PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast women's basketball head coach Hope Adams heads into the Bulldogs' 2019-20 season knowing she has a rare mix of speed and size.
Last year, they staged a remarkable turnaround. After having not won a single MACJC South Division game, Gulf Coast made it all the way to the Region 23 championship game.
Adams has stressed to her squad that being runner-up was just a step in the journey, not the final destination.
"It's building off that success," she said. "I explain to the girls all the time. We have eight sophomores, and I tell them, 'Y'all started it. Go finish it.'"
Gulf Coast opens the season Friday with a trip to Baton Rouge. Tipoff against the host team in the Lady Bears Classic is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The first home game will be Monday when Coastal Alabama-South visits Perk at 5:30 p.m.
Her squad is a little banged up to start the season, but it will provide opportunities for the youngsters to learn and show what they're able to contribute to the team.
"We're going to be fast when we've got certain combinations on the floor," Adams said. "Right now, we're down six players. Who I thought we were will probably change in the next two games, and then we'll be able to define who we really want to be."
The most obvious weapons on the team are the tandem who form the Bulldogs' towering inside presence. Kayla Simmons (So., Brandon/Brandon) and Daphane White (So., St. Martin/Gulfport) are 6-footers who can dominate down low.
Simmons had eight double-doubles last year with season-highs of 21 points and 18 rebounds. She was named to the All-Region 23 team after averaging 12.8 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 57.3 percent from the floor.
"She's offensively gifted," Adams said. "The things she does, I can't teach. She's just a natural-born athlete. My expectations for her are high."
You also can't teach 6-foot-5, which is where White tops out at. She started playing after the Christmas break and had two double-doubles of her own. White shot 55.4 percent from the floor, which is something Adams and new full-time assistant coach Jonathan Williams keep reminding her.
"Daphane has developed a lot from the summertime until now," Adams said. "She's really so unselfish. You think being 6-5 under the basket, her first thought would be to score. Her first look is to find a shooter and kick it out."
Mia Goolsby (So., Legacy Early College/Greenville S.C.) returns at point guard, and she's expected to contribute more in the scoring column to add to her already strong assist-to-turnover ratio. Allison Martin (So., Raymond/Edwards) averaged 6.6 points last year, and Nakendra Owens (So., Port Gibson /Port Gibson) and Whitney Johnson (So., Gulfport/Gulfport) played important minutes last year.
Newcomers include transfer Kailyn Hammett (So., Jefferson County/Fayette), who Adams calls the best leader on the team. The guard will help complete the puzzle on the perimeter when she returns from injury.
Kelsi Jackson (Fr., South Jones/Moselle) burst into her own during one of the scrimmages this month.
"She came out of her shell against Itawamba, even though we lost," Adams said. "She scored at will. She was able to separate; she was able to create at well. I wanted to know what guard we were going to be able to put the ball in her hands at the end of a game and have her go get a bucket. That's who she is for us."
Adams said Ataliya Brown (Fr., Choctawhatchee/Crestview, Fla) had a shot to be the best shooter in the league. At 5-2, she might be considered undersized, but the rest of the Bulldogs' lineup should open up the floor for her.
"We're going to depend on freshmen to step up," Adams said. "They're going to get a lot of minutes the next two games. Once we get everybody back, I think we'll be a stronger team because they'll get that experience on the floor. We'll have more depth."
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