by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM/GREENSBORO UNC is the pick of the Blue Ribbon panel to win the regular-season championship in ACC women's basketball.
But a lot of that, of course, is predicated on the health of senior forward Jessica Breland.
Breland (pictured at left), who was found in the off-season to be suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma, was named to the five-player preseason All-ACC team selected by the 45-member panel of school representatives as well as national and regional media.
But whether or not she plays this season is still up in the air.
"She's feeling great and she looks good," Tar Heel coach Sylvia Hatchell said of Breland, who is undergoing a fifth month of chemotherapy. "She comes to practice and does a little bit of shooting. If I had to make a decision right this minute, I would say she's probably going to redshirt. But, the first of December doctors may say she can go. They've got a lot of testing the next few weeks, and then we'll sit down and see."
Hatchell said at ACC Women's Basketball Media Day that Breland may play in a few regular-season games before the decision is made whether or not to give her a medical redshirt.
"I told her 'If you can make All-ACC and play as well as you did as sick as you were, imagine what you can do when you're well," the coach continued. " ... I can tell you from a coach's position that for the past two years the kid has not been well. First we thought she had asthma, because she's having breathing problems and they treated that. And then she got better, and then it was the same old thing. And then we thought she had allergies and they tested her for allergies and started allergy shots and all this. And then this past year, the whole year she had breathing problems.
"I was on her all the time about getting in shape and being in condition and all that stuff. We thought she had the flu, we thought she had pneumonia, we thought she had bronchitis. It was always something going wrong with her breathing. The tumors were around her chest area. I'll be honest with you - at the end of the year in her end-of-the-year evaluation I ripped that kid up. I told her, I said, look, you've got the potential to be an All-American next year, but you've got to get in shape. You've got to get in condition. You've got to be more committed and dedicated. And then when she was diagnosed I felt so bad. I didn't know that she was sick."
UNC got 30 of the 25 first-place votes while second-place Duke received the other 10 and third-place Florida State two. Virginia was picked fourth followed by Maryland, which received three first-place votes. The panel picked Boston College to finish sixth followed by Georgia Tech, Miami, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Virginia junior guard Monica Wright was named the preseason player of the year, and she and Breland were joined on the first team by Duke junior guard Jasmine Thomas, Boston College junior center Carolyn Swords and Florida State senior post Jacinta Monroe.
The Tar Heels' Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was named preseason rookie of the year.
The conference held two sessions of a player/media "shooting contest," and I was paired with the 6-6 Swords (pictured at
They said it ...
N.C. State coach Kellie Harper (on replacing the late Kay Yow): "I really try to be focused on the task at hand, so to speak. If I sit in my office and dwell on who I'm following and what she has meant to not only the university but the community, the state and women's basketball in general it could be overwhelming. So I really try to focus on each day what I need to get done, and try to be me, and not try to do things like anyone else, and try to be Kellie Harper. I have spoken to a lot of people who give advice, but at the end of the day I've got to do what I feel most comfortable with."
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "We're just excited, excited for the opportunity to get better. If you look at our schedule, it's one of the greatest schedules a women's basketball team has ever put together. What I mean by that is the timing of the schedule and the great teams we'll face off against (including non-conference games against defending NCAA champion Connecticut as well as an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game with Ohio State at home and road games against Stanford and Texas A&M.)"