(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)
By Anthony Sambrotto @asambrotto95
Imani Outlaw fully accepted the new role that was handed to her.
As one of only two seniors on the 2016-2017 St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team, Outlaw has to be the leader not only on the court, but off of it as well.
The Bonnies are still trying to cope with the losses of their top three leading scorers from last season, including Katie Healy, the fourth-leading scorer in program history.
Also among the losses was point guard Emily Michael. Although not a dangerous scoring threat, Michael was a coach on the floor and knew where her teammates should be at all times.
That role now belongs to Outlaw.
Outlaw played a limited part in the offense last season, averaging 1.8 points per game and only scoring in 14 of the 31 games she played in. She did, however, contribute in conference games against VCU and Richmond, where she averaged 20 minutes on the floor.
“Imani is going to have a big, big step up in her role,” first-year head coach Jesse Fleming said. “We are going to ask Imani to lead our team as a point guard and we are going to be running more stuff than we have in the past so she has to put people in the right spots. Imani is going to have to be a creator for us and really step up her game. She is just a willing person in practice, and she has to keep going and keep getting better, but I like what I’ve seen so far.”
The Bonnies have five freshmen on the roster this season, and with a team of only 10 eligible players, they are all going to have to step up at some point this season. Fleming said that Outlaw’s attitude has not only helped the freshmen acclimate to Division One basketball, but also to their fellow teammates.
“Imani is such a people connector,” Fleming said. “Everybody loves her. If we had homecoming queen, I think she’d win it. You can go down the line- if you don’t like Imani, there is probably something wrong with you.”
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Outlaw has also been a part of some of the best defenses in St. Bonaventure history. Last year, Bona ranked second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense and 28th in the nation. Fleming was part of Bowling Green’s best defensive season in program history, surrendering just 51.9 points per game last year. Fleming knows that the defensive success starts with Outlaw, but the chemistry is still a work in progress.
“Some days are good and some days are bad,” Fleming said. “As far as a team themselves, they definitely have meshed and I think they get along great. They spend time with each other, and they respect each other. We focus on being a connected team and they really have taken that to heart. The basketball stuff, especially with our system and having five players moving constantly and having to read off of each other, having five newcomers that really will take a lot to mesh.”
Outlaw, who has been playing basketball since the third grade, just wants to end her career on a high note.
“I want to go out with a bang,” Outlaw said. “We obviously had a really good season last year and we want to continue that success this year. I would say that I’m the vocal leader. I’m the energy-bringer to practice and games.”
She said that Fleming isn’t a big believer in setting expectations, but as a leader of the team, Outlaw knows that after reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament last season and going 16-0 at home, there are a lot of eyes on the Bonnies.
“We set our own personal goals,” Outlaw said. “Coach isn’t really too big into that, he just wants us to go hard everyday.
“But we have goals. We want to be one of the top teams in the A-10 and we want to get to a postseason tournament. Those are teams goals that we came up with ourselves as players.”