Boyle and Her Staff Tackle Rebuilding Project
By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Her college diploma is from Virginia Tech, where she played basketball and later worked as an assistant coach. Still, Katie O'Connor finds it easy to sell her new school to recruits -- even if her former Tech classmates like to needle her about working for the University of Virginia.
"I think in all different facets, it's kind of got everything that you want," O'Connor said of UVa, where in May she joined the staff of new women's basketball coach Joanne Boyle.
"You have a great head coach who's had proven success as a player and as a coach at every single level. You have a university that's got a tremendous academic reputation. You have facilities that are the best in the conference and certainly some of the top in the country. And so that for me just shows a support and a commitment from the administration's standpoint."
That enthusiasm is evident throughout John Paul Jones Arena, where new faces abound in the women's hoops office.
Boyle, whom UVa hired away from the University of California in April, has assembled a staff that consists of assistant coaches O'Connor, Kim Hairston and Cory McNeill, director of operations Sarah Holsinger, video coordinator James Rogol and administrative assistant Hadley Zeavin.
Mike Curtis, Tony Bennett's strength-and-conditioning coach for the past two seasons, is now overseeing the women's training as well.
"I have a lot of experience on my staff," Boyle said. "So I have capable people that take things off my plate, which when you're trying to build a program allows me to do what I do and hopefully can do well, and that is spend a lot of time on the phone recruiting and having people on campus and spending a lot of time with them."
The staff's collective goal is to restore to national prominence a program that played in three consecutive Final Fours in the early 1990s.
"UVa back in the day was the place to be," McNeill said. "A lot of kids, when you talk to them now, their parents remember that history, and the kids don't know it until they come and visit. So one of the biggest things we've been trying to do with kids from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area is get them down here on a visit, so they can see what we have to offer, and just see that there's new blood here and we're trying to get it back to what it was."
Not since 2000 have the Wahoos advanced to the Sweet 16. The 'Hoos finished 19-16 in 2010-11 -- their 34th and final season under Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan -- after losing in the WNIT quarterfinals.
"There's no reason why the University of Virginia can't be in conversations with the elite recruits in the country," said Hairston, who previously worked for Boyle at Richmond and Cal. "It has everything there is to offer: a beautiful campus, the No. 2 public school in the country, probably a top-3 facility in the country, great location, one of the top conferences in the country. So there's just so much here to sell."
And that's what the coaching staff has been doing this month. The July recruiting calendar for Division I women's basketball mirrors that of the men's game, and Boyle and her assistants have been on the road more than they've been in Charlottesville.
Hairston, who grew up in Bassett, began her college career at Radford before transferring to Richmond, from which she graduated in 2000. Her other coaching stops include James Madison University.
"Just being from the state of Virginia, and having played here, the University of Virginia is the university in the state of Virginia," Hairston said. "So being able to come back and work at an institution like this, and being able to go out and have VIRGINIA written across my chest, it's a huge honor to be able to represent this school and the ACC. You walk in and you have a smile on your face, because people immediately know who you are, and it's good to be back. It's good to be back in the state of Virginia. It's good to be back working with Joanne.
"The whole staff, we're extremely excited about we want for this program and where we know it can be."
Hairston spent two seasons on Boyle's staff at Cal before taking an assistant's job at Georgia. Her decision to leave Berkeley had nothing to do with Boyle.
"California is too far," Hairston said. "I missed home. My family is very important to me. They're extremely supportive, especially my mom, and only getting to see her once a year -- she's in Bassett, Virginia, along with my brothers -- that was pretty tough.
"Like I told Joanne: If we could have taken the University of California and moved it to the East Coast, I'd have stayed with her. But it's just too far."
McNeill is from Baltimore, and that's where he and Hairston will be married Aug. 7. They met at the women's Final Four in Tampa three years ago, when Hairston was at Georgia and McNeill at Georgetown.
To say this is an unusual summer for them would be an understatement.
"People don't ask me, 'How's recruiting going?' " Hairston said with a laugh. "They ask, 'How's the wedding planning going?' I'm like, 'Oh, it's going.' It's stressful. I'm pulling my hair out with recruiting and then dealing with the wedding."
