NEW ORLEANS — Olivia Grayson doesn’t intend to slow down.
The senior leader of Tulane’s women’s basketball team and first-team all-Conference-USA selection isn’t concerned about fatigue, minutes or statistics. Considering the depth behind her on the Green Wave roster, Grayson said there’s no reason to save energy this year.
“I’m a senior, and I’ve won a conference championship and played in the NCAA Tournament, but I think this is the deepest team we’ve had when it comes to covering every position on the floor,” Grayson said. “There’s no place where I can look and see any sort of serious drop off. And we have so much experience coming back.
“I’ve always felt like we have had some of the best guards, but we’ve had to play positions we weren’t necessarily comfortable at. But now we can all play our true positions and still have a good sub anyway.”
Tulane’s Conference USA peers agreed with Grayson’s lofty assessment, voting the Green Wave first place in the preseason poll conducted by the league’s coaches. They did so because Tulane is largely a known quantity.
The Green Wave returns 10 of its top 11 scoring producers from last year’s 23-11 team, which finished third in C-USA and reached the second round of the WNIT. Coach Lisa Stockton said the wealth of returning experience allows her freedom not only to use substitutions and rotations freely, but also to promote flexibility in style.
Stockton’s first opportunity to tinker with personnel comes at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Green Wave tips off the 2012-13 season in the newly renovated Devlin Fieldhouse.
“This is the deepest talent I think we’ve had in the last 10 years, I would guess,” Stockton said, entering her 19th season at Tulane. “Our key as coaches it to try to use it to its maximum potential. That’s a challenge but a good problem to have. We have some competitors and people who can play different roles, so anything can really happen with this group.
“What’s nice is one injury isn’t going to do us in. But if we can stay healthy and have everyone adopt their role, we can really generate some steam going into the conference schedule and hopefully into March.”
Stockton said she’s put an increased emphasis on both offensive and defensive tempo in recent weeks, mixing up lineups to find optimum results. While there is some freedom for Stockton to play like a basketball chemist, experimenting with Tulane’s depth before hitting C-USA play in January, it doesn’t make the nonconference portion any less important.
For a program that has tallied three consecutive 20-plus-win season and three straight postseason appearances to go along with its lofty preseason rankings, there is an expectation to perform at a high level starting Friday night.
Grayson said with the talent practicing around her the past few weeks, she expects this to be her best season at Tulane. That, on its own, is a tall aspiration to strive for.
“Our senior class has never not known the postseason, and I’m really proud of that,” Stockton said. “They have had two conference championships and seasons with 20-plus wins in their career, and to have a group like that is a big challenge. Because when you’ve had that kind of career, it’s hard to have your best season as a senior, but our expectations are through the roof. We are determined to meet them.”