Tag Archives: Kristen McDonnell

Around The Rim With Bob Whitney: Welcome Back College Hoops

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Former Braintree High and Kimball Union star Nic Timberlake in action last year for Towson University. Timberlake is now a redshirt freshman for Towson this winter after last season’s injury-riddled campaign. (PHOTO COURTESY: Bob Whitney)

By Bob Whitney | @WhitneyBob

In case you haven’t noticed the 2019-20 college basketball season is off and running, highlighted by a nationally-televised doubleheader last evening featuring the top four teams in the men’s basketball preseason rankings: Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas.

For all of us veteran purists, it was hoop heaven, the talent was amazing but the quality of play was spotty at best given such a huge stage on opening night.

That aside, it is my pleasure to pen a weekly hoop column for the hard-working Matt Noonan and his many followers here at Noontime Sports.

I have covered one of the Power Five conferences – the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), to be exact – for the last eight seasons, but this year I will focus on a little bit of everything but the primary focus will remain on all that is happening in New England – and that is a lot!

First of all, check out the Noontime Sports Men and Women’s New England D-III Basketball Preseason Top 10 Polls: (Men’s Basketball | Women’s Basketball)

A few thoughts from the basketball polls.

  • No surprise that Amherst College is perched at the top of both rankings. They have been the gold-standard regionally and a regular participant in the NCAA D-III Tournaments for years.
  • Speaking of Amherst, the men’s program suffered a sudden jolt in September when legendary coach David Hixon (after 42 seasons at the helm) opted to take a non-health sabbatical to deal with some family issues. The big question is can the program move on without Hixon’s leadership?

    Those close to the program feel that with the elevation of trusted assistant Aaron Toomey, who played under Hixon and helped win NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013, the transition should be seamless.

  • A game to watch (and to gauge how Toomey and his squad are managing the transition) is on January 10 when New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rival Middlebury College travels to Amherst.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • There have been a number of rule changes introduced with the most important one being the extension of the 3-point arc from 17 inches to the international standard of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. Although testing of this change in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last year found little change in shooting percentage, it was felt by the officiating honchos that it would alleviate congestion in the paint by forcing defenders to guard shooters further away from the basket. Stay tuned on this change.
  • All eyes will be pointing to Cambridge, Mass this season to see if the Harvard University celebrated senior class, led by awesome point guard Bryce Aiken, can finally win an Ivy League title, as well as earn an automatic tournament bid to the NCAA Tournament.

    Better yet, the Crimson will have some home-cooking help in March as this year’s conference tournament moves from the storied The Palestra to Lavietes Pavilion, March 14-15.

    The Ivy poo-bahs move to a conference tournament for men and women was a no-brainer – the atmosphere is pulsating and the quality of play is as good as it gets.

  • A shoutout to former Marquette University assistant Brett Nelson who assumes the reins at Holy Cross after Bill Carmody‘s decision to retire from the coaching ranks.
  • Did you know that we have a number of the top coaches in the women’s college game led by the legendary Barbara Stevens, who ranks fourth in wins among college coaches at Bentley University, Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith, Stonehill College‘s Trisha Brown, Springfield College‘s Naomi Graves, and Babson College‘s Judy Blinstrub. If any of you have a daughter that may be destined to play at the college level the price of admission to catch one of these coaches in action will help with a final decision.
  • In my eight years following ACC men’s basketball, I had the privilege to hear firsthand from some of the great coaches in the game, including Coach Mike KrzyseskiRoy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, and Mike Brey. Buzz Williams was a real stitch in the press room. But most impressive among this elite group of coaches was the University of Virginia‘s, Tony Bennett.

    Obviously, Bennett’s run to the national title was the big news last year but most noteworthy was his recent decision to forego a well-deserved a big raise. Bennett felt that his family was blessed and thankful for what they have and felt that the money would be better spent in funding a program to help athletes transition to careers after basketball. Bennett is destined to be the voice of the ACC once Coach K and Roy retire.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Best wishes to Kristen McDonnell who left the Braintree high school girls basketball program after a ten-year run which included four D-1 state titles and a bunch of sectional crowns. McDonnell is seeking a new challenge as the Norwood high school boys head coach.

Keep shooting. See you next week!

Catching Up With Rachel Norton (Bowdoin College Women’s Basketball)

Rachel Norton has guided the Polar Bears to eight-straight wins this season. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Beard/CIPhotography.com)

Rachel Norton has guided the Polar Bears to eight-straight wins this season. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Beard/CIPhotography.com)

By Bob Whitney (@WhitneyBob)

Former Braintree High School scholar-athlete Rachel Norton is finishing her senior year at Bowdon College.

The 2013 Braintree High School graduate, three-sport captain (volleyball, basketball and lacrosse) and honor student has continued to excel at the collegiate level, both in the classroom and on the basketball court.

Norton, in her senior year, is the captain of the Polar Bears’ basketball team where she has led the squad to an 8-0 record and a No. 13 ranking in the most recent national poll (third in the Noontime Sports Women’s Basketball Top 10).

Norton took some time out of a hectic exam week schedule to reflect upon her college experiences.

What motivated you to continue to play at the college level and why did you chose Bowdoin?

I’ve played sports for as long as I can remember, and I just wasn’t ready to give that up after high school. I couldn’t imagine not continuing to play basketball, and perhaps more importantly, I couldn’t imagine not being part of a team. I chose Bowdoin because it has strong academics and athletics, and I felt that I would have a good balance between the two.

