Special to the Commercial/Bo Rogers
UAPB women’s basketball player Chi Chi Okwumabua works the ball down the court during Thursday night’s practice at H.O. Clemmons Arena.
After Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s first day of practice on Oct. 3, new women’s basketball coach Nate Kilbert thought he could be in for a long year.
Kilbert and his staff was left unimpressed with a squad that has won just two games over the past two seasons.
Two weeks later, Kilbert has seen a complete turnaround in his players and is a lot more optimistic about the team.
“They have really come a long way from that first day,” he said. “The coaches were looking at each other thinking we were in trouble. But the girls have been working very hard and they are trying to prove they are a better team than the past couple of years.”
So what was so different for the Lady Lions when practice opened this year?
“Conditioning,” senior forward Jenise Gentry said. “Every little thing that we do, if it isn’t correct, they correct it and we have to run for it, which is a good thing.”
Kilbert was not shy about what is different about his coaching style compared to former head coach Cary Shelton’s style.
“More running,” he said. “My biggest thing with me, it was conditioning. I didn’t feel like they were in the best shape and they knew it.”
Kilbert even named names of who was not in the kind of shape he wanted when practice started.
“A lot of them came in pretty good shape,” he said, “Just a few key ones that were not in shape. Gentry was not in shape and not even Chi Chi (Okwumabus) or (Jazmyne) Victorian.”
Gentry said Kilbert was right. Her and some of her teammates were out of shape at the start of camp.
“Last year, coach was more lenient with what we did wrong and we didn’t get on the line to run,” she said. “We didn’t have any consequences actually. We were used to that and we fell off our sophomore and junior year.”
Now, Gentry said the team is used to Kilbert’s conditioning and they welcome it.
“I feel that the conditioning has really helped us,” she said. “It’s been more intense and we enjoy practice more. I feel we are getting better as a team and it’s a whole different atmosphere from last year.”
More running usually comes with more complaining, especially if a team has not done it in the past. But the Lady Lions have been open to the change.
“I like the kids attitude and I am looking forward to the rest of practice,” he said. “The attitude has been great and I heard some stuff that they had a bad attitude from certain people and I haven’t seen that at all. I am excited.”
UAPB’s first game is Nov. 11 at Kansas State University before returning home for its next game against Philander Smith on Nov. 15.
There is still a few weeks before that first game, and even though Kilbert is happy with his team right, he still knows there is a long road ahead.
“I want to see them continue to work hard,” he said. “Just have to get them acclimated to what we want to do offensively and defensively, and they are not used to it and we just have to get used to it.”