If it’s after midnight and the lights are still burning bright inside the Steinberg Wellness Center on Long Island University’s campus in Brooklyn, there’s a good chance that Brandy Thomas is inside hoisting up three-pointers.
The 5-10 Baldwin product was the power forward on the women’s basketball team last season and made only six attempts from outside the arc. She will take many more this season as first-year coach Rene Haynes — hired after five seasons as a Duke assistant — reshapes the players as well as the program.
“Nobody on our team is the same player they were last year,” Thomas said. “Each of us is seeing that we can be more than we were. If I shoot the three-ball, I could be a matchup problem. I can take a smaller defender inside like I am used to. I can bring a ‘big’ outside to guard me.”
And so Thomas often hits the gym late with sophomore guard Tiya Misir or other Sharks to change her game.
Haynes has made player development one of the cornerstones as she brings a new culture to the LIU program, which managed just a 5-24 record last season. In preseason workouts, she has re-evaluated each player. In many cases she found that one or another may have a talent that they haven’t focused on. Many have taken to it, doing extra work before or after scheduled practices on things they never used to work on. The result is that the Sharks see a better future.
“Their goals have changed just a little bit because I think they're able to see things that they once thought that they couldn't do,” Haynes said. “For example, if they were just a shooter for the past year, they thought that that was their box to be in. During [our] drills and intersquad scrimmages, they see that their ball handling skills were not bad and now figured ‘I'm going to get better at this.’ . . . So some people that were only shooters now have ball handling skills.”
At the end of a difficult season, the Sharks were invigorated by the news that Haynes had been hired. She was a former Michigan State standout player who’d competed professionally overseas and then coached at Western Michigan and with the Blue Devils in the ACC.
“When we heard, we were all like ‘we’re good, we’re getting back, we’ve got it down,’” Thomas said. “Soon after we met her we could see that, wow, she’s going to get us to a better place and we’re going to have better seasons.”
Haynes has some solid pieces to work with. LIU returns its top two scorers in Thomas and 5-10 Jedyah Johnson, who averaged 13.9 and 13.6 points respectively. And there are three potentially high-impact newcomers in 6-1 forward Mia Perkins, 5-5 point guard Zhane Williams and 5-10 swingman Paulani Tarawa.
“With the players from last year improved and the new additions, I just think we’re way better,” Thomas said. “And everyone seems to like that we’re going to play a faster tempo with a lot of transition. It’s a style that’s fun.”
She also likes the idea of playing on the wing, which she did a lot of at powerhouse Christ the King High in Queens. “I got away from playing an outside game, but I am now shooting the three like it’s nothing,” she said. “If I am open when I catch the ball, I’m going to take it.”