Walz, Louisville moving forward after Van Lith's transfer to LSU
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jeff Walz is excited about who’s on his new-look roster and appreciative of the notable player who isn’t.
In discussing a revamped Louisville squad that will feature six transfers, the Louisville coach also addressed the surprising departure this spring of leading scorer Hailey Van Lith. The guard chose to play her senior season at reigning national champion LSU and told Bleacher Report last week in an interview that while she had success and good friends in Louisville, she “wasn’t enjoying everyday life” there.
Just as he did when Van Lith announced her exit in early April, Walz wished his former star well on Wednesday and dismissed any notion of conflict.
“She gave it everything she had for three years, and I think her family would agree that we gave them everything that we had,” the 17th-year coach said.
“There was no arguing or anything like that. I’ve always been one that, if you think there’s something better someplace else and you want to make that move, that’s fine. I wish her the best and her parents and hope she does great.”
No doubt, Van Lith’s exit left a huge void for Walz to fill. At the same time, he already was facing one of his biggest roster makeovers at Louisville.
The Cardinals (26-12, 12-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) overcame a rough midseason stretch to reach their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament regional final behind a career year from Van Lith (19.7 points, 3.2 assists per game) and contributions from several veterans. Many of those holdovers including forward Liz Dixon and guards Mykasa Robinson and Chrislyn Carr are gone, keeping Walz pretty busy himself in the transfer portal.
Louisville has added graduate transfers such as guards Sydney Taylor (UMass), Kiki Jefferson (James Madison) and Nina Rickards (Florida). Junior forward Hennie van Schaik (CSU-Bakersfield) and junior guard Jayda Curry (Cal) also are new, while senior guard Eylia Love will be eligible after transferring from Georgia Tech in January.
They will join returning players senior forward Olivia Cochran, junior guard Merissah Russell and promising sophomore forward Nyla Harris, who started 15 of 38 games last season. Now come the challenges of blending all that experience and finding offensive stars while seeking top prospects.
“We’re always going to continue to recruit freshmen, trying to make sure we have a good balance,” Walz said.
“But this year’s just the first year ever that we’ve not had a true freshman come in and out of an early signing class. So, we had to go to work and figure out exactly what needs do we have.”
At first glance, Walz hopes for a team like the one two years ago that earned Louisville's fourth Final Four berth. Though Van Lith was the focal point, multiple teammates stepped up to lead the scoring from game to game and provide impressive depth.
The Cardinals' first chance to learn about themselves comes during next month's GLOBL JAM in Toronto as the U.S. representative. Under-23 national teams from Canada (which last year included Russell), Puerto Rico and Africa also will participate in the second-year event with round-robin competition.
No matter what happens, Walz looks forward to starting a process that has a recent pattern of coming together well in March. And maybe finding his next star.
“It’s going to be a huge advantage for us to get us going a little bit early," he said. "I told you last year it was going to take us a while before we hit with our stride, and I think I was pretty accurate in that.
“We’ve had unbelievable success, but this is just going to be, I’m hoping, a smoother year.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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