1. Can Jerontay Clemons lead Southern Miss to an NCAA tournament?
The senior from Coldwater, Mississippi, enters her final season and has yet to make the Big Dance. Clemons has been an important cog in the machine that has been the runner- up in Conference USA in consecutive seasons.
As a sophomore, Clemons saw Lady Eagle great Jameirra Faulkner will her team to the WNIT in her final year before falling in a double over- time game to in-state rival Mississippi State.
In this her final season, Clemons looks to take the Lady Eagles to similar heights and beyond. Clem- ons will be leaned on heavily for scoring until the team can find its identity.
2. Brittanny Dinkins continued progression.
As a wide-eyed fresh- man, Dinkins was thrown into the fire, playing in 34 games and starting 28 of them. Dinkins averaged 9.2 points per game while netting 32 percent from beyond the arc and 40 per- cent from the field during her freshman season.
As a sophomore, Dinkins played in all 36 games but only started eight games. In a reduced role, Dinkins continued to flourish last season as she improved from the the three-point line, shooting 34 percent. Dinkins played more team-oriented and increased her assist total from her freshman season.
Dinkins’ ability to create her own shot as well as her ability to defend multiple positions, will keep her in head coach Joye Lee-McNelis’ favor. In 19 minutes in the exhibition game, Dinkins scored 13 points (6-9 FG, 1-1 3 PT FG) and dished out three assists.
“I can tell you that (Clemons) and Brittanny will be in the (starting) line-up,” Lee-McNelis said.
3. The Golden Girls
Lee-McNelis is rewriting a chapter of her career that she wrote about two years ago. Two years ago, Lee- McNelis brought in fresh faces to gel with the team’s elder statesmen. The same has been done this season.
Lee-McNelis welcomes six new players, but there’s two new players who get coach Lee-McNelis excited, freshmen Keri Jewett-Giles and Caitlin Jenkins.
“The potential level is unbelievable in those two ladies,” Lee-McNelis said. “They want to be their best at everything.”
Jewett-Giles is making a run for the starting point guard position and started in the exhibition against West Alabama. She hails from Fort Myers, Florida and brings excel- lent ball-handling, great defense and solid scoring to the table.
“She has unbelievable ability,” Lee-McNelis said. “We watched her grow up.”
Jenkins will be a force to be reckoned with in the post this season. Jenkins averaged 30 points and 14 rebounds as a senior at Huntington High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. Jen- kins, a 6-feet, 3-inch center, is another freshman Lee-Mc- Nelis is high on.
If Jenkins was more polished in the post, McNelis has no doubt Southern Miss would have not had a chance at signing the center.
“She could have played at UConn,” Lee-McNelis said.
Lee-McNelis and the staff saw potential in Jewett- Giles and Jenkins and be- gan recruiting them young as freshmen and sopho- mores in high school.
“Their ceiling was very high,” Lee-McNelis said. “The sky is the limit for them.”
While the freshmen have high expectations, there is not a ton of pressure on them to perform well, as they will not be the focal point of the offense until they are ready.
4. Front-court Size
For the first time in a long time, the Lady Eagles have “power conference” size in the front court.
The Lady Eagles will have five players standing 5-feet, 11-inches or taller. Jessica Powers, a redshirt freshman standing at 6-feet, 6-inches, is expected to add depth and shot blocking to the front court.
Jenkins is the most athletic of the centers on the roster. Jenkins registered a double-double in the exhibition game versus West Alabama, scoring 11 points and snagging 15 rebounds.
“You have a freshman with a double double,” Lee-McNelis said. “[It] shows she has a tremendous future.”
Junior college transfer Shayla Wilson is a 6-feet, 1-inch forward that is able to score from the inside and the outside. In junior col- lege, Wilson averaged 17 points per game and nearly seven rebounds per game.
“If our perimeter players get beat, their size can alter shots,” Lee-McNelis said.
5. Roster Versatility
Juniors Jayla King and Lashyra Cotton display the versatility that will give op- posing teams headaches with mismatches on both ends of the floor.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of versatility with (their) size,” Lee- McNelis said. “It gives us an opportunity to be really successful.
King, a transfer from South Florida who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, saw action in 11 games at South Florida, and shot 50 percent from the field.
King showed her versatility against West Alabama, backing down defenders in the post and scoring down low. King poses as a potential mismatch for the op- position. King can also step away from the basket and take good shots, registering a game-high 20 points in the team’s exhibition matchup in efficient fashion.
Cotton, a forward from Cleveland, Mississippi, adds depth as well to a loaded frontcourt. In the exhibition game versus the Lady Tigers, she went 5-for- 9 from the field and 1-for-1 from behind the arc, totaling 11 points and showing her ability to stretch the defense.
“(Cotton) and (King), both of those players who can play inside and they can play outside,” Lee- McNelis said. “They can play three positions on our floor.”