The University of Rhode Island women’s basketball program is all about momentum these days. The Rams are building plenty of it – on and off the court – as we barrel towards the 21-22 season. URI finished an abbreviated, Covid-19 impacted, 20-21 season with an 11-8 record (11-4 in conference play), 4th place finish in the Atlantic 10, and Coach of the Year honors bestowed upon Reiss. All they’ve done since then is add a bevy of talent to an already battle-tested roster.
I caught up with the head coach for a summer sit-down in late August. Enjoy —
Chris DiSano: Can you briefly describe your newcomers to the program?
Tammi Reiss: I’ll start with Desiree Elmore from Seton Hall. Obviously, she was First Team All-Big East (17.4ppg, 9.1rpg, 3.3apg, 1.4bpg, 1.9spg). She’s an incredible talent and actually played for us at Syracuse [before I came here]. She really wanted to get developed at the guard spot. She played the 5 at Seton Hall but she is such an extreme talent she will have the ability to go pro, whether WNBA and/or Euro league. Versatility is her middle name. She can do it all, score and defend at any level. Fans are going to see a really, really, talented basketball player. And she is really competitive – I mean nasty competitive. We needed a little bit of edge to us. We needed a kid that will go through a brick wall and fight anybody to get through it, and that’s Desi. Fans are going to get a real treat with her.
Channel Williams from Providence. When we look at a player that checks every box where we needed to be improved, it was the point guard position. She plays with incredible pace at which I want to play on both sides of the ball. She is a great point guard, being able to get to the attack zone and distribute. She’ll improve our turnover number as well as our assist-to-turnover ratio. This kid checks all the leadership boxes. She’s me on the floor. Vocal, daring, and gets after it. Her and Desi, tag team, bring a swagger. She brings us to a level where now we can compete for an A-10 Championship in the deficiencies we had last year.
Anna Dreimane, 6-foot-6, from Texas A&M has unbelievable agility. Defensively, she’s going to make a huge difference where we had no height since Nicole Jorgensen left. Anna has played against the top SEC centers in the country for her four years. Her arrival will give us that true center that we’ve needed and she will be playing significant minutes at the 5 spot, with Manue (Emmanuelle Tahane) transitioning to play the 4 and 5. Manue has worked on her perimeter game and will be playing some there as well.
Rebecca Demeke from NC State is an unbelievable three-point shooter and athlete. She just finished up FIBA for the Canadian team. She brings outside shooting, the ability to get out in transition and finish, and plays with pace.
Can’t wait to get this one on campus💙🐏 Let’s Go Rebecca👊🏼💪🏼Do your thang!! pic.twitter.com/i3CA9Rm3lq
— Tammi Reiss (@TReiss32) August 5, 2021
Those are the transfers we’ve brought in. All have great experience and played against great competition. Now, the four true freshmen that you probably have not heard as much about, three international and one from the U.S.
Let’s start with her first and that’s 5-10, Sophie Phillips from upstate New York. Skilled young woman, shoots the three, is a combo guard with great length and height.
Emmi Rinat from Israel has been playing against and guarding pros like Tiffany Mitchell for two years. She is extremely skilled, great three-point shooter and is ready to play now. Emmi is about 6-0, plays the 2 and 3 spots, and plays with my old point guard Chelsea Hopkins (who has been a pro for nine years) that I used to coach at San Diego State.
This group is committed to becoming Champions on the court, in the Classroom and in Life💯 I am so proud and blessed to be able to Coach these young women💙🐏 Bravo ladies!!!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 https://t.co/1YV1cCEzIa
— Tammi Reiss (@TReiss32) August 24, 2021
We have two French post players coming over: One is Sophie Sene, a true 5 who is very athletic, defends, rebounds, and runs in transition. She’ll need a year of developing to get accustomed to our system – but when I mean athlete, I mean athlete. She’ll step in behind Manue and Anna.
We also have Hawa Komara and she is strong, tough, and will be stepping in behind MP (Marie Paul-Foppossi) at the 4. Unbelievable athlete, rebounder, and defender. We’ll skill her up and that will take a year, but both Hawa and Sophie are exactly what Manue and MP were. We’re recruiting to our system now and to our roster to replace what we’re going to lose in the future.
Even though it seems like we’re returning a lot of top players, we’ve got a lot of new faces. We’ve still got our core back… but now we’re very, very deep and versatile. Versatility and depth are the new words that are key for us.
