The Daily Helmsman interviewed the Tigers women’s basketball team head coach Melissa McFerrin on April 22.
McFerrin signed a two-year contract extension to begin her 12th year at the University of Memphis after establishing a top-35 recruiting class.
The Tigers finished their most recent regular season 11-20 and tied for ninth place in the conference standings at the end of the season.
“I think an 11-20 season was not what we wanted,” McFerrin said. “Given the youth and inexperience, we knew that we’d take a step back. Obviously, the year before was the one with the five season-ending injuries that was completely unexpected. This year we could have expected, with as much youth as we had, that we were going to take a step back. I hope it’s very temporary that we took that step back and going forward I think it will be in the past.”
McFerrin said the team will meet soon to discuss goals for the upcoming season.
“When you talk about the youth of this team, I think one thing we’ve talked about is approaching our practices, season and games with an understanding that everything has an impact on what happens in March,” McFerrin said. “I think we will have a team that’s hungry.”
McFerrin said she does not think there is any question the talent and the youth the team has is going be positive moving forward.
Two players on the women’s basketball roster will not be playing with the Tigers in the future. Taylor Barnes and Jada Stinson have chosen to transfer for their remaining collegiate career. Barnes had played the most amount of time last season and stopped playing midway through the season. Stinson played in 30 games and averaged 24.4 minutes per game.
“I think that with Taylor Barnes, it was team related issues that we had difficulty agreeing upon,” McFerrin said. “Jada Stinson indicated to me that she wants to play and wants to be in a place where she feels like she is being used in a different fashion. I don’t want to put words in her mouth but that is what she relayed to me.”
McFerrin said there would be no issues keeping players in the future and five players have been signed in the fall. McFerrin said there are 771 players in the transfer portal and more than 20 in the American conference.
“It’s the new age of college athletics,” McFerrin said. “The student athletes have more opportunities. There is less resistance for them to transfer. We saw a couple of them in Penny’s program and our football program. I think at seldom, the athletes have a lot choices at this point and rightfully, so the barriers to them transferring have been removed.”
McFerrin said the team’s best players are freshmen and sophomores and the team’s leading rebounders and scorers, Jemirah Shutes and Alana Davis, are returning. McFerrin said she was excited to see Davis play as a junior and Shutes as a sophomore along.
The team has achieved a top-30 recruiting class, with a handful of players from the Shelby County area. Madison Griggs, from Houston High School, signed with Memphis and is ranked No. 71 in her class. Four-star recruit Lanetta Williams signed with Memphis and played for Arlington High School and was ranked No. 32 in her graduating class. Lanyce Williams, twin sister of Lanetta, signed with Memphis and played at Arlington as well. Lanetta and Lanyce both play forward. The Tigers signed another three-star recruit from Ontario. Aerial Wilson, the 5-foot-10-inch point guard, was a member of the U16 and U17 Canadian National Team in 2017 and 2018.
The Tigers finished last season with a home loss to Temple 84-53. The Tigers traveled to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, to play Temple once again in the first round of the AAC women’s basketball tournament.
Memphis trailed in round one 50-31 with less than nine minutes remaining in the game. ESPN’s win probability said Temple had a 99.8% chance of winning the game. The Tigers outscored the Owls 28-8 in the final eight minutes of the game and won 59-58.
“It’s why we play the game,” McFerrin said. “I think when Ashia Jones stepped in and hit those threes in the fourth quarter that it was exactly what we needed throughout the course of the whole year, the entire season to open things up. Our kids are very comfortable in the half court trap defense. We kind of caught fire.”
The Tigers advanced to the second round and lost to Cincinnati 68-48, and the season was over.
The Tigers are set to begin next season with the new recruiting class and a renovation of the Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
McFerrin said she, Tom Bowen and University of Memphis President M. David Rudd spoke about an upcoming renovation to the Elma Roane Fieldhouse that will increase the attention of the campus.
“The first question people ask when they come on our campus is about our facilities,” McFerrin said. “Elma Roane stood for equity and the fact that we have been in a facility that has been in the bottom 10% of all facilities in the country has been a bit of a deterrent, so with the renovation of the facility and the negotiations for a contract extension, those have the minds of many recruits. We have not been able to talk about facilities in the past. Dr. Rudd and I have an agreement of what things can happen in the future.”