What have you noticed are the biggest differences in transitioning from playing in high school to college?

I would certainly say that the pace of the game is significantly faster in college. Everyone is stronger, faster, and quicker.

How prepared were you to play at the collegiate level?

I definitely experienced a transition period on the court where it took me some time to adjust to the faster pace of the college game. However, I think I was extremely prepared for college in the sense that I knew what kind of player and teammate I needed to be at the next level, and I can thank Kristen McDonnell for that. First of all, she stressed the importance of being a good teammate – to be gritty, selfless, and positive – and she always stressed things like defense and boxing out over hitting shots. Everything she values at Braintree High is also valued on my college team, so in that sense, I was able to transition very easily.

What challenges have you faced on the offensive end?

I’ve definitely struggled with confidence on the offensive end. I’ve been working on being more of an offensive threat, and having confidence in taking my shot and attacking the basket. So far this season, I’ve been doing a better job than in past years.

What are the challenges of being a student-athlete?

Time management is definitely a challenge. Striking a balance between sports and school requires planning and good time management skills.

Through eight games, Rachel Norton has averaged 5.3 points per game and is a perfect four-for-four at the charity stripe. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Beard/CIPhotography.com)

Through eight games, Rachel Norton has averaged 5.3 points per game and is a perfect four-for-four at the charity stripe. (PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Beard/CIPhotography.com)

What are the benefits/values of playing a sport in college?

I think being part of a team is an invaluable experience, and it has made my time at Bowdoin incredibly enjoyable. I certainly feel that I’ve learned lessons through my sport – the importance of hard work, how to overcome adversity, how to be a good leader – that will serve me later in life.

What advice would you give to a high school player looking for a good fit to play college basketball and get a quality education?

I would definitely encourage them to reach out to coaches and visit as many schools as they can. I’ve really enjoyed my experience as a D3 college athlete and feel like I’m getting a quality education while playing for a strong basketball program.

What are your plans after graduating from Bowdoin?

Great question… I’ll get back to you!

Finally, what kind of senior season do you expect to have?

We’re off to a strong start, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this year, hopefully in both the NESCAC tournament and NCAA tournament. I’m just trying to focus on one game at a time, and really soak up and enjoy my last season of basketball.

Follow Bob on Twitter @WhitneyBob; like him on Facebook and Instagram.

Catching Up With Babson College Guard Taylor Russell

Babson College senior Ashley Russell and the Bears kick-off their 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19th when they tip-off against Farmingdale State. (PHOTO CREDIT: Babson College Athletics)

Babson College senior Ashley Russell and the Bears kick-off their 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19th when they tip-off against Farmingdale State. (PHOTO CREDIT: Babson College Athletics)

By Bob Whitney (@WhitneyBob

Taylor Russell is a senior at Babson College and a captain on this year’s women’s basketball squad. Russell, along with fellow captain Giovanna Pickering and seven others return from a team that went 21-6 last year and captured its fifth New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season title since 2010.

Russell started nine times and appeared in 26 of 27 for legendary Coach Judy Blinstrub’s Green and White, averaging career highs of 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor. Russell was a three-sport (basketball, lacrosse and volleyball) All-Star at Braintree High School in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Russell’s younger sister, Ashley, is a sophomore on the Penn Quakers basketball team.

Noontime Sports correspondent Bob Whitney recently spoke with Russell just prior to the Beavers’ first game of the 2016-17 season on Saturday, November 19 against Farmingdale State (Amherst College Tip-Off Classic 8 p.m.).

How prepared were you to play at the college level?

My high school coach, Kristen McDonnell, was a real stickler for defensive fundamentals – it was all about defense first. That skill set really helped me in my first year at Babson. I felt like I was a step ahead of the other freshman because we had spent considerable time on defensive skills (individual and team) at Braintree HS.

What have you noticed are the biggest differences in transitioning from playing in high school to college?

There are a couple of things that quickly come to mind. First of all, the pace of the game is so much quicker. Then the competition is much more intense and finally managing the time commitment between basketball and maintaining your studies. At Babson one of our guiding principles is students first and athletes second!

What challenges have you faced on the offensive end?

I have had to become a much more versatile player in college. I have had to learn the No. 2, 3 or 4 spots on the floor. I spent a lot of time learning and refining my post moves over the last three seasons.

What are the challenges of being a student-athlete?

No question maintaining a balance between basketball and the classroom. Time management is critical to your success. It was a real challenge, but I am glad that I made the sacrifice to do both.

What are the intangibles of playing a sport in college?

I have learned a lot, but I truly believe that hard work will pay off for you in the long run – whatever it takes to get the job done on the court or in the classroom. You also get the opportunity to make some incredible friendships along the way, which will hopefully become life-long. In addition playing a sport teaches you a lot about teamwork, decision-making, leadership, adapting to change and how to handle pressure.

Finally, what kind of senior season do you expect to have?

Well, we lost a number of very experienced players from last year so experience will be a factor in the early games. But we have some very good freshman this year and a transfer so I expect us to be right in the mix for the NEWMAC title. Last year we just missed the NCAA tournament but this year I expect us to earn the automatic bid.

Follow Bob on Twitter @WhitneyBob; like him on Facebook and Instagram.