Um Return? `Definitely'

Q&A -- Kara Lawson, ESPN analyst



Who is in your preseason Final Four?

Maryland, definitely. Oklahoma is a team that will be there in the end. I think it will be Duke or Carolina. I don't think we'll see what happened last year, as far as three ACC teams making it. It will be one of those two, and if they are able to stay healthy, I would say Tennessee.

Who is the preseason national Player of the Year?

[Tennessee's] Candace Parker is the best player in the country. Anybody, to me, that thinks there's another player than her clearly didn't watch her play this summer with the national team. At 19, she's doing exceptionally well on the international stage. I think she's clearly the best player in the country, but that doesn't automatically mean that she's the Player of the Year. But for her to win that award, it's going to be how much she makes her teammates better. But from an individual talent standpoint, there's no question she's the best player.

Who will be the surprise team(s) of the year?

That's harder to say sometimes in women's basketball, because so many of the good teams are the usual suspects. I like California. I think they have a really good chance to be good, to maybe make the Sweet 16, and maybe make the Elite Eight. They had some injuries last year to some key players and they rely a lot on two freshmen. They got in the tournament and have experience being there. They have good talent and some good recruiting classes. They're a team that could maybe upset some teams.

What will be the game of the year?

The game that is still the one is Tennessee-Connecticut. It's still the most popular and it's still the one that everyone points toward. It's usually the best matchup of the year. But I am also anxious to see Maryland play at Duke because it's a rematch of one of the best title games that we've had in a long time.

What coach, team or player is on the hot seat this year?

I would say the new coach at Purdue [Sharon Versyp], because she inherits a team with good talent, good players and a program that is used to being one of the top programs in the country. On the flip side of that, I would say [former Purdue coach] Kristy Curry at Texas Tech. Any time you replace a legend like Marsha Sharp, there's pressure. In the women's game, what's different than the men's game, is that most of the legends are still coaching. There haven't been too many people having to replace legends, so I'm anxious to see how she does.

Can Maryland repeat?

I definitely think they can repeat. They won last year and they return every significant piece. They added a player that has the ability to be a difference maker in [Sa'de Wiley-] Gatewood. I think they're the type of team with the talent they have, it's going to be up to their level of maturity as to how much success they have this year.

Will chemistry be an issue with the Terps?

They played last year together and had excellent chemistry with a lot of youth and a lot of talent. Some of those players have only known playing there with a lot of talent and knowing that they've had to share points and minutes and accolades and recognition. I don't foresee that being too much of a problem with that group because they've already proved that they can sacrifice that to try and win something.

Can Maryland win the ACC?

They can win the ACC. It's going to be a different challenge for them, a unique challenge for them, in conference. For the last few years, Maryland has gone into the ACC season trying to prove that they belong in the same breath with Duke and with Carolina, in terms of being the class of that conference. For them, so much about playing those two schools was to make statements and doing it with a chip on their shoulders. Now, the roles are reversed. It's different for a program and for players who haven't been in that role of being the favorite. How do you handle that? How do you react to it, especially against two other teams that certainly have enough talent and have enough of everything to not only win the conference, but to win the national championship?

Besides Crystal Langhorne, who on the Maryland roster has the potential to be a breakout player?

I love [Marissa] Coleman. I think she has all the tools. She's the one player that can be physically dominating at her position. She has great size and great athleticism. She has the ability to be a good defender. That's one of the things that I'll look for is how much has she improved on that end of the floor from a freshman to a sophomore. I think she has the most upside, she and [center Laura] Harper, of the players in that program.

Does Brenda Frese need to win another championship to join the pantheon of great women's coaches?

It separates you, if you show the ability to have sustained excellence, especially that kind of excellence, winning championships. There are always going to be doubters out there, especially if you just win one. To be considered one of the premier elite coaches, I think if you win multiple titles, you're there no matter what happens. That separates people from saying that you got lucky one year or the chips just fell in the right position for you. It gives credence to what you do and how you coach.

Milton Kent

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