After a two year absence from the NCAA Tournament, a span that seems like a lifetime for Coach C. Vivian Stringer's tenure, last year's women's basketball team took huge strides to returning the program to national prominence. The Scarlet Knights defeated instate rival Seton Hall in the opening round of the Tournament, before eventually suffering a 91-65 second round loss to eventual champion, UConn Huskies.
In order to build off last season, the team will have to replace a strong senior trio in Syessence Davis, Betnijah Laney, and Christa Evans. Stringer herself had a particularly tough time saying goodbye to these three women at their Senior Day last season, offering high praise in saying "This is the greatest class that has given everything that they possibly can."
Davis, who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season, averaged an astonished 3.5 steals per game. She was the catalyst for a Rutgers' defense that held opponents to a league low 62.3 PPG. The 6-foot-3 Evans provided Stringer with a big body off the bench who left it all out on the court each and every time she suited up. This earned the respect of the entire team, as Stringer claimed, "There is not one person that I've ever noticed that thinks anything other than that she is the greatest teammate." Even with these two great players moving on from the program, the most significant piece to replace will undoubtedly be Laney. The Chicago Sky selected Laney 17th overall in this past year's WNBA Draft after the senior captain put up monstrous numbers throughout her Rutgers career, landing 14th all time in scoring and 6th in rebounding.
This offseason has not only brought changes in personnel on the court, but also on Stringer's bench. Rutgers has replaced all three of their full-time assistant coaches, as this normally cohesive staff saw turnovers for the first time in four years. Stringer has brought in Kelley Gibson, Ervin Monier, and Tim Eatman to shake up the staff and bring in a wide array of experience amongst the three coaches.
Gibson has spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Syracuse, while Monier was an assistant head coach at LaSalle during the same period of time. The two will be reunited in New Brunswick after working together at USC during the 2009 season, when Gibson was an assistant and Monier was associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. Eatman is also familiar with Stringer's coaching, as he served on her staff in her final season at Iowa in 1995. Since then, Eatman has been the head coach at University of Illinois (1998-2002) and assistants at Kansas, Louisville (where he worked with current Rutgers AD Julie Hermann), Arkansas, Boston College, Northeastern, and Rhode Island.
It is Stringer's hope that these new coaches will bring fresh ideas and their past experiences to build upon last season's successes and continue moving the program forward. The three assistants will bring not only extensive basketball knowledge, but also recruiting prowess that will be vital to replace these three great graduated seniors.