'2' is ready for a last ride. Gabby Connally knows where to improve as a senior.
Entering her senior year, longtime Lady Bulldog starter Gabby Connally has a plan and some relief with depth at guard.
If you didn’t know, Georgia senior point guard Gabby Connally desires a name change. A nickname that she wants everyone to call her, at least.
She lobbied for it last year. Connally sent a group message to teammates and coaches last season. Nobody replied at first, but it suddenly stuck on within the Lady Bulldogs locker room. Now, the goal is for it to become a household reference to those watching SEC basketball.
A request to be called by a jersey number doesn’t seem commonplace. But, then again, not much about Connally’s personality is mundane. The enthusiastic, caring, lighthearted floor general wants the name to symbolize a different demeanor on the court. An alias of ‘2’ is like that of a star player who is known on a first-name basis or with a signature moniker — i.e. Stewie, LeBron, CP3.
“It’s catchy,” Connally said last season when introducing the master plan to the media, followed by a few laughs. “I’m a pretty interesting individual.”
In many respects, Connally deserves to be called whatever she wanted around the facilities. She’s the team leader, one of four seniors and led the Lady Bulldogs offense with a career-high 12.6 points per game while taking on full-time duties at point guard. She became an extension of head coach Joni Taylor on the court. Connally called all of the shots, and did it for 38-or-more minutes on 11 occasions last season. In three contests, the then-junior didn’t leave the floor.
Connally did nearly everything Georgia could ask for. She performed without a surplus of backcourt depth and mentored a young five-star player in Chloe Chapman. But Connally was a five-star prospect of her own, back as a 2017 signee — which feels like it was at least a decade ago — from San Antonio, Tex.
So, the expectations are lofty. Sometimes, it’s admittedly to her own detriment as Connally can be “too hard on herself.” Nonetheless, a team-leading 12.6 points per game is respectable, but doesn’t match Connally’s standard. She wanted more and discovered some weaknesses as if film study became a gold mine.
Each offseason, Georgia players and coaches meet for an end-of-season meeting. It’s like an exit interview in many ways. They sit down for open dialogue about successes, how to improve and it’s also a chance to address concerns. Obviously, in the age of a mandated lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, these sessions happened over Zoom. They still resulted in progress.
Connally analyzed her game. Once more, she’s a critic and Taylor likely didn’t hesitate to point things out, either. There was a mistake that became glaring and repetitive — the dreaded turnover.
“I need to get better at limiting those,” Connally said. “I’m a point guard. I’m not proud to say that I turn the ball over way too much.”
Connally had 100 turnovers by the end of the 2019-2020 season, capping it off with 10 of them in the SEC tournament loss to South Carolina. At times, Connally would be efficient without many miscues. She had two-or-fewer turnovers in 12 games, which bodes well for Georgia’s offensive production.
Then, a few turnover-laden games served as a warning sign for Connally. Some of it can be attributed to a lot of time on the floor. A point guard also collects a bulk of the team’s turnovers, even if all of them aren’t that player’s fault. Nonetheless, it became the pinpointed need for improvement with Georgia’s veteran leader.
Connally had at least five turnovers in seven of 30 games played, including the double-digit total against the Gamecocks, eight against Mercer and six in a home loss to Vanderbilt. She had 48 turnovers in SEC regular-season play for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.2, 12th-best in the league.
Her road to refine the turnover struggles has begun with repetitive drills in practice or getting extra on-court time, when permitted, with assistant coach Karen Lange.
Georgia could be sending help in the department with relief, too. Freshman Sarah Ashlee Barker and now-eligible UConn transfer Mikayla Coombs are available at the Lady Bulldogs’ disposal. Connally admitted that the No. 1 position is the toughest on the court, especially after getting a bulk of her minutes at shooting guard alongside former point guard Taja Cole for two seasons.
Forty minutes as the proverbial quarterback has a taxing effect. Taylor could entrust Barker with point guard duties at times. Fellow senior Que Morrison, who normally plays a wing position, could step up at the spot, too.
Chapman, now a sophomore, has experience backing up Connally. However, Chapman might not be immediately ready as Georgia soccer’s fall season ended Sunday with a loss to Auburn and an acclimation period could follow. She hasn’t been with the Lady Bulldogs since soccer’s preseason began over the summer.
Backcourt options do exist, however, on Georgia’s 13-deep roster. Taylor will use strategy to change up Connally’s role more than in the past.
“You're going to see Gabby at the point,” Taylor said. “I do think she has more options to play off of the ball than last year, for sure.”
Connally is eager to start a final ride alongside three senior teammates. She’ll do it in a revamped transition-style offense. Taylor has practiced with a 8- and 15-second shot clock in an effort to score more points while having structure in an offensive philosophy. Connally has a list of to-dos in order to maximize her ability in the new system: finishing over bigger defenders, a stronger left hand and more.
But none of those physical improvements outweigh Connally’s biggest concern. She wants to have a better approach and in-game psyche. As an older player, she believes that “good programs not only have coaches who lead, but players who lead.” In her mind, that starts with No. 2.
And it requires change from within, Connally believes.
“I'm very hard on myself, so I get down on myself too much in games,” she said. “My coaches know that it's not geared toward my teammates, but because I'm a point guard, I’m the one calling plays. If I'm not in the right frame of mind it can have a negative effect on them. That's not something I want.”
Connally has established her place in Georgia’s success over recent years. She’s ready to elevate it. That’s what a special nickname requires, after all.
The question remains if she can reach another level. She’s ready to answer it.
“I guess everybody will find out once we start playing again,” Connally said.