CHICAGO — Jolene Anderson was surprised at the accolade she received Sunday. Her coach wasn’t.
Anderson, a sophomore guard on the University of Wisconsin women’s basketball team, was named to the preseason all-Big Ten team, as selected by the media, which was released Sunday. The 2005 Big Ten Freshman of the Year averaged a team-high 17.8 points per game last season, good for fourth in the Big Ten. Over the summer, she competed with the United States U-19 women’s basketball team, winning a gold medal at the 2005 games in Tunisia.
“I think Jolene’s freshman year and her success in the Big Ten her freshman year puts her in the position of having some preseason accolades,” head coach Lisa Stone said.
Anderson seemed to be pleased with the award but was nonchalant, choosing to credit her teammates with making her better and allowing her to score as much as she did last year.
“My teammates, they push me every day in practice,” Anderson said. “I think most of the credit has to go to them because my teammates and coaches have been through everything that I do and so they just put me into the position that I am to actually have won that thing.”
Anderson’s expectations have risen for herself but she said she still has to improve certain aspects of her game. Actually, she said, all of the aspects of her game.
“Just my all-around game,” Anderson said. “There’s nothing in particular that stands out but you’re never too good at anything. Anyway, the expectation is to work day in and day out during practice and stuff like that.”
Wisconsin was picked to finish sixth in the conference according to the coaches’ preseason rankings and seventh in the media’s rankings. The Badgers finished eighth last season with a 5-11 conference record (12-16 overall), an improvement over the team’s 2003-04 finish of 4-12 and 10-17.
“I think it shows a sign of progress, I think it shows a respect throughout the Big Ten,” Stone said. “It excites me that we’re staying the course and we’re doing the best we can and we’re getting better every day.”
Moving up in the preseason conference rankings is a reflection of what Wisconsin already knows: This team is fulfilling Stone’s mantra of constant improvement. And, of course, there is room for more improvement, particularly the team’s defense, which finished last in scoring defense (73.1 points per game) and 3-point field-goal defense (opponents connected on 37 percent of their shots from beyond the arc).
“It’s a place we never want to be again,” senior forward Annie Nelson said. She added that the NCAA rules change that allowed for earlier full-team practices has given the team more time to work on defensive fundamentals.
“It helped the freshmen along,” Nelson said. “Instead of starting out Oct. 15, the first day of practice my freshman year, they had already been through a couple of things, they know what to expect and I really think it could help our team chemistry to have people play that much more together.”
That team-first mentality is reflected in UW’s choice of captains. All four of its seniors — guard Ashley Josephson and forwards Jordan Wilson, Kjersten Bakke and Nelson — were named captains for the 2005-06 season.
“You can take the word ‘captain’ in many different ways but I think us four, we’ve been through so much,” Nelson said. “We’ve been through coaching changes, different athletic directors, multiple different scenarios through our four years and, I think just being a calming effect for everyone else and we have been through basically all of it. I think having us four be the captains, it really exemplifies what the university sense is all about, basketball-wise. We do take pride in being captains and we do want to exemplify our leadership skills.”
One thing these seniors have not seen, though, is postseason play. The last time the Badgers made the NCAA Tournament was in 2002.
“We’d like to be in the postseason this year, that’s a goal of ours that we need to play well at the right time and continue to improve and hopefully we’ll be there in the end,” Stone said.