I may have only been in Pine Bluff for just more than three months, but it did not take me long to notice the Arkansas-Pine Bluff women's basketball team was going to struggle to win a basketball game this year.
I may have only been in Pine Bluff for just more than three months, but it did not take me long to notice the Arkansas-Pine Bluff womenís basketball team was going to struggle to win a basketball game this year.
It was not hard to see. The team struggled to play defense and it struggled to create shots and hit jumpers on the offensive end to go along with a ton of turnovers.
While this is my first NCAA Division I beat, I have been around other D-I, D-II and NAIA basketball teams, so I knew that was about the worst formula for success.
Then I looked back at the teamís history and realized this was a continuing struggle the past couple of years with the Lady Lions.
Of course, I was quick to judge and immediately blamed the coaching. That is what everyone does, blame the coaching when the team is not winning.
But that became harder after I started to talk to Cary Shelton more and more. He was a nice guy who was easy to talk to and would answer any question I had. He would not duck questions. He was also easy to call and I never had a problem reaching him.
From my experience, getting a hold of a coach during such a bad stretch is hard to do, plus they are not very forthcoming. But Shelton answered by questions without criticizing how harsh my questions were sometimes.
I would ask how much of a toll a 36-game losing streak, which was the longest in D-I basketball at the time, was. I even bluntly asked him a couple of times about his job security. Once was during the season and once was right after the season. He answered the question honestly each time without snapping back at me.
Anyone that watches ESPN when those type of questions are asked, well those are usually good sound-bytes for the Worldwide Leader to use of angry coaches.
However, I was not naÔve. The team was not winning in a two-year span and I figured Shelton was on the hot seat and I gave it a 90 percent chance he did not return next year.
You can be the nicest guy in the world, but if you do not win games, you are not going to keep your job in the coaching industry. That is the nature of the beast.
The team did not win and Shelton was always quick to say that responsibility did fall on him. While he offered different reasons why it did not happen, he still bore the brunt of the blame.
There is talent on this team, too. Shelton did not leave the cupboards bare, even though at times it seems like there is not much to choose from.
Chi Chi Okwumabua could compete for the SWAC Player of the Year next year. Jenise Gentry has shown to be an effective post player. Christina Lasane can hit a three-pointer and showed flashes this year. Corredur Vaden was a standout from Malvern who had great energy off the bench. Charnecia McRea was starting to play a key role off the bench before breaking her hand and Lakendra Marsh will be back for her senior season.
There are ingredients to build a competitive SWAC team in Pine Bluff, but the team has to find a way to attract freshmen, even from the area.
Juquecia Chaney had a great year at Star City and there are rumors she could go to Delta State. With the way she plays defense, she could be someone who could have gotten a look with UAPB.
Honestly, is there that big of a drop-off from UAPB to a competitive D-II team right now after two straight one-win seasons?
Justin Rust is a sports reporter for The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.