United and Motivated
A more mature Francesca Pan leads driven Georgia Tech into App. State, ‘17-18 season
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Great teams play for each other.
When Georgia Tech women’s basketball tips off Friday night at the Holmes Convocation Center against Appalachian State of the Sun Belt Conference, they’ll take what they believe is their first step in proving that they are a great team.
They’re united and motivated, not only playing for each other but for something even greater.
“We’re on a journey to find out how good we can be this year,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph, the program’s winningest coach, who seeks her 275 win, to extend her season-opener record to 14-1 and get her team off to a fifth straight 1-0 start. “With five seniors you definitely want to see them go out on top. We want to help them achieve their goals. One of the things we asked them was ‘What is your goal for the season?’ They all agreed they want to do something that’s never been done at Georgia Tech. That’s a tough mountain to climb.”
Fittingly, the Yellow Jackets open the ‘17-18 season against the Mountaineers.
That bodes well, as the Jackets are 7-1 all-time in the series and have won the last seven meetings, including all three games in Boone. Joseph is 3-0 against them with the margin of victory growing in each game -- last year Tech crushed App. State, 81-52 at McCamish Pavilion.
Leading the charge to keep the success against Appalachian State going as well as the trek up this mountain of expectations, is sophomore guard Francesca Pan.
Pan knows about scaling mountains of expectations. She came in highly rated as a freshman, then responded by winning five ACC Freshman of the Week awards and ACC Freshman of the Year, then doubling down off the court by being named to the ACC All-Academic team.
She’s expecting even more of herself this season and is ready to get at it -- more ready than ever and certainly more ready than last year.
“I know what to expect, I know how physical the game is going to be,” said Pan, the Jackets’ second leading scorer last year (11.5 ppg) and second-leading three-point shooter (63 3PTFGMs, six behind team leader and countryman senior guard Antonia Peresson), and stealer (42) and fourth-leading shot-blocker (18). “I’m prepared mentally so I’m ready to play now because I know what to expect.”
Joseph expects Pan to be even better.
“It’s really difficult for a freshman to come into the ACC and be an impact player. Because of her size and strength and ability, she was able to do that,” Joseph said. “The thing about her now is just her maturity level and how she approaches her day-to-day. Last year she was very inconsistent in practice. This year she’s become a very consistent practice player so that’s going to help her elevate her game because she’s practicing night in and night out at a very high level. Like a typical freshman, she had no idea what was in front of her. I think this year she has a better understanding of what the expectations are of her and what the expectations are in how tough the ACC is and how you have to come ready to play night in and night out.”
“Absolutely. She was a presence last year but I’ve challenged her to make her presence felt,” Joseph said. “She doesn’t necessarily have to say much. It’s more about how she carries herself and in tough situations that she wants the ball and she wants to make a play for her team because that’s what elite, great players do. I think that she’s accepted that responsibility and she’s matured to the point where she understands what her role is and what her responsibilities are.”
Those responsibilities, especially on the scoring end, will be complicated, as Pan knows opposing teams will be focusing on her.
But after last season and a summer playing with the Italian National Team, she’s also unfazed by it. While she knows opponents have put a bull’s eye on her back, she also knows that her teammates have her back.
“I think that they have to look at everybody because everybody’s good,” she said. “They can’t just focus on me, but everybody. Of course I have a different role than last year but I think my teammates are going to help me.
“They’re going to help me to adjust and everybody's going to be fundamental on the court,” she added. “We’ve built great chemistry. We’re a very good team both on and off the court. Everybody loves each other, so that’s helped us to have a better chemistry on the court. We play together and our strength is the defense. We should have a lot of fastbreak points because we can do that well.”
Joseph believes in Pan and her ability to look past the personal accolades to lift the team.
“I think she doesn’t feel as much pressure even though she is picked preseason all-ACC,” Joseph said. “I don’t think she feels the pressure of that because she knows that she plays on a team, she’s surrounded by people that are going to help her carry the team. I think she sees that we have tremendous depth, especially in our post play, where we have players that can carry the load offensively and defensively and take some of the pressure off of her.”
Friday night, Pan will look to get Tech off to a strong start and also avenge her struggle last season against App State, when she scored eight points on 3-for-13 shooting (2-for-7 from three).
From there, she’ll do her part to help the team recover from the five-hour bus trip back to Atlanta then prep for Sunday’s home opener against South Carolina State, a 2 p.m. tip.
“I think we’re headed into a really tough stretch. We have basically eight games in the next 15 days, so it’s a tough challenge for any team,” Joseph said. “Our depth is going to be important. I think how we handle the travel and the games and our ability to recover and bounce back are going to be really important. But, again, this is a team with depth and we’re going to have to play 10 to 11 people over the course of this next couple of weeks.”
Short turnaround gets short shrift from Pan.
“I think we’re used to games back-to-back,” she said. “So we’re going to be prepared for Friday and then Sunday. We’re going to be ready for both games.”
Pan speaks for her teammates when she says how excited she is to play another game at McCamish, especially after last year’s 16-5 home record and the seven-game winning streak the team carries into ‘17-18, the last five of those coming in the WNIT.
“We can’t wait. Last year we finished with a lot of wins at home,” she said. “We would like to have a lot of people here watching us. We are excited to start again and show people how we’ve grown and how good we are this year.”