Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie is probably losing a bit less sleep than she was a year ago at this time.
The 2014-15 Blue Devils women’s basketball team had exactly one proven player – then senior center and eventual WNBA first-round pick Elizabeth Williams – when they took the floor last November. They finished ranked No. 16, played in another NCAA Sweet 16 and concluded 23-11.
But now Duke has a pair of proven sophomore stars in combo guard Rebecca Greenwell and play-everywhere 6-foot-5 Azura Stevens, the nation’s top recruiting class, enough proven role players – and next season will welcome two-time Maryland All-American Lexie Brown as a junior transfer.
“When you think back to what Becca and Azura did as freshmen, I still can’t even believe it,” said McCallie, who is 541-201 in 23 seasons (225-53 entering her ninth season at Duke). “They gained valuable experience, both of them hit game-winning shots and they both feel like juniors.”
Stevens, a Cary High alumna, progressed with lightning speed last season. She finished with 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and was second-team All-ACC.
“I’m working on getting better,” said Stevens, who played for the USA’s gold medal U19 team over the summer. “I just want to improve my game any way I can. I think my play around the basket has improved the most. I was naturally a ‘four’ or ‘five’ with the USA team. I’m getting more comfortable down there.”
The third returning starter is 6-foot-4 senior post Amber Henson, who has a fifth year of eligibility at the end of an injury-plagued career including six surgeries to her right knee.
“I’m grateful to be back,” said Henson, a master’s candidate in the Fuqua School of Business. “I have shorter practices to stay fresh and be ready for March and April. I’ve been feeling old for a while now, but I feel great.”
The freshman class includes 6-foot Illinois Miss Basketball Haley Gorecki, 5-foot-10 Angela Salvadores who has a pair of gold medals for Spain, 5-foot-11 freshman Crystal Primm who was player of the year for the two big newspapers serving West Palm Beach, 6-foot-1 Faith Suggs who was three-time all-Chicago Sun-Times, and 5-foot-9 McDonald’s and Parade All-American Kyra Lambert.
All are guards except for Suggs, who plays on the wing.
“They’re learning and getting better every day,” McCallie said of the freshmen. “They’ve got to get used to how physical it is and used to getting better. It’s hard to have great competition and having to work on getting better. They’re fun to coach – but they have to work on their listening skills.”
Junior sixth player Oderah Chidom, who lost the end of last season with right shoulder problems, is working her way toward 100 percent as is redshirt freshman post Lynee Belton, who had a left ACL tear.