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March 2, 2010
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - It's a long season, but sometimes a college basketball team can get a glimpse of what's to come very early in the fall.
For the USC Upstate women's basketball team, that glimpse came on Nov. 16 when the Spartans headed to Longwood for their first road game of the year. Down by 18 with 3:40 left in the first half, freshman Tee'Ara Copney (Asheville, N.C./T.C. Roberson) made back-to-back steals at midcourt for uncontested layups, to shift momentum back in favor of the Spartans. In the second half of the game, junior Chelsea McMillan (East Gadsden, Fla./Santa Fe C.C.) scored 15 points, leading Upstate to the largest comeback in the school's D-I era, a 71-59 win over the Lancers.
On Tuesday afternoon, 27 games later, the Atlantic Sun Conference announced its postseason awards and both Copney and McMillan were featured, with Copney earning A-Sun Freshman of the Year honors and an unanimous spot on the A-Sun All-Freshman Team and McMillan earning a unanimous selection to the All-A-Sun First Team. In addition, Tammy George, who won her 90th career game that night in November against Longwood, earned Upstate's first Coach of the Year honors in the A-Sun.
"I couldn't be more proud of Tee'Ara and Chelsea," George said. "They are absolutely deserving of their honors. Both of them have developed exponentially while in the program. They have become players that we look to every night to contribute and 95 percent of the time, they both do."
She is just as prolific a scorer. After her 16-point game against Longwood, she scored 21 three games later at S.C. State. Though she hit double figures just twice in the next 10 games, she started a special run with a 20-point game against Mercer on Jan. 14. In the last 14 games, Copney terrorized A-Sun opponents to the tune of 16.4 points and nearly three steals per game. As a shooting guard, she hit 47 (81-for-171) percent of her shots from the field, including 35 3-pointers. She also was controlled at the line, hitting 71 (33-for-46) percent. During the run, she scored 20 or more points six times, including posting 29 at North Florida and 22 against FGCU, both Upstate wins.
""I may have never had a player improve so drastically from the beginning to the end of a season as Tee did this year," George said. "She showed glimpses of what she could do early in the season, but she struggled a bit with adjusting to college basketball, picking out the right shot, learning when to drive and when to pass, when to go for the steal and those type of things. She matured as a player during our 14-3 conference run and just became a consistent player, both offensively and defensively for us."
The kind of player that saves her best for big games, McMillan scored 14 points and added 11 against No. 12 Virginia and added 20 points and 16 rebounds against Clemson. Against ETSU on Jan. 4, she was even better, scoring 31 points and willing Upstate to an 85-78 win in a pivotal game after the Spartans had started the A-Sun season 0-3. At one point in the year, she hit a D-I era school-record 32 straight free throws and at another she posted a school NCAA-era record five straight double-doubles, falling just one shy of the school record. In her last 14 games, she posted 10 double-doubles.
"Chelsea is a special player," George said. "You can tell when she is on the floor and when she isn't. Defensively, she does so many things for us. She is aggressive and that leads to her getting to the ball off the glass, to getting a hand on a shot, to getting her hands on a loose ball. Offensively, we look to her early to get us going. She drew lots of double, triple teams this year and did a good job of not forcing shots and finding her open teammates. There's no doubt she is one of the best players in the A-Sun."
George had a special year on the sidelines for Upstate, reaching several milestones en route to her second career Coach of the Year honors. The Zirconia, N.C., native led Upstate to its first 20-win season since 1994-95, along the way becoming the fourth coach to win 50 games at Upstate and with the team's 79-72 win at Jacksonville on Feb. 1, she became the first coach in school history to win her 100th game while on the Spartans' sidelines.
Upstate, predicted to finish eighth in the A-Sun Preseason Coaches' Poll, even started the A-Sun season 0-3 before Coach George called a team meeting. In the ensuing hour and a half meeting, the team refocused on its goals and the result was an 85-78 win over conference champs, ETSU, the next day. From there, the team took a trip to Nashville and won the first games in school history, in any sport, at Belmont's Curb Event Center, and Lipscomb's Allen Arena. Another road weekend sweep occurred when Upstate won for the first time at the UNF Arena and at Jacksonville and late in the season, George coached the team to its first win at Campbell. Perhaps the team's biggest win, though, was Upstate's 86-78 win over FGCU on Feb. 25, knocking the Eagles out of first place for the first time all season. George's Spartans beat every team in the A-Sun this year, won 60 percent of its games on the road and wrapped up the year on a torrid 13-3 run.
"I am extremely honored to receive the Coach of the Year award," George, who also won the Appalachian Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award while at Brevard in 2005, said. "It is extremely gratifying to see that the other programs in the conference recognize the development in our program in a relatively short time. It was a collective team effort. It belongs to my whole staff, Coach Glass, Coach Nicholls, Coach Tinder, Tami Matheny ( mental coach) and all of the players."
George is the fourth Upstate coach to earn Coach of the Year honors, joining Kim Buford, who earned the 1986 AWSF Southeast Region Coach of the Year award, and Tammy Holder (1991) and Peggy Sells (1993), who each won Peach Belt Coach of the Year awards.
The Spartans will now wait 13 days until Selection Monday, March 15 to wait to hear if it has earned an at-large bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament.
2010 All-A-Sun Postseason Awards Player of the Year Siarre Evans, ETSU