ALBANY — When she arrived at the University at Albany last year, women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen viewed the job she inherited as a three-year rebuilding project.
The Great Danes had won at least 21 games in each of the previous seven seasons, but that success had led to Mullen becoming the program’s third head coach in a short span of time. Before Mullen’s hire last May, Katie Abrahamson-Henderson had left UAlbany after the 2015-16 season for Central Florida and Joanna Bernabei-McNamee went from leading the Great Danes to Boston College following the 2017-18 campaign. Along with each coaching change came roster upheaval, and left the UAlbany program to firmly enter into a new era by the time Mullen arrived.
"We had to create a new identity,” Mullen said this past week as her team wrapped up its formal offseason summer workouts.
UAlbany took its first steps toward that last season when it went 13-18 after starting 1-9. The Great Danes played last season with a roster small in numbers, but improved steadily as the season went along; UAlbany went 9-7 in America East Conference play and advanced to the league’s postseason semifinals before seeing its season close.
Meanwhile, away from the court, Mullen was able to start building her first full class of recruits at UAlbany. That group consists of six players, and nearly makes up half the 14-deep roster the Great Danes project to bring into the 2019-20 season. With the recruits she targeted, Mullen prioritized strong defenders who pass well and shoot the 3.
“We were really scrambling [last summer], but my staff did a tremendous job compiling a list of players and getting us organized,” Mullen said. “We feel like we got so lucky because we found some players still open for the process.”
Morgan Haney, a freshman guard from Ohio, was one of Mullen’s first recruits to commit. The culture surrounding the Great Danes is what Haney said attracted her to the program.
“It was the overall environment here — the feeling I was a part of the team even before I was,” said Haney, a 5-foot-6 guard Mullen likes for her defensive and playmaking abilities. “This team made me feel more welcome and a part of it than any other program . . . on any other visit I went on.”
The work toward creating a cohesive team was a focus of UAlbany’s four weeks of summer workouts.
“Mostly, it was about just trying to find that team bond because we have six new people to our team,” said junior Kyara Frames, the team’s leading scorer last season at 12.8 points per game. “It was about building team chemistry and working on some of the little things.”
UAlbany returns four starters from last season, only losing forward Heather Forster to graduation from its starting five. Having returning players who played major roles a season ago helped the Great Danes’ large freshman class quickly get going.
“Those upperclassmen could model our expectations in terms of work ethic and communication,” Mullen said.
And that’s important for the success of the 2019-20 Great Danes, a team that needs its rookies to play right away.
“We need our freshmen to be contributors,” Mullen said.
And Mullen is optimistic her team can improve on its overall record from a season ago.
“But it’s about the long game,” Mullen said. “You can’t take shortcuts when you’re trying to build that culture.”