Oct. 4, 2010
DeKALB - The Kathi Bennett era took another step forward, Monday, as the Northern Illinois women's basketball team had its first practice under the Huskies' new coach.
Bennett put the team through the paces for just over two hours, much of which surrounded developing her new team's identity.
"Overall I was pleased; I thought we had pretty good intensity" Bennett said. "We have a great ceiling to get better, and that is the most exciting thing."
Renowned as one of the best teachers in women's basketball, Bennett has achieved a career record of 296-178 (.624) in 17 years on the bench. Monday's practice was her first as a head coach since 2005, her final year at Indiana before taking a health-related leave from the profession.
"I was nervous all day, and stepping between the lines was a little bit of a rush," Bennett said. "Thank goodness I've got good assistants, let's put it that way."
If Bennett was nervous, it didn't show on the court, as she professed attention to detail and fundamentals.
"We're going to really work fundamentals," Bennett said. "We have got the extra time to do that, so we are going to work our fundamentals to death."
Bennett also put in the first pieces of her trademark `pack' defense, a system vastly different than the Huskies' previous scheme.
"All our defensive aspects are different than last year," junior guard Courtney Shelton said. "It's a lot more talking, it's a lot more intense. You're always on your feet, always seeing the ball."
After one full practice, Bennett was impressed by her team's thirst for knowledge and will to improve.
"They're hungry, they want to learn, they want to get better," Bennett said. "I think we can be a really good defensive team once we put it all together."
The Huskies return three starters: All-Mid-American Conference performers Marke Freeman and Ebony Ellis, and Shelton, who started every game of 2009-10. Four other returning letterwinners and five newcomers round out a roster that is picking up the pace on the practice floor, while coming together as a team.
"The overall intensity level in practice, I feel like, is a lot higher," Shelton said. "Our chemistry level keeps rising, throughout practice, throughout everyday being together."
Tickets for the 2010-11 season are on sale now, and can be purchased by calling (815) 752-6800 or online at NIUHuskies.com. The Huskies start the year, Nov. 10, with an exhibition at home against UW-Parkside. The regular season opener is set for Nov. 13 at Minnesota.