New Zias coach still in evaluation process

By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers

As new Eastern New Mexico University women’s basketball coach Linden Weese tries to put a team together, he figures it’s better to take his time than to make snap decisions.

Weese, who spent more than 20 years as an assistant to Texas Tech women’s coach Marsha Sharp, is busy looking at the Zias’ returning players and figuring out what the needs are for the upcoming season.

“We’re evaluating and seeing what direction we’re going to go,” said Weese, who was hired in early April to replace Dan Buzard.

Only All-Lone Star Conference South Division post Tiana Bryant graduates from last year’s 11-17 squad, including 3-11 in division play. Bryant paced the Zias in scoring and rebounding, though, and was among the conference leaders in both categories.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Weese acknowledged.
Still, he should have some pieces to build around.

ENMU is coming off an injury-plagued season that contributed mightily to its disappointing record after a 6-1 start. Forwards Elizabeth Richards and Rochelle Vance and post Riikka Lehtonen are expected back after all went down with season-ending knee injuries in a three-game span in the first month of play. Guard Erika Cook (broken hand) and post Brittany Gillespie (knee) were lost during February.

Weese and assistant coach Haley White are working players out in groups of four to evaluate the current talent, and he said he likes what he sees.

“We’re not going to rush things,” Weese said. “I like the kids we have a lot. They work very hard and they’re good citizens, and that’s important to me.”

Guard Heather Brown, a three-year starter and the Zias’ top returning scorer from 2005-06, said Weese appears to have a good handle on things in his first collegiate head coaching position.

“I’m glad he has a lot of experience at the college level,” said Brown, who averaged 12.9 points and nearly 3 1/2 assists as a junior. “He really wants us to work hard and be confident in ourselves as a team.”

With everybody carrying heavier-than-anticipated loads last year due to the injuries, Brown expects things to be better next year.

“I think Elizabeth and Riikka and Rochelle are coming back strong,” she said. “I’m ready to play and compete right now.”

Beyond replacing Bryant, Weese said he’s looking to improve the overall talent level. He said he and White have been talking to a number of prospects at the high school and junior college levels.

“I’ve had a couple of kids that are looking to transfer contact me,” he said.

Weese said the difference between being a head coach and an assistant is pretty clear.

“It’s more detail work,” he said. “The buck’s going to stop here. Everything’s going to be my call.

“It’s been a lot of fun; I’ve enjoyed it. There will be lots of challenges, but I’m looking forward to those as well. I’m fortunate I was able to learn from one of the best (in Sharp). I think we can do some good things here.”