SAN DIEGO — Imagine if former San Diego State point guard Penny Toler hadn't transferred to Cal State Long Beach. Imagine if the exciting junior guard--a preseason All-American this season--was penetrating and passing off to the imposing Aztec front line of Chana Perry, Jessica Haynes and Brooke Meadows.
But imagining is all the Aztecs can do, and that poses a problem for Earnest Riggins, SDSU women's basketball coach.
"We probably match up with most teams in the country on the front line, but we have to get the ball to them," Riggins said. "The thing we're really concerned about is the point guard. Right now, it is really up for grabs."
The play of their guards will greatly determine whether the Aztecs return to their winning ways after two losing seasons. SDSU was 24-6 in 1983-84 and 21-9 in 1984-85 and reached the NCAA regional semifinals both seasons. But SDSU was 14-17 in 1985-86 and 13-16 last season.
"I think we have the nucleus of a good ballclub," said Riggins, who is entering his fifth season at SDSU. "I think we have our program back on track. We could be as good as the 1983-84 or '84-85 teams, but it will depend on how well we synchronize together and how well our guards play."
Said Meadows: "Last year we had good individuals, but no teamwork. Everyone has to know what each person can do."
The front line players need to have guards to lead the Aztec running game and get the ball inside.
Riggins says freshman point guard Dee Davis from Fairfax High in Los Angeles holds an edge over fifth-year senior Sheri Edmonds in the battle for point guard, with junior college transfer Vycelka Oristil also being considered. At the shooting guard spot, sophomore Alison Smith is the frontrunner over junior Stephanie Lamar.
None of those players has proven herself like Toler, who left the school for personal reasons after helping the Aztecs win 21 games during her freshman season in 1984-85. Last season, Toler averaged 21.9 points, 6.5 assists and 4.1 steals for a Long Beach team that reached the NCAA Final Four. So, while Toler practices with Long Beach, Riggins has spent his preseason admiring the talents of Perry, Haynes and Meadows and trying to come up with a backcourt.
A look at the Aztec front line:
Chana Perry (6-4, junior center)--"I don't know anyone in the country who can go one-on-one with her," said Riggins, referring to women's collegiate basketball.
"She's the best center in the country," said Ken Weeks, SDSU assistant coach.
An All-American at Northeast Louisiana where she averaged 18.3 points and 12.5 rebounds and led the Lady Indians to the Final Four as a freshman in 1984-85, Perry returns to the court after transferring to SDSU and redshirting last season.
Perry is a preseason honorable mention All-American whom Riggins plans to build his team around.
"Great ballclubs revolve around the center," Riggins said. "Chana is such a great player. Chana is to us what Kareem is to the Lakers. Chana could be the leading assist player on the team. She will not take a bad shot. The kid knows the game. Chana is a power player who is strong. She can bring the ball up the floor like a guard and she plays in the paint. She plays both ends of the floor and has great leadership qualities. She makes everyone around her so much better."
Perry says she is "very eager and ready" to compete again. She has not played a full season since 1984-85. And she has gone through some tough times.
She was put on academic probation three times at Northeast Louisiana. In her sophomore year, the NCAA announced it had found six violations in the recruiting of Perry, who was a high school All-American in Mississippi. The violations were for unethical conduct, automobile transportation, lodging, a recruiting inducement, an improper recruiting contact and an illegal tryout.
The women's program at Northeast Louisiana was placed on probation for a year and the NCAA ruled that Perry was ineligible to represent the university. Thus, she started anew San Diego State, where she concentrated on academics last year and attended summer school the past two summers.
On the court, Perry practiced with the Aztecs during second semester last year. Last summer, Perry played quite well for the United States team that competed in the World University Games in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
"I don't think she's lost a beat," Riggins said. "I think she's stronger and wiser. If anything, the year layoff helped her. It helped her get her academics together. She's proved she can do it in the classroom."
Jessica Haynes (6-0, junior forward)--Haynes led the Aztecs in scoring (14.4), rebounding (10.4), assists (92), steals (94) and blocked shots (35) last season. She was a first team all-PCAA selection and is an honorable mention All-American preseason pick this season.