The seniors on Ryan's final team were Paulisha Kellum (6.6 ppg) and Jayna Hartig (0.7). Two players who had eligibility remaining -- twins Whitny and Britny Edwards -- graduated from Virginia in three years and will complete their college careers at East Carolina, where their father, Blue Edwards, starred. But the Wahoos return 10 of their top 12 scorers from the 2010-11 team and have added 6-2 freshman Sarah Imovbioh, a Parade All-American from nearby St. Anne's-Belfield School.
"I think we've got a good group," said McNeill, who was Georgetown's defensive coordinator. "They're eager to learn, they're hungry, and I think we're going to surprise some people next year. A lot of people have written Virginia basketball off. I wouldn't do that. I think we've got pieces here that we can really do some good things with next year, and then add some more pieces in the future to make it better."
Hairston is known for her recruiting prowess. Asked what makes her so effective, she said, "I think it's my ability to relate with anyone, anybody, any kind of kid, to be able to develop those relationships. Because in women's basketball, I think that's even more key. Girls want to know that you care, and they want to know that it's not just about basketball. I really feel like I do a good job of developing those relationships with the kids and their parents."
Boyle considers recruiting a huge part of her job as well. That's one of the lessons she learned as an assistant at Duke, her alma mater, under Gail Goestenkors, who's now at Texas.
"I think if a parent's going to allow her kid to come to a school, then they need to know who I am, inside and out, and my thoughts and my vision for the program, my vision for their daughter," Boyle said.
By the time Boyle's staff was in place, many of the best prospects in the nation's Class of 2012 had committed or narrowed their finalists to a handful of schools.
"So we're doing the best we can with what's still out there, to try to bring in some good kids," Hairston said. "But the younger kids, the '13s and the '14s and the '15s, are a really big focus for us, because we've got time. We've got time to develop those relationships and get our names out there and get on the phone with some kids and some coaches."
John Paul Jones Arena is a major selling point. When O'Connor played (and coached) at Virginia Tech, the home of UVa hoops was University Hall, no jewel even then. She was an assistant at Kansas from 2004-05 until 2010-11 and had not been inside JPJ before interviewing with Boyle in the spring.
"The only thing I remembered was U-Hall, so when I came here and saw this, this is obviously fairly stunning from a lot of different standpoints," said O'Connor, whose father, Kevin, is general manager of the NBA's Utah Jazz.
O'Connor spent much of her childhood in Chapel Hill, N.C., and attended high school in Durham. She still remembers the era during which players such as Dawn Staley and Tonya Cardoza and Tammi Reiss and the Burge twins suited up for UVa.
"I grew up watching that team that went to the Final Fours," O'Connor said. "Those people were role models for me. Not everybody understands that there's a tremendous and rich tradition here, a great history here. But I think people still would view this as a place that you can build a championship program.
"We've just got to win some more games, and that's the bottom line. Perception is kind of reality, and a lot of people will form that perception based on a number, which a lot of times is the amount of games that you win."
Could the University of Virginia feature two Peninsula District
products as starting linebackers?
Despite not having played a single down yet, U.Va. freshman linebacker Daquan Romero has already started to build the foundation of something that has caught the attention of his coach.
If the post-spring practice depth chart holds true going into preseason practice, Romero, a Phoebus High graduate who enrolled in January at U.Va., appears prepared to enter practice as the No. 2 weak-side linebacker behind leading returning tackler LaRoy Reynolds. Romero isn't the only Peninsula District product in good standing on U.Va.'s preseason depth chart. Senior Aaron Taliaferro, a Gloucester High graduate, is headed into practices (which open Aug. 5) listed as the starter at strong-side linebacker, according to the post-spring depth chart.
Could two Peninsula District alums open the season as starters at U.Va.'s linebacker spots? The best available answer right now is - stay tuned.
Taliaferro isn't a sure-thing. He'll still have to compete for a starting role. At middle linebacker, junior Steve Greer and redshirt freshman Henry Coley will head into August as co-No. 1's.
While Romero may have some ground to make up, is there a chance? If coach Mike London is being honest when he discusses Romero's potential, the answer is "yes."
"It's possible," said London on Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff media gathering. "Absolutely, it's possible."
With only a spring's worth of practices to go on, Romero still has a lot to prove on the field. Of course, any conversation of Taliaferro and Romero starting on the same field together could wind up being moot if Romero starts working in August at Taliaferro's position and, thus, competes directly with Taliaferro.
