Osceola Q&A: FSU women's hoops coach Brooke Wyckoff
Brooke Wyckoff knew in part what to expect as a first-time head coach as she had filled the role during the 2020-21 COVID season as Sue Semrau helped care for her mom. But Wyckoff also encountered plenty of new aspects to the job, from hiring a new assistant (Bill Ferrara) to shaping a new roster and altering the style of basketball the Florida State women would play in 2022-23. Wyckoff sat down with the Osceola for an in-depth interview:
Has it been days of wow, ‘This is fun. This is awesome.’ And days of, ‘Wow, this was a blur and yeah, a bit of a struggle.’
Yeah. Going into it, you definitely know that there's going to be the great days and then the days that are more difficult. Obviously having kind of walked in the shoes of a head coach two years ago during the COVID year and then watching Sue (Semrau) do it for all these years, very closely watching her, I knew more or less what to expect. But going through it yourself is a totally different feeling. And again the highs and lows take a little adjusting to but the advice I get from so many people is don't get too high, don't get too low. And that's never more true or more needed in this position.
There are no shortage of advisors between your coaching staff, coach Sue, your Moms in Coaching group. Who helps with a phone call or a text?
Coach Sue for sure. She totally knows the rhythms of the job. And those random moments where you need a text or just a thought, she has a great feel for that. My staff for sure. That was one of the huge blessings of coming into this job is that I didn't have to start from ground zero and hire a whole new staff. And so the people here that know Florida State know our program, know our players, know me. And then bringing Bill in, he's been great. (Director of Basketball Operations) Melissa Bruner is a rock for me. So very blessed, and I have to lean on those people a lot and I'm very happy to do so.
Coach Sue said she left you a picture and a note in your desk. What was your reaction?
I found it pretty quickly. When I came in here, just going through the desk and she left me a note on the desk. And the note, of course, was like a surreal moment, reading it, being in this office. It just brings back everything I still remember the first time I met her when I was probably still 16. And she came to my house in Ohio and went up in my room and looked at all my CDs. ‘Oh, let me see your CD collection.’ I thought she was the coolest person. ‘She wants to see my CD collection!’ It just all rushes back in that moment when you're reading the note. And the picture was of the two freshmen, one of which was Vanessa Fuchs, who I came in with. And again just brings it all full circle. And made me very grateful again but also just another reminder of the gravity of the moment and of this opportunity, what it's meant to so many people, what it's meant to me and how excited I am to continue that legacy for Sue and for all of us that were here and the people that will be here in the future. It's sounds cliché but it's real.
Have you talked to coaches like Link Jarrett or others about what it means to be coaching at your alma mater?
Whether someone's been at Florida State or not, they get that sense of this is a special place with that family atmosphere of it means more to people than just, ‘We're here at a big institution and we love football and sports and it's more than that. It is about the people.’ And so that's what I love about Link and (women’s golf coach) Amy Bond and (women’s tennis coach) Jen Hyde and all these people, Odell (Haggins) and Ron (Dugans). The list goes on of all the people. It just means more in that way. And it is. It's a great thing to be able to say in recruiting. I've lived it. I love it. This is who I am come be a part of it. You can see everybody just is wanting to be a part of that too. Morgan Toles on our staff, too.
You had an assistant coach opening when you were promoted. Why was Bill Ferrara the right fit?
Great advice that I received too, when it was about the hiring process and who I need to bring in was, ‘Who do I need?’ As a coach, who's going to fit what I need, personality-wise, skillset-wise? Before even thinking about who does the program need? When I thought of who I wanted, he was the first person that came to mind because the way that we've always known each other on a professional level, seeing each other on the road recruiting or at professional development, we're talking basketball, we're talking ideas, we're talking culture of a program. We're just talking and that's how I want to talk every day with somebody. And pushing me in that way. And that's what he did every time we talked. And he's also someone that came in with a lot of experience at all different levels, nationally, internationally, recruiting-wise, which is another great thing that as I move out of that role into the head coaching role, just another assistant that has that experience to be able to recruit anyone, anywhere, has done it before. And I have great assistants in Craig Carter and Morgan Toles, they fill great roles and complement me. And he was that final piece. He's a Seminole. He started here as a student.
Stylistically what will FSU look like on the court in 2022-23? Is this a combination of what FSU looked like with other features or some elements of what Bill Ferrara wants to run?
He (Bill) has honed and developed a system at all these places that he's been that is a very specific style of space and pace. Which a lot of professional teams try to do this. Somewhat of position-less basketball. Not completely yet but that's where we're going with space and trying to get layups, trying to shoot 3s, get open 3s, things like that. Predicated on our defense, really starting with a defense that's going to create some havoc, not just create opportunities for us to get out and go offensively. Push in transition, get up the floor. So when we're recruiting players to the program this year, looking at the transfer portal, that's what we're looking for is versatility, where pretty much anyone is capable of dribbling the ball up the floor getting it out, going to attack the basket to score or shooting 3s. We will look different personnel-wise and stylistically this year offensively and I'm super excited about it. And I think the players are really excited. And it starts with our defense. That's what we talk about every single day.
