Before the upcoming basketball season begins, Razorback women’s basketball head coach Jimmy Dykes answered a few questions about what to expect from this year’s team.
Q: What has Jessica Jackson’s value been to this program and to you over your first couple of years here?
“It starts with Jess and I’s relationship. Our first three, four or five months, we probably didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things because she’s 6 (feet) 3 (inches) and I’m 6 feet, so I had to grow a little bit but now we have a tremendous relationship that I’m very proud of. She wants to be great, and she wants to continue playing basketball outside of college and she understands what it’s going to take to get there. She’s really progressed in every area, not only as a person off the floor but how she cares about her teammates, her voice in practice. She has confidence now because she's confident in what she’s doing as a player. She’s been in the best shape she’s ever been in her life. She continues to really concentrate defensively, rebounding, running the floor. We’ve always known she can score but she’s realizing now that we want her to score in different ways this year. We are anticipating and needing her to have a great senior year.”
Q: Has any player unexpectedly taken a leadership role this year?
“I’ve talked about the growth of Jackson and (center Alecia) Cooley, but the next one would be Bailey Zimmerman. Not only in terms of how well she’s playing, but her voice is just a confident voice in practice right now. She’s one to speak up when the team needs to be addressed. They listen to her voice even though she’s a sophomore. Bailey is probably the most improved player from this year to last year so far. Her voice and leadership is growing every day.”
Q: You guys are picked to be towards the bottom of the Southeastern Conference this year. How personally is the team taking that?
“We haven’t talked about it. We haven’t talked about it as a team nor will we. Where we’re picked doesn’t matter to us. There’s a lot of basketball to be played from now to when conference play begins. I just know we won seven games last year in the most difficult conference in women’s college basketball and we’re two overtime losses away from being 9-7. We have a lot of numbers back and we added to it. We haven’t talked about where we’re picked nor will we. Someday when we’re picked preseason No. 1 we still won’t talk about it. It has nothing to do with how we play or how we prepare.”
Q: Where do you see this team as a whole, compared to where the team was the past two years?
“In my first year, we only finished the season with eight players, so that was a real challenge. Then last year we brought in eight new players and that was a completely different set of circumstances and challenges. There’s a little more carryover now starting our third year. We had a closed scrimmage on Oct. 29 and literally the day before we put in a couple plays that we ran last year and we had it. We couldn’t even think about doing that last year with all new players. We’re ahead of where we were a year ago, conditioning wise and defensively. I think it’s safe to say we scored 86 points in (the scrimmage) and we’ve probably spent only 15 or 20 percent of our practice time on offense. Our defense is a huge, huge part of what we’re doing right now.”
Q: Aaliyah Wilson is a McDonald’s All-American, meaning there is going to be high expectations for her. What do you expect she’ll add to your team?
“She’s another big guard that can play the one, the two or the three. She can score, she had some huge monster games in high school but then she also would have a game where she only scored 12 or 14 points but she was the leading rebounder. She’s one of these young ladies who always wants to be in the gym. Basketball is important to her and that stuff is just contagious for our team. She has the chance to be a really, really good player.”
Q: The SEC this year has eight teams in the top 30. What is it like to play in such a talented conference?
“Once SEC play begins there is not one game on that schedule you would say, ‘Well if we play pretty good we’re going to win.’ There’s not one; there’s not in this league. It’s just a fact. Most leagues aren’t like that. In the SEC there is not one coach that looks at a game and says, ‘I know we’re going to win that one.’ I’m one of those coaches.”