Women get the scouts’ honor

Most universities have scout teams, and the women’s basketball team is no different.

But the Bulls’ scout team this year is a little different.

“With the type of schedule we are facing this year, with playing seven or eight Top-25 teams,” coach Jose Fernandez said. “We needed to be more challenged in practice.”

Now challenging the women is the opposite sex.

Fernandez has organized a scout team of not only former players Alana Tanksley and Andrea Gilmore, but of five men, who run regular drills and plays for the team to defend against.

The men call themselves “Da Bullz.” Jonathan Willis, Andy Christensen, Eddie Lovett, Gary Green and Marques Smith – all USF students – provide the women with a more defiant workout during practices.

“This is a great group of guys, who are part of (our) program,” Fernandez said. “They are going to be an integral part of our success this year.”

The women’s schedule is loaded to the gills with not only big-name teams, but two of the four teams in the NCAA Women’s Final Four: No. 3 LSU and No. 10 Michigan State. The team also faces No. 7 UNC, No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 9 Connecticut, No. 5 Rutgers, Louisville – which received 12 votes in the preseason AP released Tuesday – and No. 18 DePaul, all four of which made the Tournament in March.

The Huskies – now a conference foe, as well as back-to-back-to-back National Champions – are another team that uses all male scout teams.

Junior Jessica Dickson thinks the challenge is worthwhile.

“Oh, yeah. These guys are great,” said Dickson, who led the team last season with 533 points.

“These guys are faster, stronger. It’s going to force us to box out and move our feet on defense.

“We could be more athletic than other teams, but this will really help us with that athleticism. In the long run, it forces us to work harder, which is good. It’s hard, though, because they are faster.”

Defense is always a concern for any coach, and Fernandez will be no different.

“This is going to make us do the little things better,” Fernandez said. “It will make our girls be more physical because each one of them needs to put a body out. Each one (of those guys) can run, jump, shoot. I’m very fortunate to have them and make my girls work hard on scoring.”It might sound funny for Fernandez to be worried about his team scoring, since last season the women’s team averaged 66 points a game. The men’s team averaged 67.

“It’s a challenge because every pass has to be sound and every screen has to be set solid,” Fernandez said. “They just can’t stand there to get open, and they have to move with the basketball.

“What’s good about them is when we play Connecticut, they’ll be able to come out here and run Connecticut’s plays and we’ll be able to defend them. Having a scout team like them will be very beneficial.”

Smith says they work them hard, and that it should pay off.

“They’re not going to be facing as tough of opponents as us,” Smith said. “Sure, they are tough in the Big East, but they won’t be as fast as us. Hey, if you can defend us, then you should go to the national championship.”

Willis said he enjoys the challenge probably even more than the women do.

“I love it,” Willis said. “I mean, I’m not going to take it easy on them, so why should they do it to me?”

Even through all the competitiveness, friendship still prevails in the quasi-battle of the sexes.

“They’re very competitive,” Dickson said. “Off the court, we’re friends, but once we get on the court – ding, ding, ding, – the fight starts and we start fighting for the ball.”

Added Smith, “They’re a great group. Playing us down low is going to get them far this season, but we have fun out here with them all the time.”

Now that the battle has begun, what’s the outcome been for the two teams?

“The guys give us a good fight, but I think the record is pretty even,” Dickson said. “They win some, we win some, and we lose some and so do they.

“But if I really have to think back, I think we’re about two games up on the guys.”