Commodores Official Website


Rory Kuhn trying to build Commodores back to elite status

Head Coach Rory Kuhn and Ava Miller (Mike Fender, News Herald)

It was quite an interesting offseason for the Gulf Coast women's basketball program. A year after the retirement of legendary coach Roonie Scovel, her replacement, Cayla Petree, also moved on when she took the head coaching position at Morehead State. 

She was then replaced in July by Kathy McConnell-Miller, who decided against accepting the job just two weeks later, leaving the Commodores once again without a coach. 

Gulf Coast hired its third new coach in the past year less than a week later when Northwest Florida State men's assistant Rory Kuhn was brought on and tasked with putting a team together almost entirely from scratch with just about a month before the start of the fall semester. 

Kuhn built an 11-player roster with only one returning player, 6-foot-3 sophomore center Ava Miller, featuring three Division-I transfers, including Auburn transfer Morgan Robinson and Georgia Tech transfer Anaya Boyd, a JUCO transfer, a Division II transfer, and five incoming freshmen. 

All things considered, it was a pretty impressive bit of on-the-fly recruiting by the former St. John's assistant. 

"For basically having a month to put together a team starting with two kids to get to 11, to have a full roster within a month is a credit to my staff," Kuhn said. "My assistant coaches have done a really good job and we were able to put together a good team. I like our kids. It's not gonna be easy for us, but I think we've got a good group. As long as we work and compete to get better every day I think we can be alright." 

It seems there remains a good bit of skepticism elsewhere about just how good the Commodores can be, with Gulf Coast unranked in the preseason NJCAA national poll and just seventh in the preseason state poll behind the likes of Florida SouthWestern, Indian River State, Eastern Florida State, and St. Petersburg. 

"I think that's just motivation for us," Kuhn said. "Everybody had a vote to say what they want, they didn't put us in it probably because at the end of July we had a new coach and only two players on the team. But we can use that as motivation. That's some people's opinion, now we've got to go out and change people's opinions based on what we do." 

The Commodores will get their first opportunity to do so this weekend in Melbourne as they play a pair of road games against Eastern Florida State on Friday and Santa Fe on Saturday. 

While Gulf Coast has fared pretty well in its preseason scrimmages, Kuhn said even he can't really say what kind of team he has until he sees them in real games. 

"To be honest, we're gonna find out on Friday, then we'll have a real idea of what we do pretty well and what we need to do better," he said. "Hopefully on the offensive side, we'll be able to deliver from the 3-point line and have the ability to play fast and execute well in the halfcourt. Hopefully, we'll be able to put together a complete basketball game.

"I always tell the kids that we've got to play 40 minutes, not 38 or 25, but the entire 40. The only way to simulate that is in games. We've got to get in games and figure out where we stand and see what we need to get better at."

One thing the Commodores will likely need to be is a good shooting team. With only one healthy center to start the season in Miller – 6-4 Northwest Florida State transfer, Musharapha Alhassan won't be eligible until late December – Gulf Coast will have to rely on speed and skill to overcome a size deficit that it will likely face against most of the top teams in the Panhandle Conference and across the state. 

Fortunately for the Commodores, they do have some of that with the 5-8 Robinson bringing three-level scoring ability at point guard and the 6-foot Boyd a matchup problem for most opposing power forwards, with wings Abbey Cracknell and Taylor Jarrels providing spacing as 3-point shooters. 

"I think we'll probably be on the smaller side so we'll have to play to our advantages and strengths," Kuhn said. "If that's spreading people out and making threes then that's what we'll do. We're a pretty guard-heavy team. We might not have that many bigs, but that means that their bigs on the other end have to defend our guards. We might have some mismatches in the paint, but hopefully, we can make them pay at the other end making threes. If we're making threes I think we'll be tough to beat." 

Gulf Coast will still need to have some kind of interior presence and much of that will fall on Miller, who returns after averaging 4.1 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman. 

Miller showed some flashes of her potential as a freshman, including a 13-point performance in the Commodores' national tournament loss to Miles. Now she'll be needed to give those kinds of efforts on a more consistent basis as a sophomore. 

"It's really just playing hard all the time and not choosing when to play hard," Miller said of her focus this season. "I feel like I'm a little bit faster this year. I think my speed and attacking more, attacking the basket is what I'm trying to do a lot more this year." 

The Commodores will need Miller to not only be consistently good but also consistently available given the lack of interior depth in order to have a good season. What a good season looks like for this group is yet to be seen, particularly given that Northwest Florida State and Chipola, ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the country respectively, still appear to be the class of the Panhandle. 

Getting back into that conversation among the conference and national elite is the big picture goal, though Kuhn said making that happen requires a much more narrow focus. 

"It just starts with the everyday mentality of just competing every day," he said. "If you do that each day eventually you'll get better and better and put yourself in position where you might be able to get back to that Panhandle Conference or national tournament level, but if you don't start small with doing the little things every day it's always gonna be a tougher mountain to climb. I'm just trying to get them to believe every day that this is what we've got to do, we've got to get better every day and start with that."