Eugene, OR -- This is going to be a big year for the Oregon Ducks. With a whole new set of faces and a star like Jillian Alleyne to lead the way, this team is starting fresh and working hard to make a statement this season. With only four players returning to the team from last year, this new team is determined to stay focused and disciplined to put Oregon on the board and onto the road to the NCAA Championships.
Jillian Alleyne is going to be the key player for this team this year, being a top leading scorer the past three years of her college career, averaging 18.4 points per game. Not only is Jillian a force offensively on the court, but her defensive skills are just as vital, averaging 10.8 defensive rebounds per game.
Alleyne was deemed Pac-12 All-Defensive Team last season, alongside her other successes including: Preseason Wooden Award and Wade Trophy Watch List, Preseason All-Pac 12, Regular season All Pac-12, Pac-12 Honorable Mention All-Academic, and Associated Press Third Team All-American.
She holds the Pac-12 and Oregon double-double streak record, with 21 straight between her sophomore and junior season, being the third longest in NCAA history.
Needless to say, Alleyne, is one impressive player. She works hard, and understands how vital her role is as a senior to lead the team. When asked about what she believes she needs to do when taking on her leadership role, Alleyne made it very clear that her voice is what's going to make an impact on this team:
"I haven't been a very verbal person. It's just not who I am, but it's definitely taking a role of being more verbal, definitely leading by my actions especially for the younger girls and the new people that are here. We always have to be on point about everything- plays, knowing what's happening; so I would just say being more aware and making sure you're paying attention so that people can follow."
Last year the Ducks ended the season 13-17 overall and 6-12 in conference. With lacking success in becoming a top team in the Pac-12, this new team is determined to blow last year out of the water, and they know the area of improvement they need to attack- defense.
"Our biggest goal is to be a strong defensive team," said sophomore Lexi Bando, who was the third highest leading scorer for the team in the 2014-15 season. "I think we kind of lacked that last year, so that's one thing we've been really emphasizing this year. We're working on a strong, core defense."
Alleyne also touched upon the matter, saying, "With the personnel that we have we have a lot of length this year, we have more depth than we did last year, so defense is going to be an essential part for winning this year."
This is also Kelly Graves' second year as head coach for the Ducks. Coming off his rookie season as head coach, Graves wants to instill the goal of the NCAA tournament on this team and do what needs to be done to get them there.
"This year I think we want to put ourselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament," he said. "We have a good group and our margin for error isn't very big, but if we stay healthy, and we get really good play out of two or three key kids, I think we certainly have a chance.
"I think we have a kind of schedule that will allow us to put ourselves into that position. It's been since 2005 since we made the tournament, so it's a good goal."
When asked about what he learned from last year and what he wants to establish with this team this year, he answered that it's that winning mentality: "(It's) the winning. I mean we got to start getting that mentality, that "swag"...whatever you call it, that attitude that we're going to win; this is what we're about. We want to be a successful program, and that takes some time."
"We're trying to build not just a basketball team but a culture. A culture of we're going to do things right."
And when I asked Coach Graves what he expects to see out of Jillian this year, he expects to see her make her mark as a legend for the Oregon Ducks and Pac-12. "I expect Jillian and hope Jillian realizes for her to be considered one of the all-time great players in the PAC-12, which she certainly could be and has been, I think the legacy she leaves to get this team to the postseason; to the NCAA tournament.
"And not to put pressure, she has players that could do that, but I think she needs to every day have that in her mind that ‘Hey I need to play so hard that I'm going to lead this team to that goal.' She's tremendous, trying to prepare for a pro career but at the same time we want her to give everything she can to this team."