Near as anyone knows, Louisiana Tech is the only big-time team whose preseason tips off with a mammoth potluck dinner. Admission to the annual Welcome Back Supper is free, but fans are asked to bring a side dish or a dessert. (The local KFC provides the main course.) On Sept. 30 more than 450 fans showed up for this year's event—we're talking major mounds of Jell-O salad—and squeezed around tables set up on the gym floor at the Thomas Assembly Center, where three national championship banners hang overhead. Says junior forward Monica Maxwell, "There were a lot of people whispering, 'You should win the national championship.' "
For all the drumsticks they devoured, the Lady Techsters find themselves particularly hungry this season. They last played in the NCAA title game in 1994, when they lost to North Carolina on Charlotte Smith's last-second three-pointer. Now they aim to return. "National Championship" was, in fact, the last entry on a list of goals for this season that coach Leon Barmore handed out on the first day of practice. "Our expectations are high, and they should be," says Barmore, who has the top eight players back from a team that went 31-4. "I think we all expect a lot out of ourselves."
The expectations are highest for senior center Alisa Burras, whose skills have already earned her one championship ring, from the national junior college tournament, which she played in as a freshman at Westark Community College in Fort Smith, Ark. Burras didn't start playing basketball until her freshman year at John Marshall High in Chicago and didn't become a starter there until she was a senior. At the end of that season she was voted all-state, and she has continued her rapid rise since.
Last season, her first at Louisiana Tech, the 6'3" Burras averaged 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds. "She's got very good hands," Barmore says. "If you throw it to her, she's going to catch it, and she's going to finish, and a lot of centers can't do that." Joining Burras on Barmore's high-scoring front line will be the 5'9" Maxwell, who went for 11.7 points a game last season, and junior forward Amanda Wilson, who averaged 12.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals.
Point guard Tamicha Jackson (12.2) gave Barmore a fourth starter in double figures, and she'll be joined in the backcourt by either junior LaQuan Stallworth or sophomore Jamie Scheppmann. Whoever loses out in that battle will join two 6'3" reserves, junior Priya Gilmore (yes, the daughter of the 7'2" Artis) and freshman Melshika Bowman, to give Barmore a host of options off the bench. "I don't think it's a question of good," Barmore says. "We'll be good. It's a question of, Will we be great?"