Restore, Renew, Reproduce: Lady Tigers' Itoro Coleman setting goals high

'When I came here as a player, there was an expectation to be the best...When I came back three years ago, it just wasn't there'

Women's basketball - Head coach Itoro Coleman

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's basketball - Head coach Itoro Coleman

Restore. Renew. Reproduce.

Itoro Coleman's vision for the Lady Tiger basketball program begins with what she experienced when she arrived at Clemson as a freshman to play for coach Jim Davis.

"When you think about restoring women's basketball at Clemson, it means taking Lady Tiger basketball back to national prominence," said Coleman, who is beginning her third season as the Lady Tigers' head coach. "When I came here as a player, there was an expectation to be the best, an expectation to win. When I came back three years ago, it just wasn't there.

"But this year's team embodies the drive and expectation that I want. They're competitive. You can see in our drills and you can see it academically in the way they compete in the classroom."

Coleman said her restoration effort has focused on recruiting.

"Part of the process when I got here was changing the culture, and recruiting the type of players who could help us get to the next level," she said. "From an academic standpoint, our girls are kicking butt in the classroom. Last semester, we had a 2.81, which is the highest GPA we've had since 1997.

"We've made great strides in recruiting, and are definitely attracting the caliber of player that can help get us back to national prominence."

Coleman said that 'renewal' encompasses a change in attitude and expectation

"We're bringing back that sense of pride to this program," she said. "We want to renew Clemson's image. When I came here as a player, I knew I had to carry my weight in order for our team to be successful. Our girls are feeling that right now."

Her vision for the 'reproduce' element is focused on consistency.

"'Reproduce' pretty much means that we want to maintain this level of expectation every year," she said. "It's a process, and I think we're well on our way, in all three areas."

Coleman knows there are times when her patience will still be tested by a young team.

"I don't like to lose," Coleman said. "But I'm at a place where I can see the big picture. I was at a program at Penn State where we were rebuilding, as well. I saw what it took, and I saw the patience that you have to have...

"The nature of the beast is that there are going to be some growing pains, but they won't be from not competing. And it won't be from not working hard. That's what this team has consistently shown me. I have never had to coach 'go hard.' It's Xs and Os and tweaking things...That's the difference. They understand.

"I think that's a compliment to our returners - they've done a great job of painting the picture for the young kids. And now they know they have to carry their weight right now."

Coleman said she sees new leaders in the making every day.

"It's always a challenge to find your leaders when you're dealing with such a young team," she said. "I think we'll see leaders emerge. Right now, the work ethic is good, everybody's playing, but we're still trying to figure each other out. There's just a different feel to this year's team, which is something we're very excited about..."

"We have a team where half the players are returning, and they know what to expect. They've been coaching up the freshmen. It's different coming from the players than it is coming from the coaches. When it comes from the inside, that's special. They've been there, and they want to help their teammates as they make the adjustment to the ACC."

Coleman said the Lady Tigers' goal for the season is to return to post-season play.

"The ACC is going to be a younger league this year - they graduated a lot," she said. "With the exception of Maryland and Duke, it's a toss-up. So our goal is to make it to the post-season. I think we can do that if we stay away from injuries, and if kids grow up and we peak at the right time."

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