Samantha Williams is well aware of the challenges she will face in her first year as a head coach at Eastern Kentucky University.
Williams took over the position in March after former coach Chrissy Roberts was not retained after 11 seasons.
Roberts' final season may have to be considered the worst in the history of the program. The Colonels had a 2-27 record, including an 0-18 mark against Ohio Valley Conference competition.
Williams, who helped lead the University of Louisville to eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances as an assistant coach, knew it would be a process to get the Colonels back on track.
“I came here and I had three different types of players. Returners, who would have to play for a new coach. Transfers, who are coming to play for a new team, and freshmen who were expecting to play for a different coach,” Williams said during EKU’s media day last week. “I’m a competitor and because of that, I want to win. I understand, though, that I needed to have patience and that this is going to be a process.”
The Colonels were picked 12th in the 2019 OVC Preseason Poll and received just 30 points, 23 fewer than any other team.
However, the Colonels have plenty of room to grow this season and Williams' tough, no-nonsense approach has resonated with her team hungry to prove themselves.
"We don't feel any pressure," said Williams. "There is no pressure. Nobody expects us to do anything, but at the same time, I have told this year's team that we are going to be better than what people think and we will surprise some people. At the same time, it's a process and it's not a quick fix."
Williams said her team is eager to prove themselves.
“The newcomers are hungry. They have something to prove. They play with a chip on their shoulder,” Williams said. “They have done a great job, as a group, with meshing together. This team, one of the things I told them. If we want to be better than people think, we have to have great team chemistry. They have taken upon themselves to make sure that has happened.”
I’Liyah Green, a 6-foot-2 center transfer from the University of Cincinnati, said the team has grown throughout the summer under William’s coaching.
“She’s very tough. Very tough. She is going to push us to be our best and we know that. She is helping us build character and grow and be better as a team,” Green said of Williams.
That toughness was apparent when after the women’s scrimmage at Halloween Hoopfest, Williams called a team practice the next morning because she didn’t approve of her team’s hustle.
It’s all a part of bringing out the best in her team and leading EKU women’s basketball program to new heights.
“So I’d say the biggest challenge is winning habits, whether it be how you talk, what kind of work ethic do you have to have, what kind of sleep, what do you eat? Those have been the biggest challenges (so far this season). Teaching them the winning habits that you have to have and that talk is cheap, but you have to put in the work,” Williams said. “I understand that it’s a process and all we can do is all we can do. Come to work every day. Come to practice every day focusing on getting better. The results will take care of themselves.”
Williams said the women will play an up-tempo style and will need to focus on shooting this season.
“We want to play a fast tempo. The top three teams last season averaged about 78 points per game. Last year, we, and I say we because I’m her now, the team averaged about 50 points per game. We hope to improve on that,” the coach explained.
Williams said excitement is growing around the program and that the Colonels have bought in and ready to play.
EKU returns four of its top five scorers off last year's squad and welcomed nine newcomers — four freshman and five transfers.
Shay Solomon, a redshirt senior, is the top returning scorer from a year ago with 10.5 points per game. The guard also averaged 6.0 rebounds per game.
Another senior and offensive threat from the beyond-the-arc Catie Kaifes returns for another year.
Juniors Bria Bass and Terri Goodlett along with sophomore Hailey McCoy also are back.
Green is joined by fellow transfers Qaylia Stanton, a 5-foot-6 guard from Ranger College, guard Samari Mowbray from Northern Kentucky University, De’Ayra Davis from Iowa Western Community College and Kynnedy Azubike from the University of Akron.
Mowbray said she was excited to take on her former teammates of NKU in the Colonels season opener tonight at McBrayer Arena.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m really excited,” the junior said during EKU’s media day.
Williams said she hopes that EKU fans will likely be excited about the energy the Colonels will bring to the floor during their first outing.
“I think we will surprise some people… I’ve told them not to pay attention to the scoreboard… just put in the work and the results will take care of themselves,” the coach said.
NKU leads the all-time series between the two teams, 9-4. EKU won the last meeting between the two teams in 1983, 90-61.