As the Georgetown women’s basketball team grapples with the departure of its three seniors, the team faces a problem common at the start of a college basketball season: attempting to fill the void left by star players and leaders who have graduated.
For some programs, the transition is seamless, as pivotal players return to their team’s roster and continue their roles from the past year. For the Hoyas, key figures who graduated from last year’s team have opened the door for this year’s upperclassmen to take the reins and lead the program.
The departure of Cynthia Petke will certainly leave a void in leadership. The 6-foot-2-inch forward, who averaged a double-double as a senior last season, performed well in key moments for the Hoyas, securing big rebounds at the end of games, hitting timely buckets and barking out defensive assignments from the middle of the paint.
The Hoyas also lost guard DiDi Burton, who graduated and averaged a 2.93 assist-to-turnover ratio last season — 10th best in the nation. Center Yazmine Belk graduated as well after leading the Big East in blocks with 52 last season. She recorded 124 blocks in her career, the fourth highest in program history.
Senior forward Dionna White, graduate student guard Mikayla Venson and graduate student guard Dorothy Adomako are poised to fill the gap left by Petke, Burton and Belk. Additionally, two transfers, junior forward Anita Kelava and senior guard Brianna Jones, will get the chance to showcase their abilities this season after sitting out all of last year because of the NCAA’s transfer rules.
Head Coach James Howard is focused on the day-to-day activities to help get the team where it needs to be. This process poses its challenges and requires a similar type of leadership in practice and in the locker room, focusing on the team collectively rather than the players who will earn the most minutes.
Howard said Jones has taken on an important leadership role, motivating players in practice and in the gym.
“[Jones] is that energizer. She’s the one that gets the other players in the gym,” Howard said in an interview with The Hoya. “[She] understands every offensive set, every defensive set. She’s willing to reach out to others and help make them better. Within the locker room I see them doing more as a team.”
With several new faces in the program this season, including six freshmen, Howard is looking to his seniors to get the freshmen up to speed.
“Our seniors coach [the freshmen], and they’re coaching them up and helping them through some trying times, because the games are much faster from high school to here, and they’re just trying to lend a hand,” Howard said.
Now a graduate student, Adomako has taken on a leadership role with the freshmen and the team as a whole. As a junior, Adomako started 29 games for the Hoyas, averaging 14.8 points per game and earning honorable mention all-Big East. Adomako was forced to watch the Hoyas from the bench last year, as she was sidelined with an injury.
Adomako recognizes the need for strong leadership and feels her experiences last year cultivated her capacity to lead.
“Sitting out last season, I got to lead in a different standpoint from the bench. [I learned] how to cheer my team on the best that I can, and I learned a lot about leadership and more about the game sitting out, so I hope to bring those aspects to the game this year,” Adamako said.
White, who is entering her fourth year at Georgetown and was a team captain last season, earned Big East defensive player of the year and scored an average of 18.7 points per game.
White believes that the Hoyas are still searching for leaders for the 2018-19 campaign.
“Everybody steps up here and there, but right now we don’t have a consistent leader. I feel like Brianna Jones talks a lot though; that’s just her, like, natural role, but as far as establishing a leader, I don’t think as a team we know who our leaders are,” White said. “That’s something Coach Howard is really emphasizing — especially with me and Mikayla since we’re seniors — just to really focus on embracing that leadership role.”
Howard expects the Hoyas to be competitive in the Big East this season, as they have multiple leaders with experience playing on big stages and the ability to put up points.
“We have three experienced guards in Mikayla Venson, Dionna White and Dorothy Adomako. Dorothy [can] go score 30, Mikayla can score 30 and Dionna can score 30,” Howard said. “[We have] Brianna Jones, who is itching to get back on the floor and has played in the ACC, and Anita Kelava, who is 6 foot, 3 inches [and has] played for the Croatian national team. I think we have the pieces to really say, ‘OK, it’s not a six-player team’; we’re more like 13-deep right now.”