With two of the program’s all-time leading players in the starting lineup, University at Albany’s Megan Craig could afford to be a super sub for the last two seasons.
Now, it’s time for the 6-foot-9 junior to become the center of attention, and she no doubt will be in the spotlight when the Great Danes open their basketball season against Siena Friday night at Times Union Center.
Craig, the second-tallest Division I women’s player in the country, is a native of Whangarei, New Zealand. Her wingspan has been measured at seven feet.
“She is a game-changer because of her height,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who was the league’s coach of the year in back-to-back seasons. “The game has to adapt to a player like Megan.”
Although America East Conference Player of the Year Ebone Henry and fellow senior Julie Forster were the main weapons on last year’s team, Craig was a force to be reckoned with. She averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds while playing just 19.3 minutes per game. Craig also blocked 29 shots and shot 54 percent from the floor to help the 27-4 Great Danes dominate the America East Conference with a perfect 16-0 record en route to their second straight conference tournament title and an NCAA playoff berth.
If UAlbany is to three-peat, Craig will have to step up into a more dominant role.
“I can raise my game,” said Craig. “I know I can play more minutes this year.”
Craig said she got a lot tougher when she was named to the New Zealand National Team this summer.
“We played against Australia, and there was a lot of trash-talking going on,” she said. “I learned how to get tougher and not listen to all the talk. I know I can improve.”
Craig has gotten over the culture shock she endured as a freshman playing away from home for the first time, and developed into an impact player off the bench a year ago, despite special defenses designed to slow her down. Now, she must lead a UAlbany team that lost four starters.
“I’m very excited about this year,” she said. “With all the experience I’ve gotten over the last two years, I know I can be a leader on this team. I’m happy, and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Tall female players have to deal with a lot, but I know who I am now. I’ve matured.”
Abrahamson-Henderson knows this year’s team won’t be able to rely on stalwarts like Henry, the team’s all-time leading scorer; Forster, the Danes’ all-time leading rebounder; and three-point specialist Lindsey Lowrie, who combined for 33 points a game.
“Last year’s team went as far as our four seniors took us,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “We need new leaders. We will have a huge learning curve on this year’s team. I will have to slow down and be more patient with this group.”
Junior Sarah Royals returns as the starting point guard and expects to add more scoring punch. She averaged only 4.6 ppg a year ago, but she didn’t have to score a lot of points with so many other scoring options available.
“Coach picked me as one of the captains this year, and it’s a huge honor,” said Royals. “Last year, I knew my role. I focused on facilitating the offense. I think I’ll do more this year. I think I can pick up some of the scoring slack.”
UAlbany’s other impact player will be sophomore Shereesa Richards, a 6-1 forward who was named the America East Conference Rookie of the Year after averaging 10.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. She also shot 61 percent from the floor.
Both Richards and Craig were named to the America East Conference preseason team.
Although 5-11 senior Tammy Phillip averaged only two points and three rebounds, Abrahamson-Henderson expects her to get plenty of playing time.
The Great Danes continue to have an international flavor on the roster by adding 6-0 freshman Bose Aiyalogbe, from Lagos, Nigeria; 5-10 freshman Cassandra Edwards, from Brampton, Ontario; and 5-11 freshman Jessica Fequiere, from Montreal, Quebec, to the roster.
Friday — vs. Siena at Times Union Center, 5; 10 — WESTERN MICHIGAN, 2; 14 — MARIST, 7; 20 — CAL STATE FULLERTON, 7; 24 — DELAWARE STATE, 2; 27 — at Providence, 7.
4 — at Dartmouth, 7; 10 — at NJIT, 7; 15 — QUINNIPIAC, 2; 19 — at Duke, 6:30; 22 — COLGATE, 2.
1 — at Hofstra, 2; 4 — at Northeastern, 2; 9 — at Vermont, 78; 12 — at Hartford, 12; 16 — at UMass-Lowell, 7; 18 — MAINE, 2; 20 – at Binghamton, 7; 23 — NEW HAMPSHIRE, 12; 28 — UMBC, 7; 30 — at Stony Brook, 7.
1 — VERMONT, 5; 4 — UMASS-LOWELL, 7; 7 — HARTFORD, 7; 11 — at UMBC, 7; 16 — at Maine, 2; 19 — BINGHAMTON, 7; 26 — at NEW Hampshire, 7.
1 — STONY BROOK, 2; 7-9 — hosting America East Conference Tournament.
Home games in CAPS.