POPLARVILLE, Miss. — With the 2019-20 basketball season only days away, Pearl River's women's basketball team is ready to break out their hard hats. The Wildcats have already laid the foundation and started to hoist the walls on their project in preparation for Monday's 5:30 p.m. season opener against Delgado at Marvin R. White Coliseum.
Now, under the guidance of fifth-year head coach Scotty Fletcher and assistants Chelsee Black and Caroline Lumpkin, it's time for the hard work to really get underway.
"I have said from Day 1 that this year we're under construction. Come March and April we'll be done with our construction project, so what do we want it to look like?" said Fletcher, who's entering his fifth season at the helm of PRCC's women's program. "We're in control of it. We have unlimited access and means. We're in charge of what we're building, so why not build something we're proud of."
The Wildcats have seen a strong progression every season under Fletcher's leadership and qualified for the MACJC and Region XXIII tournaments last season.
With seven players back from last year's 16-9 squad, Fletcher is hopeful his team can make another jump in 2019-20.
"There's a level of comfort to have some experience returning," Fletcher said. "All of our girls who are returning played valuable minutes last year, so that's always a good thing heading into a new season.
"They've been through the fire."
Because of a number of reasons — returners, impact newcomers, experience, depth, to name a few — Fletcher is optimistic this year's squad can continue to take PRCC's program to new heights. Every day, Fletcher said, he's reminded of this team's potential.
"The thing I like most about this team is every day in practice they compete at a high level. They're just good girls, teammates, sisters. We have a very selfless approach daily," he said. "The one thing about this team is they want to be good. Let me rephrase that — they want to be great. Their attention to detail in film has been really good.
"They have stayed coachable and their attention to detail has been really good."
RETURNERS LEADING THE WAY
Leading the group of returners is guard Mychala "Pooh" Linzy (Clinton). As a freshman, Linzy led PRCC by scoring 10.5 points per game. She was a revelation of sorts from long-range, knocking down 39.1 percent of her shots. Her strong collegiate debut landed her on the All-Region XXIII and All-MACJC squads.
"Anytime you have your three best shooters returning from a percentage standpoint that's a great starting point," Fletcher said.
Olivia Mosley (Pearl) is another returner who Fletcher expects to see big things from this season.
She averaged 6.3 ppg as a freshman, but Fletcher said it's on the defensive end of the court where she has matured the most during the offseason.
"Our challenge to her is to be a better rebounder and a lockdown defender," Fletcher said. "She's our true slasher. She has also improved her shot to where she's making shots from the outside.
"We're expecting big things from her."
One of the biggest jumps from Year 1 to Year 2 comes from Alanna Smith (Picayune). Used mostly as a reserve last season, Smith will be looked to this year to run the point along with speedy freshman Allanah Turner (Gulfport; West Harrison).
"She has done an exceptional job," Fletcher said. "They do a fantastic job of getting the ball into the front court and having extra seconds on the shot clock to play with. That's very important.
"I really believe both Alanna and Allanah can be unbelievable on-ball defenders. My hope is that they do such a good job of complementing one another that when they sub for one another there's no drop off."
WELCOME TO THE RIVER
This year's team includes seven newcomers comprised of six true freshmen and one transfer.
Adia Rogers (Milwaukee, Wisc.; School of Language) joins PRCC's roster after a season at Jackson State. Fletcher sees the 6-foot transfer as a versatile addition to his roster who can play up and down the lineup.
"She's a big, strong physical guard. Our challenge to her is to become a consistent rebounder," he said. "Offensively, she can shoot the mid-range, she can handle the ball, get to the basket and get fouled. I think her best basketball will come with game reps and experience. The more she plays the more comfortable she'll get.
"Her skillset is very noticeable right away."
Another newcomer who immediately caught the staff's attention is Coast standout Brieanna Miller (Moss Point). At 6-foot, Miller has already jumped to the head of the class when it comes to rebounding.
"She's 6-foot, long, lanky. She's very versatile and tough to block out. She has a face-up game as well as a back-to-the-basket game," Fletcher said. "I think she's only going to get better and better. I really believe she'll be a matchup nightmare and our X-factor."
Like Miller, Fletcher believes Chardeidra "Smalls" Madison (Hahnville, La.) can make a difference in the front court — if not immediately then once conference play begins Dec. 9 at Copiah-Lincoln.
"We're expecting a lot out of Adia, Smalls and Bre," he said. "This is one of the deepest teams we have had since I have been here.
"Last year our guards carried us so we had to shoot the ball extremely well. Having that extra size this year, your hope is to limit the offense to one shot and then get on out and get on offense."
The addition of tall players — who are also athletic — like Miller, Madison and Rogers should only bolster PRCC's transition game.
"Hopefully if we can get that first miss it will allow us to get out and play faster," Fletcher said. "With that additional size, hopefully it allows us to get a free or easier basket and more offensive rebounds. One of our goals is to control the glass a lot better."
"Tae has a true scorer's mentality and can really shoot the ball," Fletcher said. "She has looked really good in our offense."
Pine Belt standout Alesha Temple (Oak Grove) is still working her way back from an ACL injury that interrupted her senior season.
NEXT LEVEL WILDCATS
Two members of last year's squad signed with four-year schools, giving the Wildcats nine former players who are currently playing at the next level: Cotoria Blackmon (William Carey), Gabby Brown (East Tennessee), Rehema Franklin (New Orleans), Kayla Malone (New Orleans), Tariah Mouton (William Carey), Elexis Peyton (Jackson State), Charisma Walker (Alcorn State), Destiny Williams (William Carey) and Tyasia Willis (Bethel).
HOW TO TUNE IN
All home games will be streamed at PRCCAthletics.com, with all MACJC action — and select non-conference games — also airing on WRJW 1320-AM. Carey Meitzler will call the action alongside color analyst Mark Franklin.