INDIANAPOLIS — How will the Michigan women’s
basketball team replace its two departing seniors — future
WNBA player Jennifer Smith and emotional leader Stephanie Gandy
— next season?

According to Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett, it won’t.

“I never think you replace players,” Burnett said.
“You have to do things differently with each team. So we will
not replace a Stephanie Gandy and we will not replace a Jennifer
Smith.”

Never mind the statistical impact created by the loss of Smith
and Gandy — the two combined for more than 50 percent of
Michigan’s scoring this season — it’s the absence
of leadership that will hamper the young 2004-05 squad.

“(Losing Smith and Gandy) will be a major change of
leadership, because they’ve been such strong leaders,”
Burnett said. “We’ll have to start training all over
again the new leadership of the team.”

The seniors’ exit forces junior Tabitha Pool into the
spotlight, the team’s second-leading scorer. Pool averaged
just over 13 points per game this year, but has lacked the
offensive consistency that Smith and Gandy provided. Earlier in the
year, Pool shot just 1-of-14 from the field in a loss to Drake, but
scored 33 points against Xavier two weeks later.

“She’s got a lot of pressure right now,”
teammate Kelly Helvey said. “So as long as she performs, the
pressure will come off of her.”

Besides Pool, the scoring options for next year’s team are
slim.

Forward Niki Reams was expected to have a break-out year this
season, but injuries slowed the sophomore and she averaged just
five points per game.

“Coach expects a lot out of Niki,” Pool said.
“(Reams) didn’t have a great year this year, but she is
a really great player.”

Michigan’s other scoring options next season will include
Kelly Helvey and Sierra Hauser-Price. Both averaged less than four
points per game this year, but showed flashes of offensive
capability.

A more pressing concern for the Wolverines will be the gaping
hole at center created by the loss of Smith, the Big Ten’s
leading scorer. Backup center BreAnne McPhilamy, a 6-foot-2 junior,
had difficulty playing in the paint this season — a major
reason Smith logged more than 36 minutes per game.

The second-tallest returning player on next year’s team
will be the 6-foot-1 Pool, whose flexibility as a player may tempt
Burnett to use her at the center position.

“I never played (center) in high school,” Pool said.
“But (power forward) is similar to (center).”

With the loss of Smith and Gandy, Burnett will add four strong
freshmen next season.

“I think next year, starting off, (Burnett’s
defense) will be a lot easier to get used to, because this year we
all had to learn it,” Reams said. “Next year,
we’ll all understand it, and obviously the girls coming in
must play the kind of style that coach Burnett likes.”

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