At the very least, it appears a lot of what has gotten him in London's good graces has to do with what Romero has done off the field.
London spends a lot of time talking about the importance of academic achievement. That's not necessarily unique in the world of college football coaches. In some cases, it's Coach Speak 101 type stuff, an oft-preached basic tenant of coaching blather. We'd all like to trust academics are as important to football coaches as many of them would have us believe, but academic scandals in recent years at places like Florida State and Tennessee (and currently at North Carolina) may have snapped us back to reality.
Well, London has followed up his words with actions. He suspended players - including center Anthony Mihota, defensive end Zane Parr and safety Corey Mosley, all starters - for at least portions of last season's game against Eastern Michigan (Mosley was out the entire game) for poor class attendance. Running back Torrey Mack, who was a contender for significant playing time this coming season, left the team and the university in February due to academic issues.
London has also brought up specific examples of academic achievement in team meetings. It has all been part of his initiative to make sure his team stayed at or returned to a strong level of academic standing, an area that was shaky just prior to London taking over the team.
So, when London started getting good academic progress reports this past winter in connection with one of the guys he took a chance on as a mid-year freshman enrollee, he was ecstatic.
"I'm proud of him, so proud of him," said London regarding Romero. "Here's another guy - mid-year, Phoebus High School - (he had a) 2.66 GPA mid-semester (at U.Va.). Outstanding. Just has gotten used to college. He's bigger. He's faster. He's stronger. The competition for the linebacker position is going to present itself, because he's a good player. He's going to be a good player."
OK...so Romero has a great headstart on the academic side of things - a huge check in his favor. There's no doubt the on-field part of the equation is going to be just as challenging as the academics.
Reynolds, who was moved from safety to linebacker in spring 2010, started 11 games last season and led the team with 66 tackles. Taliaferro has the experience edge over Romero. A lot can change in the preseason, as we saw last season.
Coming into preseason practices, it looked like there was a decent chance a couple of Peninsula District alums would wind up in starting linebacker roles. Taliaferro entered practices as a co-No. 1 at middle linebacker with Steve Greer, while Woodside High graduate Jared Detrick was listed as a co-No. 1 with freshly-minted linebacker Ausar Walcott (another converted safety in spring 2010) at weak-side linebacker.
It turned out Detrick was almost a non-factor. He played in 11 games, but never started and finished with just seven tackles. Taliaferro did make something of an impact, playing in 12 games and starting the first six, but he lost his starting role at the midpoint of the season to Darnell Carter. Taliaferro finished the season with 36 tackles.
As the depth chart stands right now, Taliaferro will have to hold off junior Tucker Windle, who enters practices as the No. 2 strong-side linebacker. Windle played in six games last season, logging just 22 plays on defense and finishing with three tackles. Taliaferro may have a slight inside track on either Windle or Romero based on the aforementioned experience factor, but Taliaferro's status on the depth chart is far from solid.
"He's another fifth-year guy that's back and provides leadership and has played in games, but also, he's a fifth-year guy that knows that there's going to be competition at that position," London said. "We need to have good linebacker player, regardless of who that person is, regardless of what year."
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Posted by Norman Wood
Former Cavalier Payne signs with Giants
By: DAILY PROGRESS STAFF
Published: July 28, 2011
Former Virginia running back Keith Payne signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants on Thursday, becoming the fourth Cavalier to ink a deal with an NFL team since the lockout was lifted.
Payne appeared in 11 of Virginia’s 12 games in 2010. Payne was a touchdown machine for the Cavaliers last season, leading the ACC in scoring at 8.7 points per game with a league-best 16 TDs (14 rushing, two receiving). His 14 rushing TDs are No. 3 all-time in the UVa annals and second most since the end of WWII. He was an All-ACC second team honoree. He finished his career with 1,004 career rushing yards, becoming the 39th player in program history to eclipse the mark.
Payne’s size (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) and nose for the end zone are similar to fellow Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who is 6-foot-4, 264 pounds and has scored 49 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.
Payne joins Danny Aiken (Buffalo Bills), Dontrelle Inman (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Zane Parr (Houston Texans) among former Cavaliers that have signed free agent deals.