BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – The calls started when Sharon Versyp accepted the Indiana job.

Most of her family and friends wanted to congratulate the Mishawaka native and 1984 Miss Basketball winner for landing the biggest job of her coaching career. Some needled her about the obvious contradiction: A Purdue grad in Hoosiers garb.

“Everyone gave me a hard time when I first got hired, but now everyone’s glad to see me back in the Big Ten,” she said. “It’s good to be home.”

The Hoosiers might be the most supportive of Versyp’s return.

Her challenge is to turn Indiana women’s basketball into a consistent winner in a state where the Hoosiers have traditionally been relegated to third-class status behind perennial powers Purdue and Notre Dame.

With Versyp’s pedigree, there is hope. The former All-Big Ten player has staked her reputation on rebuilding high school and college programs quickly, and has proven herself an adept assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

At Lawrence North in Indianapolis, Versyp made an 0-18 team a sectional runner-up in two seasons. At Louisville, she helped produce a 20-9 record. At James Madison, she delivered a top-25 recruiting class.

At Maine, her last stop, Versyp won three straight America East regular-season titles, the 2004 tournament title and the first back-to-back 25-win seasons in school history. Versyp took over as head coach at Maine in 2000, leading the Black Bears to an overall record of 98-51.

And, of course, she grew up around the Boilermakers’ tradition.

That has Versyp’s new players eager to prove they can add to her successful resume.

“I think her energy definitely brings a lot to the team,” fifth-year senior Jenny DeMuth said. “She tells it like it is.”

The Versyp begins with a tough test – Saturday against No. 6 Baylor, the defending national champion.

But Versyp can rely on a solid foundation to get started. DeMuth and Cyndi Valentin, both seniors, have each scored more than 1,000 career points and have been starters since their freshman seasons.

DeMuth was projected to be an all-conference player last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee a few minutes into Indiana’s first practice. She reinjured the knee in May and although she considered giving up basketball this summer eventually decided to return for one more shot at an NCAA tournament bid.

Valentin is one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous 3-point shooters.

She led the Hoosiers at 15.0 points per game last season and ranked 10th in the conference at 35.2 percent from 3-point range despite having little scoring help.

Versyp plans to use their leadership, knowledge and experience to her advantage.

“We’re not going to put everything on Cyndi’s shoulders, it’s not going to be that way,” she said. “I think there’s a better understanding of their roles.”

Inside, Versyp also has size and depth.

Angela Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 forward, could finish among the school’s top five rebounders and 6-7 center Sarah McKay has a soft touch in the middle.

Also back are junior guards Leah Enterline and Annika Boyd, who combined for 24 starts last season, and forwards Jamey Chapman and Brigett Branson, who are solid rebounders.

The combination should allow Versyp to employ her up-tempo style at times this season.

“We want to be able to play full-court defense and run,” Versyp said. “We’re not doing as much of it as I’d like to yet. Shot selection is going to be a big key.”

The problem for Indiana the last couple of seasons has been scoring. During Kathi Bennett’s five-year tenure as coach, the Hoosiers were considered one of the Big Ten’s best defensive teams. But last year, they scored only 51.7 points per game, easily the lowest average in the conference.

After growing up watching Indiana’s famed trio of coaches – Bob Knight, Gene Keady and Digger Phelps – Versyp expects changes.

“We want to push the ball down, penetrate and pitch and attack the basket,” she said. “I love to push it, but not to the point we turn it over.”

Given time, Versyp believes the system she learned under former Purdue coach Ruth Jones and modified during her career will turn Indiana into a winner.

And she hopes the shift comes quickly enough to convince any of those lingering Indiana doubters that hiring a Purdue grad was the right move.

“My forte is rebuilding program and making them better,” she said. “You adjust to what you have, that’s what we did at Maine when we had only seven players and none of them shot very well and we won 20 games twice. … This is my kind of team.”

AP-ES-11-14-05 1835EST


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