SEC's fresh faces raise the bar on defense (part 2)

March 9, 2013 - 2:19pm
Tennessee's Bashaara Graves is was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

Tennessee's Bashaara Graves is was named the SEC Freshman of the Year. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

Close to 40 freshmen a year enter the SEC in hopes of being the next star of the women’s college game.  Some blend in while other stand out.  The most talented youngsters earn the respect of opposing SEC coaches and eight of them are voted onto the SEC All-Freshman team.  Over the next three years, those eight go on to be major contributors for their teams, many become All-Conference players and the elite players in the bunch are named All-Americans.  So we thought you might like to know more about this year’s fresh faces. (we’ll write up four today and four tomorrow).

Bashaara Graves - #12 Tennessee, 6-2 forward

McDonald’s All-American Bashaara Graves has gone from one of the best high school players in the country to one of the best post players in the SEC and is potentially one of the next greats to go down in Lady Vol history.

She averages 14.3 points per game, seventh best in the SEC, and is the fourth best rebounder in the conference grabbing 8.5 boards per game.  She’s also a top free throw shooter averaging 71% from the charity stripe. For her outstanding effort she was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and is the only freshman to make first team All-SEC. The bottom line is, she doesn’t play like a freshman.

“It’s a great honor,” said Graves, a Tennessee native. “It feels great and it gives me a lot more confidence in myself.

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick says she’s been the life blood of the team.

“We knew she was going to be a great player for us, but we didn’t know how hard she worked and her tremendous work ethic. Her will to fight and to battle, she’s just a blue collar worker. I love her game.”

Warlick says Graves has the potential to be as good as other Tennessee players such as Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker who were also named SEC Freshman of the Year. “She’s got a great chance, she’s a humble kid and she keeps things in perspective and she just goes about her business.”

As far as Bashaara is concerned, she’s a bit more humble, winning is the only thing on her mind.

“My motivation is to be the best, to just help us get wins, we all want to win a championship.”

#33 Courtney Walker of Texas A&M drives to the basket on Tiffany Mitchell of South Carolina. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

Courtney Walker - #33 Texas A&M, 5-8 guard

Texas A&M has seven freshman on their roster this season who were the highest rated recruiting class in Aggie history. So it’s no surprise they have representation on the All-Freshman team.  Courtney Walker stood out from day one, earning a starting spot in every game this season and has become the Aggies second leading scorer averaging 10.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.  She had a season high of 20 points against Connecticut... then repeated the feat three more times.

“We had a lot of players coming in and I just wanted to come in and be part of something great and be a part of a good team that could go far,” said Walker, who was the 2012 Oklahoma Gatorade player of the year. “My goal coming in was to get on the floor and play my part.  I worked hard to do that and it paid off.”

Head coach Gary Blair says she got the nod in part because she had developed part of her game that is often lacking in high school players. 

“She’s got the mid-range game that most kids don’t have. Most shoot the three or they drive. She is confident in the mid-range.”

Blair also likes the fact that she’s a youngster he doesn’t have to worry about.

“She’s the lowest maintenance freshman I’ve had in 28 year. She works hard in practice, she works on her game, into the whole total student athlete experience. She takes care of her business and it’s fun.”

LSU's Danielle Ballard led the SEC is steals (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Danielle Ballard - # 32 LSU, 5-9 guard

Danielle Ballard was a 5-time SEC freshman of the week, the most in LSU history, so it’s no surprise she was voted by conference coaches onto the All-Freshman team.  The former Memphis Central star stepped in started 26 games and average 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds.  She is the Tigers third leading scorer and became the first freshman since Sylvia Fowles to record back-to-back double-doubles.

But her most impressive performances have been without the ball.  Ballard leads the SEC in steals with 3.0 per game snagging a conference high 93 enough to land her a spot on the SEC All-Defensive team.

“I was pretty happy to be on both teams, it was a real honor.  I like to play defense more, a lot of freshman don’t get recognized for defense, a lot get recognized for offense, so I’m proud of that.

“I was really excited for her,” said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell about Ballard, who led  Memphis Central to a state championship. “You have a player that can really get to the basket, she commands the double but can still kick it to her teammates.  In transition she can score the ball and now in the half court setting she’s willing to get on the offensive glass which is impressive because you don’t have a lot point guards that can rebound the way she can. She’s leading our conference in steals, and we play a matchup zone, so that tells you how creative she is defensively.”

Georgia's Shacobie Barbie was named to the SEC's All-Freshman and the All-Defensive teams. (Photo by Andrew Snook)

Shacobia Barbee - # 20 Georgia, 5-10 guard/forward

The Georgia Bulldogs returned seven players this season, so it’s impressive that Shacobia Barbee has started all but one game for Andy Landers.  Barbee averages 7.3 points 5.8 rebounds per game, leads the Bulldogs in steals and is second in both rebounds and assists.  Her 2.6 steals a game are fourth best in the SEC and part of the reason she was also named to the SEC All-Defensive team.

“I was really excited, I know I’ve been playing hard all season trying to help my team out, so it’s just an honor to make both teams,” said the Barbee, who played high school ball for Riverdale, a perennial power in Tennessee.

“Cobie”, as she’s called by her friends and teammates, had to admit she was most proud of the defensive honor.

“Defense is what I pride myself in for this team this year. I tried to focus on little things like hustle plays, getting deflections, rebounds, stuff to help my team. It’s a real big accomplishment for me to be on that team.”

Landers said from the minute she stepped on campus he knew she had a mental focus that was different than most freshman.

“The thing she does best is listen.  She can connect the dots,  she has an excellent basketball IQ.  I noticed it the first day of practice, her eyes are her ears, every time you talk to her she’s looking straight at you.  And the great thing is tomorrow in practice you don’t have to re-teach that stuff, most kids you do.

“She set herself apart in practice, she didn’t make mistakes, you didn’t have to tell her things twice.  She does things other kids don’t want to do. She takes a charge, she plays defense, she’ll rebound.  She does things that wins basketball games”