Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Adams-Birch, Aggies learning ‘a system of winning ways’ as women’s basketball practice starts

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State’s women’s basketball team opens its season in 33 days, but the Aggies aren’t focused on opponents as they begin basketball practices.

In year one of NMSU’s rebuild under first-year head coach Jodi Adams-Birch, the Aggies have turned away from outside noise or strict goals that can be measured in wins and losses. Sure, NMSU would love an undefeated season capped by a conference championship and a NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Aggies seem to have accepted the reality that the 2022-23 season is a year to learn and get acclimated to a new basketball system, develop and buy into Adams-Birch’s new coaching style.

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“What’s the buy in? You begin to see anything that you’re working with with an individual if they begin to change. And changing someone at the age of 18, 19, 20, 21 as far as basketball and those habits and maybe getting rid of those habits that don’t produce the right outcome,” Adams-Birch said. “Landing on one foot versus landing on two feet, being balanced, ball placement, those are the inches in this program. At the end of the day, we always see ‘Oh, they didn’t win.’ But really, it wasn’t playing on two feet, it wasn’t catching the ball with two hands or rebounding the ball aggressively. It was those inches we didn’t do well.”

But inches can quickly turn into feet on the basketball court, and Adams-Birch wants to teach her players how to use all 94 feet of hardwood at the Pan Am. She incorporates the “20 square feet” approach from football to the basketball court and wants the Aggies to learn to use their 20 square feet – her new terminology for players learning their roles on the team – both on and off the court. The Aggies are still learning player strengths and weaknesses and working to carve out a specific identity before the season opener against Colorado Nov. 7.

The Aggies have 12 games scheduled before conference play begins Dec. 29. NMSU has a pair of home-and-home series against rivals New Mexico and UTEP, will take on two Division II opponents and travel to Portland State in addition to playing in the Denver and San Diego Classic basketball tournaments. NMSU finished last season with a 10-19 record, a 6-12 mark in conference play and a first-round exit in the WAC Tournament. Adams-Birch won’t strictly evaluate the team by wins and losses this season, instead hoping to evaluate her team by the progress they make in adjusting to the new process.

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“What Pat (Summitt) said, what John Wooden said, they’re not about the end goal. They’re about the process. They’re about the system. I call it a system,” Adams-Birch said. “Instead of saying role, I say 20 square feet. It’s just behavior. IQ, EQ, those are big buzz words. Teaching young women really, what drives your behavior?”

Adams-Birch said she’s been pleased with Northwest Florida State College sophomore transfer guard Sabou Gueye and St. Bonaventure junior transfer forward Ene Adams, and junior guard Taylor Donaldson is the team’s leading returning scorer. Donaldson could make another sizeable leap this season after she nearly doubled her playing time last season. She expects senior guard Moe Shida to take a leap during the season after improving over the summer as well.

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She thinks all four players could play significant roles in shifting the culture at NMSU, which is the primary focus for Adams-Birch in year one.

“Our first and foremost (priority) when I came in was to focus on our culture, what we were going to be about, what we value, what our behavior should value and how to produce outcomes,” Adams-Birch said. “It’s a systematic thing. I don’t come in setting goals. It’s a system of winning ways, which are habits that are done over and over. That’s the biggest thing.”

Stephen Wagner is a sports reporter for the Las Cruces Sun News. He can found on Twitter at @stephenwag22 and reached at [email protected]

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