Duke WBB working to capitalize on new-found versatility

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils women’s basketball team showcased a revamped roster to its fans during the annual Blue-White scrimmage that took place at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday.

Players who many had grown to know over the past four seasons were gone such as Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston, both 2014 WNBA first-round draft picks, as well as gritty and soulful forwards Haley Peters and Richa Jackson.

A noticeably larger-sized squad (nine of 12 players standing at six-feet or taller) stepped onto the hardwood in the famed college basketball venue, some for the first time.

“It was an amazing feeling to finally get out there, even though it wasn’t a real game,” redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell said.

Following a season of rehabbing from knee surgery, the six-foot-one-inch guard got her chance to finally play in front of Blue Devils fans.

“It was a long-time coming, so I was just excited to finally get off the bench and put on my jersey and get out there for the first time. I was kind of nervous before the game, but once I got on the floor and made my first shot that gave me some confidence. I think I shot the ball pretty well.”

As Greenwell and the rest of the full squad of 12 players settled into playing a four-quarter, forty-minute game while mixing and matching lineups in blue and white, they each showed versatility in skill levels and provided exciting possibilities to look for during the coming season.

While the team returned seven members from last year’s roster, only one was a starter, three-time AP All-America and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Elizabeth Williams.

Williams as well as returnees Ka’lia Johnson, Odera Chidom, Kendall Cooper, Amber Henson, Rebecca Greenwell, and Jenna Frush were complemented by the Blue Devils’ five new players – the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the country – Azura Stevens, Sierra Calhoun, Erin Mathias, Lynee Belton and transfer Mercedes Riggs.

Greenwell led all scorers with a total of 18 points (6-11, 3 assists), including five three pointers, while Stevens showed her versatility in posting 16 points (7-12, 10 rebounds, 1 assist) from inside and outside, with two coming from beyond the arc.

Johnson (15 points) went five-for-10, including draining both three-point attempts she put up, while Williams finished with seven points, six rebounds and four blocks.

“I liked the things I saw,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

“I think Becca played all positions beautifully that she played. She played point guard and shooting guard. Azura did a great job as well, playing different spots on the floor.”

As a team that many may consider is rebuilding, both the ACC’s Blue Ribbon Panel and the league’s coaches still selected the Blue Devils as the preseason No. 2 team in the conference behind Notre Dame.

It’s a situation that has McCallie challenging this year’s team to understand its talent and abilities – knowing they have more options to work with than in the past.

Following up on Greenwell’s point, Johnson added, “In practice every day, it’s something new we find out that a player can do and that’s exciting for us because that makes our team that much more dangerous.”

While not being able to determine exactly how good this Duke team will be so early in the year, the purpose of the Blue-White scrimmage was to provide those possibilities to both the players and their coach and to eventually find them out in the coming days and months.

Forced to play with a longer lineup during last year’s ACC and NCAA tournaments due to season-ending injuries to then-starting guards Gray and Alexis Jones, Duke showed flashes of potential in playing an outside-to-inside game successfully.

“Definitely I took lessons from last year’s finish and also looking at the talents this year,” McCallie said.

“The team is forcing me to continue to cultivate ideas. We’ just getting started.”