How Georgia’s Joni Taylor is approaching coaching and next season amid COVID-19

Georgia head coach Joni Taylor watches the action during the second half of a quarterfinal match against South Carolina at the Southeastern women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Caption
Georgia head coach Joni Taylor watches the action during the second half of a quarterfinal match against South Carolina at the Southeastern women's NCAA college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Friday, March 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Credit: Richard Shiro

Credit: Richard Shiro

Joni Taylor, women’s basketball coach at Georgia, has adjusted to doing everything from home.

She’s on plenty of Zoom calls for work, eats more meals with her family than ever, and has gotten into a routine with her two young girls, who love seeing her all the time.

The Bulldogs finished its 2019-20 season with a 17-14 (7-9 SEC) record, including a win and a loss in the SEC women’s basketball tournament shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down most everything, including live sporting events.

Now, there are in-person aspects of her job that have been altered: recruiting weekends in April and May, individual workouts with current players, opportunities to watch class of 2021 targets.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Taylor earlier this month about how she’s approaching coaching and the coming season amid the pandemic. The Q&A was edited for clarity.

Q: First of all, how are you?

A: I'm good. I was at some point keeping a quarantine calendar and I've stopped doing that, but I'm good. Family is well. Everybody's healthy, friends are healthy. It's been fun being at home with my girls and my husband (Dream assistant coach Darius Taylor). I am getting a lot of time that I normally don't have. So just trying to find the appreciation where I can, you know. I'm having breakfast and dinner with them almost every day. And that's something that I've never really done before. It is also very challenging, with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old and you're working from home. So they see me, and they just think I'm here to play all day. So it's also kind of been challenging to still carve out time during the day to work and make sure they understand, "OK, mommy can', you know, play right now." We've settled into a routine and a pattern, and everything is good.

Q: You signed Maori Davenport, ESPN’s No. 14 player in 2019. For people who haven’t seen her play, what should we know about her?

A: She's athletic, she's long. She's a great shot blocker, can really score well, you know, with deep post touches and has some range. I think her potential is through the roof. I don't think she's scratched the surface of what she's capable of. And what gets me excited when I talk to her even now is just how good she wants to be, you know. She's just got that desire, that willingness to work hard and (say), "Coach, I want to be really good. Tell me what I need to do." And a lot of players say that, but then when it comes to the execution of doing what it takes to be really, really good, once they see the minutiae of that and what that requires, sometimes they're like, "Ah, some days I'll do it, some days I won't." So I'm just excited to see how far we can take her.

QUnder current rules, she wouldn't be able to play this coming year. (Davenport is a transfer from Rutgers.)

A: Right now based on the current rule, she would have to sit out, and then we wouldn't have her next year. But she'd get to practice every single day, go against Jenna Stati, who was coming off an incredible junior season, and Malury Bates and Javyn Nicholson, who are getting better. And so I think that's going to help all of them be competitive in practice. And that's what you want right? To be able to go against people every day in practice that are gonna push you and challenge you and make you better.

QBut after last season, you have this big signing. Where is your head at going into this next season? How are you preparing for that?
A: You know, right now we're just checking in and making sure that our young ladies are safe, and that they are mentally sound. These are trying times. They're used to being on a schedule. They're used to seeing each other every day and while being at home for the first week and a half might have been fun. I'm not saying they don't want to be around their family, but they miss the routine of being on a schedule. They are elite athletes and students and they want to be back working out and have access to the gym and to the weight room and to our staff. And so it's tough, it's really difficult, and so I think it would be very negligent of me as a head coach to not make sure they are processing what's happening right now the right way. And so a lot of that is just, "How are you? What can we do for you?"

You know, where as an institution or as a program, are we lacking during this time because it’s new for everybody. So there may be some things they are going through that we haven’t thought about. And it’s constantly changing, right? When you think you have your footing, something else happens.

Q: What have some of those conversations been like?

A: We talked about doing your best with what you have in terms of staying in shape and eating properly and getting the right type of sleep because all those things are important. And I would say that to anybody right now, during these times. And we stress keeping them on a schedule, try to stay on a schedule as much as possible. Yes, we're having basketball conversations. But our biggest thing is, you know, how are you? Take this time to reset, to enjoy being around your family and decide how you're going to be better when you come out of this.

“So it’s just perspective, right? You know, instead of saying this, “I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe this is happening for me. You know, how am I going to be better when we come out of COVID-19? When we’re able to see each other again for the first time, how much more gratitude am I going to have for the things and the opportunity we get to play basketball every day and go to a great institution like the University of Georgia?”

So it’s about using this opportunity to teach perspective and gratitude and not let them think so much about themselves. But you can get so caught up into self, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t left the house. Oh my gosh, I need to do this. When am I going to do that?” We forget there’s still some good we can do from afar during this time. So that’s what a lot of our conversations have been about on top of, “Hey, when you can go, get some running in. Make sure you’re eating properly. And honestly, that’s what we’ve been discussing.

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