AU basketball coaches discuss upcoming season at annual ‘Chalk Talk’
Players competed in skills event, head coaches answered fan questions during All-American Weekend
Basketball activities resumed at AU as the athletic department hosted its seventh annual Chalk Talk Saturday afternoon in Bender Arena. Full of friendly competition, players from the men’s and women’s teams were divided into four small teams to compete in skill-based events. The Chalk Talk concluded with a Q&A with head coaches Mike Brennan and Megan Gebbia.
Team Eagles: Morgan Bartner, Maddie Doring, Taylor Brown, Justin Perez, Marvin Bragg, Jesse Little
Team Red: Jade Edwards, Cecily Carl, TaeKenya Cleveland, Sam Iorio, Josh Alexander, Yilret “YY” Yiljep, Christian Sutton
Team White: Laura Graytok, Kaitlyn Lewis, Emily Fisher, Sa’eed Nelson, Jacob Boonyasith, Cheikh “CB” Diallo
Team Blue: Elina Koskimies, Indeya Sanders, Kaitlyn Marenyi, Larry Motuzis, Mark Gasperini, Stacy Beckton Jr., Matt Cimino
Team Eagles walked away with the first win in the Skills Challenge, led behind Doring, Brown and Perez. In the A.U. version of H.O.R.S.E., Beckton beat Nelson in the finals to get the win for Team Blue. Hitting 12 3-pointers, the Carl-Iorio duo took the win for Team Red in the 3-point shootout. Lastly, Team Red won the half-court shot contest, with Alexander making the only shot from the center jump circle.
Coaches Gebbia, Brennan talk upcoming season
When asked how his team prepared during the offseason to bounce back from last year’s performance, Brennan emphasized how his guys stepped up their strength and conditioning.
“All of our guys have made huge gains, gaining weight and getting stronger,” Brennan said. “We were just young last year. A lot of guys broke down during the long, grueling season, and older guys now are ready for the wear and tear of the season.”
Hoping to carry that momentum over from last year’s trip to the NCAA tournament, Gebbia said that this year’s squad will need some time to get going.
“We’re off to a little bit of a slow start because we have so many new people,” Gebbia said. “We have five freshmen. It’s going to be a slow process, but they’re learning and growing. You’ll see a different team come January and February than you will in November and December just because of the growth we have ahead of us.”
Both teams have several returning players from last season suiting up for another year, with the men having graduated no seniors and the women three. Brennan highlighted junior guard Sa’eed Nelson and graduate student Yilret Yiljep as players who have made big improvements in the off-season. Yiljep was unable to play in the previous four seasons due to a heart condition, but has since been medically cleared and approved to play out his NCAA eligibility at AU.
“Sa’eed was almost a year younger than all of the other freshmen in his [recruiting] class. But something clicked with him in the spring, and it's been a natural progression where he started to lead by example and became a terrific practice player who leads the group,” Brennan said. “Having YY back and watching him go about his business everyday has had a major impact. And everyone is improving rapidly.”
Gebbia gave praise to senior guard Kaitlyn Lewis and sophomore guard Indeya Sanders.
“Kaitlyn Lewis has really stepped up to a role she wasn’t in last year to replace our player of the year [Emily Kinneston],” Gebbia said. “She has her foot on the gas and is constantly putting pressure on our defense in practice. I think Indeya Sanders has really developed into a scoring threat and a good two-guard for us.”
Both teams’ seasons tip off on Nov. 9. The women will host Tulsa in Bender Arena at 7 p.m., and the men will travel to George Mason.