I think you probably had a good idea the roster was going to change dramatically. How did you see it shaping up as ladies were graduating and then decided what was best for their future?
It's the new normal now that you can't take much for granted in terms of roster stability from year to year. The year previous we had Savannah Wilkinson and Sayawni Lassiter move on because of what you just mentioned, just graduating and want to do my masters elsewhere. Knowing that, especially with this COVID year (of eligibility for many athletes). So mentally preparing for that. … When the dust settled, I felt really, really good about who we had here that wanted to be here that stayed. We have great pieces and we're able to bring in pieces that complemented and really helped move us forward in terms of who we want to be as a basketball team. It was a great opportunity to be able to do that and to honestly move forward and be different. Would been happy with whatever we ended up with, but just in retrospect it's been really nice to have that kind of fresh feeling and be a little different and move into the future.
Are you seeing chemistry building through the summer workouts as you pull together veterans, freshmen, transfers?
It's a great opportunity. That's what I love about now. It's not new anymore, this role that we can work out in the summer. But for that alone, them to get to know each other, especially with a new team to get to be on the court together, to feel each other out, it's huge for that reason alone. We've got a small group, we have 10 kids but they're great. And they have been really committed to getting to know each other and diving in as a group.
Are you standing firm at 10 players or looking to add more?
I'm great with 10. Obviously, we have room. But the 10 that we have are a very capable 10. In this day and age, you can't be too deep, that roster stability. Or you can, you just have to be prepared for the shift. And so I love that we've got 10 players that I can count on.
You brought in Taylor O’Brien from Bucknell and Jazmine Massengill from Kentucky. What were you looking for — was it position, veteran experience, team player?
It was all three of those things. First, culture was huge for me and bringing in people. With the transfer portal, it's a short amount of time to get to know (someone) but bringing in people that were going to fit a culture that we had set with the remaining players that stayed here. We've got to have a team that wants to get closer and get better every single day and are committed to that as a team. And finding those types of people. And so that was huge. Obviously, we wouldn't be calling them though if they weren't good basketball players. So, positionally what we were looking for were guards that were versatile and a little bit bigger. We have O’Mariah Gordon, we have Ta’Niya Latson, we have Sara Bejedi. They are fantastic, quick, explosive scorers, 3-point shooters, but they're on the smaller size physically. Jazmine Massengill, she's not huge, but size-wise she's stronger. She's a little bigger, a little taller (6-foot). Taylor O'Brien is definitely more of a long presence. And Brianna Turnage, another long, bigger body. That was important to us to be able to have versatile, perimeter players.
Second-year players tend to be more comfortable. Thinking about O’Mariah Gordon and Makayla Timpson. Do you see that?
That's what you look forward to is when you see them going through the ups and downs of a freshman year and having to be out there and produce while being essentially baptized by fire. That is what you look forward. Yeah, that's been really nice. We still at times have to remind them ‘You guys aren’t freshmen anymore. C’mon.’ And that's great, but to be able to demand a little bit more of them, push them a little bit more. And see how they grow that way.
Valencia Myers has shown her talent on both ends of the floor. But she has often been inconsistent. How does she get the most out of her senior year?
Being in her fifth year, she absolutely knows who she is. We know who she is and know what she's capable of. And I feel that she's in a great time in her career where she can take advantage of those things. She has a lot of potential. She's had a great summer. The style of play that we're going to be doing is going to benefit her I think a lot and give her more scoring opportunities. She's a great defender. When you're a great defender you sometimes don't get the credit. People don't see that unless you get a million blocks, which sometimes she does. Her interior presence, her size is crucial to what we're doing defensively. And so I'm excited for her to also reap the rewards of her hard work on the offensive end as well. She wants this, she wouldn't have stayed if she didn't. She getting her Master's. She's got limitless potential outside of basketball. She's really excited about this year.
Who else should we be asking you about?
I’m excited for Mariana Valenzuela, who showed us some flashes of brilliance last year when she had an opportunity. She's going to have more opportunity this year to play. And she is versatile, she's one of our tallest players. She might be our second tallest player (tied with Timpson at 6-2, with Myers at 6-3) on the team, just physically but she could shoot the 3 really well. I'm excited for her to get more opportunities. Erin Howard started for us last year and has been a very solid piece for us, smart as all get out. This style, our system that we're playing, I think will really benefit her skill set. And Sarah Bejedi, stylistically who she is fits very well with what we're doing. And so she'll continue to be an important piece and I want to see her grow as well.
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