Bricks are a tradition in Athens. They are a curse in basketball.
A brick is a sign of failure. It stands for poor form and the resulting badly missed shot.
But for coach Semeka Randall, the red rock is a building block.
Randall is in the fourth year of her tenure with the Bobcats. Ohio has posted a losing record in each of her three seasons, making signs of progress hard to find for the casual follower. But Randall, who has now recruited every player on her roster, sees development on her team.
“We’re basically building a foundation,” she said. “We’ve had to lay it, put the bricks on there, and put the roof up top. Now, let’s see if we’re ready to walk in and open the door in terms of our game plan here.”
Randall inherited a program that had brief success under coach Sylvia Crawley, who led the Bobcats to two winning records in as many seasons. She left to take the same job at Boston College.
But Ohio’s women’s basketball program did not settle into its winning ways. The Bobcats had eight-straight losing records before Crawley came to town, and Randall’s first class of seniors had already played for two coaches before she walked through the door.
“I was the third coach for our seniors in four years,” Randall said. “It’s just been a lot of people coming and going in and out of their lives, and you try to build trust.”
Now, Randall is the only coach Ohio recruits have known. Alesia Howard and Tenishia Benson transferred from Massachusetts and •Cincinnati, respectively.
After being named head coach May 9, 2008, Randall had about a month to get to know her team — including a handful of untested freshmen — before hitting the recruiting trail.
Her first additions included Ashley Fowler, Tina Fisher and Symone Lyles, the only players on the current roster who have played more than one season for Randall.
Benson and Howard also joined the team and sat out the 2009-10 season because of NCAA regulations.
“It was all a guessing game the first year in terms of trying to figure out how we can build this team,” Randall said. “It was just kind of figuring out from watching film and guessing what the freshmen were going to bring in to help.”
Randall guided a team of inherited players to a 13-18 record during her first season. The past two seasons have gone less smoothly from a wins-and-losses standpoint, as the team won fewer than 10 games and posted 22 losses both seasons. The coach’s career record is 30-62.
But Randall said the program is moving forward and in better shape than it was when she arrived. Growth pains lead to growth, and a deeper and taller roster might make the team strong this season.
The six-player recruiting class is the largest since Randall arrived, and the four 6-feet-tall players add height to an otherwise small team.
“We lacked in height, so we went out and addressed those things,” she said, adding that finding another point guard and sharpshooter was a goal.
“We went out and got all those things that we needed, so this is going to be an interesting season as we form and try to build this team together.”
The Bobcats are still a young team. Last year’s squad had two seniors and a handful of inexperienced underclassmen.
“Right now, we’re technically still young,” she said. “The great thing in the position that I am, my young players have played significant minutes.”
Six returning players averaged more than 16 minutes per game last year. The team will lose only 8.7 points and 8.4 rebounds from its graduating seniors.
Ohio’s Academic Progress Rate has increased since Randall took over. The team’s four-year score has climbed 22 points to 966 under her leadership.
Randall said her emphasis on academics comes from her time at Tennessee playing for Pat Summitt.
“I’m a makeup, a clone of Coach,” she said. “I preach that here, that it is important that they take care of business off the court.”
Ohio players keep their team materials in binders with a drawing of the 2012 Mid-American Conference Tournament trophy on the back. On the front is a reminder that Ohio has won the tournament only once in its history.
“Every day we feel like we have to win a championship in practice,” Randall said. “And that’s just committing yourself to compete, however long it takes.”