For the first time ever, Head Coach Cindy Russo got her chance to partake in Conference USA’s media day.
Last Tuesday, Oct. 8, Russo got a chance to share her thoughts surrounding the upcoming season.
Russo is entering her 35th season at FIU ranked 9th in wins among active coaches in the NCAA with 689.
“It’s a compliment to be amongst the top-10,” Russo said. “That’s what it is though, when you have been in the business long enough you are going to win some games.
While Russo is FIU’s leader for wins as head coach for women’s basketball, and has appeared in six NCAA Tournaments, she has not taken the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.
After a first round exit from the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, Russo wants to build on that and perhaps reach the NCAA Tournament as the Panthers return three starters.
“I would have like to have all five of them back, but the good news is it brings experience and the players have played plenty of times together,” Russo said.
Two of those started are the two leading scorers from last season including senior point guard Jerica Coley with 26.3 points per game, and senior center Marita Davydova with 9.8 points per game.
Through 3 seasons, along with being the nation’s leading scorer last season, Coley has amassed numerous awards and recognitions. The reigning Sun Belt Conference player of the year has recently been put on the Wade watch list and also was named Preseason C-USA player of the year. Beyond the numbers Coley has put up, Russo has been impressed with the focus that Coley shows and also her demeanor off the court.
“She [Coley] is just an amazing person, she is a better off the court type of person than she is on the court,” Russo said. “She is very focused in what she wants to do in the classroom, outside the classroom. She has the highest concentration that I have ever seen or ever coached, she is very likable. She is extremely confident, I’ve just never coached any player like that, and I’ve had some good players that went through my system.”
On media day, Russo also had a chance to speak about Davydova as the Russian native enters her final season with FIU. Davydova led the Panthers in rebounding last season with 8.8 rebounds per game and was an all-S-BC selection last season. Russo enjoys that the senior brings a positive spirit to the court even during rough times and cites that there is still improvement Davydova can make this season.
“She is just a brute, and loves to play basketball,” Russo said. “She is a real funny kid, even during some of the most difficult times on the court she is out there smiling, and I am l like ‘what is she smiling about?’. Stress doesn’t bother her, and she is quite a competitor, her game has improved but she still needs to finish better.”
One area of concern that Russo was asked about on media day was the three-point shooting as the Panthers shot 24% from beyond the arc last season.
“Maybe we shouldn’t shoot them if we were that bad, but I would like us to be better three-point shooters,” Russo said. “One of our three-point shooters went down early in the season, so I think we will be a little bit better, but we need to do a better job for sure because that is a real important part of the game.”
While Russo is the longest tenured coach in C-USA, she is one of three coaches entering their first season in the conference. Russo isn’t completely sure of what to expect and is not sure of what adjustments need to be made when playing in C-USA.