CD: I remember when we spoke during your winning streak last season that you were still at a place where you were playing pack line or even zone because you weren’t quite there on personnel. Do you feel like you’re there now?
TR: Yes, last year we went from pack line to zone, finishing our season in the Syracuse 2-3 Zone (the Boeheim zone) because our kids felt comfortable, we didn’t have the depth and they were playing heavy minutes. It saved us. This year we have the depth to press, play more man, and will be playing zone and mixing it up. Now we have more on-ball defenders, people that can keep the ball in front of them with great length, and a center that can clean things up if we do get beat. It makes all the difference in the world.
CD: Assessing the program now heading into year three, how do you feel? Last year was a significant step forward and it looks like the program is primed to take another one.
TR: I feel very good. I’m a process-driven and oriented coach. Our process was… now we’re a little ahead of schedule… Did I think we’d finish where we did, no? Did I think I’d get Coach of the Year, no? I thought we’d still be building. We’re a little ahead of schedule. So going into this year with the talent we have and depth… We all have the same goal. We want to be Atlantic 10 Champions, win the regular season and A-10 tournament and be in the field of 64. That’s our goal. We don’t shy away from that. We’re not afraid to say it because that’s how hard we’re going to work.
Last year we said it, but early in the year I could tell they didn’t believe it. Then, all of a sudden, somewhere, it clicked, and I could tell they believed it. They were shocked, wrecked, and surprised when we lost. Now I know they believe. We always believe as coaches and now they believe it. That’s our goal. We’ve said it. Written it down. And our workouts are geared towards becoming champions.
CD: Let’s chat about scheduling. I know recruiting is becoming easier but as far as scheduling that’s delicate… As you develop more pedigree and get better, teams don’t want to play you. What’s your reality now?
TR: Yeah. Recruiting is getting easier and scheduling 10x harder. No BCS teams that called us up a year ago… in fact, we’ve had some handshakes that now have turned into ‘suddenly we can’t play’ conversations. These were great NET games for us. Now we have to scramble and find games, even paying guarantee games. It’s become difficult. It’s tough even getting in-state schools other than Providence. I want to play every in-state school because it’s good for all.
The elite teams still will. I reached out to Dawn (Staley, at South Carolina) and she would’ve played us… we just could not find a date. I wanted to take my kids down to South Carolina to play in that atmosphere and we couldn’t make it happen. If I’m going to play a team, it’s gotta be a really good team in order to get a game – any BCS school that looks at us and says “we can’t afford to lose that game,” they just won’ play us. People like Louisville, South Carolina, UConn – they’d play us, there were just no dates that worked.
— Rhody WBB (@RhodyWBB) May 2, 2021
CD: I know you’re super excited about your locker room renovation. Can you elaborate on how important this is for the program as you continue to build?
TR: You want a place that you can call home, spend time, it’s bright and clean. Ours wasn’t good. I made it a priority for our players that they have a place they can enjoy spending time in and bond. From a recruiting standpoint, you’ve got to have facilities you can bring recruits to that aren’t just comparable to the A-10 but to some BCS programs. They have to come in and think “I’m not taking a step back when we go to Rhode Island. Not only do they have great people here, they have facilities.” The locker room wasn’t one of them. I’d asked donors and reached out and made it a priority. We had so many people on Day of Giving donate to this cause, hundreds of people, that it came to fruition and we raised enough funds to have it done this summer.
It’s winding up and will be ready to unveil soon. We’re ready to rock and roll and it is beautiful. The vision I laid out when I drew the plans up with our contractor – it’s perfect. It’s more than I could’ve dreamed of. I’m so happy and so thankful for all our donors, boosters, fans. Whether you donated $10 or $25,000 which I believe was our largest single donor – all of them made it possible.
CD: Let’s wrap it here. 17-6 over the past couple of seasons at home including last year without the crowd. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on the public health situation – How excited are you to welcome fans back into the building this year?
TR: It’s the cherry on top. We’re praying we have a season, that everybody stays healthy and safe, that we can play a full season. There’s no amended season. Number two, we want fans in the Ryan Center. We want them to see this team. I do, so very badly. I want them to experience where we’ve come and see since that first year. And I want these girls to be able to have people there for them and support them. It’s important for our kids. We have players, like Marta Vargas, that have given us many years. I want them to go out with cheers and people seeing how much she’s improved. It comes from me as a player who thrived off crowds. The raw emotion… there is nothing better than playing in front of a live, packed house. This year, I pray, we can have that happen.
(This interview was conducted in the third week of August 2021)
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44