovers per game and are plus-5.6 in rebound margin.
Keiara Avant, a senior wing from Chesapeake, averages nearly a double-double (16.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and has been the mainstay. Guard Nicole Hamilton, a junior from Phoebus, is the No. 2 scorer (11.6 ppg) and leads in assists (53).
Kenia Cole, a sophomore guard from suburban Washington D.C, and 6-2 redshirt freshman Brielle Ward, from Baltimore, are the only others who have appeared in all 10 games.
Lineup adaptations begin at point guard, where projected starter Lauren Johnson is out for the year after a preseason knee injury. Alyssa Bennett, a 6-2 junior from Hampton and one of the team’s most versatile performers (10.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), is playing with a broken toe that has limited her effectiveness.
Forward Ariel Phelps has torn ligaments in her ankle that have limited her to just four games. Jo Guilford, a redshirt senior transfer from Old Dominion and a projected starter, is recovering from knee surgery and has played in just seven games.
Guard Olivia Allen had her best game in a rout of Savannah State (18 points), but suffered a concussion and missed the next game against UMBC. She is expected to return for the Toledo tournament.
Six’s lineup shuffles and massaging minutes have been most evident on offense. The Lady Pirates are shooting just 36.3 percent from the field (ranked 252nd) and 21.4 percent from 3-point range. Bennett is the leading 3-point shooter at just 30 percent.
“We haven’t had as much continuity, offensively, as I would like,” Six said. “Our execution and repertoire haven’t been great.”
Though HU has been effective on defense, the lack of continuity also affects defensive rotations, especially on the perimeter. Last year, HU led the nation in 3-point field goal defense (21.3 percent). This year, teams are shooting 29.2 percent from behind the arc.
Six believes that the younger players will improve. The walking wounded – Bennett, Guilford and Phelps – will play through as much pain as they can tolerate.
“We’re a different kind of team than we were last year,” Six said. “We're still going to compete."