A New Era Of Jayhawk Basketball
July 19, 2004
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the appointment of new Jayhawk head coach Bonnie Henrickson, Kansas is embarking on a new era in women’s basketball which promises to bring a charge of excitement and enthusiasm back to Allen Fieldhouse.
Among the hottest young coaches in the nation, Henrickson’s impressive resume includes five NCAA appearances, two WNIT appearances and an average of 23 wins per season in her first seven years on the sideline — all at Virginia Tech.
Although Henrickson and the Hokies enjoyed a fantastic run, the Willmar, Minn., native could not resist the opportunity of taking over at KU.
“Kansas has a national academic reputation and the quality of the Big 12 is outstanding,” Henrickson noted as reasons for coming to Kansas. “The Big 12 has a strong national reputation, but it’s a conference where we felt like we could compete.”
Henrickson inherits a team that has struggled in recent years but is excited about the possibilities ahead.
“I have confidence in myself and my staff without hesitation that we can coach,” Henrickson said. “Our biggest challenge, like every program in the country, is to bring in the type of players it takes — kids that want to be coached, are good people, good students, are committed to every aspect of their life.”
As the 2004-05 season approaches, Henrickson is clear about what she wants to accomplish in her inaugural campaign.
“What people can expect from our staff and this team is effort, enthusiasm and unselfishness,” she said. “For us right now, we’ve got to narrow our focus and figure out how we are going to get better everyday — whether it’s an individual workout or a weight workout — we want to make a big deal out of little successes. Will our win total this year equal the number that anybody wants it to be? I can’t guarantee that, but I can guarantee that these kids are going to have a tremendous amount of self esteem in how they work, that they will earn victories, that they will be proud of how they represent the University.”
This season, the Jayhawks will be small no matter how you look at it. Returning team MVP Crystal Kemp (Topeka, Kan.) stands tallest at 6-2. Only Blair Waltz (Leawood, Kan.), Alicia Rhymes (Shreveport, La.) and newcomer Jamie Boyd (Underwood, Iowa) measure six feet tall.
In terms of depth, just 10 players are listed on the roster heading into the season, giving the Jayhawks a limited number of options off the bench.
“We’ll look different this year than teams in the future in terms of numbers and depth,” Henrickson said. “The most important thing we’ll do is try to win basketball games every night, even though it may look different every night just based on what we need to do.”
As a result of KU’s vertical challenges, Henrickson may choose to go with a four-out, one-in type of offense. For ball-handling duties, Henrickson will have a nucleus of five guards returning including Larisha Graves (Terry, Miss.), Aquanita Burras (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Erica Hallman (Covington, Ky.), Sharita Smith (Dallas, Texas) and Kaylee Brown (Arcadia,Okla.) who all played meaningful minutes a year ago.
Newcomer Taylor McIntosh (Wichita, Kan.), at 5-11, could work either out of the backcourt or frontcourt.
Because of the lack of depth and size, Henrickson has emphasized the importance of fitness.
“As a group, we’ve got to be able to run and that’s why our conditioning level — our ability to be fit and play extended minutes — for all of these kids is going be important,” Henrickson said. “We felt like we made some progress in the spring, we need some commitment in the summer and we’re going to really get after it in the fall.”
For Henrickson, winning has become a habit. At Virginia Tech, she turned around a struggling team into a Big East contender that won over 20 games every year under her watch. She believes she can implement a similar system at Kansas that will be a style of play exciting for players and fans alike.
“It’s going to be important for us to share the ball and be good defensively year-in and year-out and night-in and night-out,” Henrickson said. “Certainly in the future, and as much as we can this year, we’re going to push in transition and create opportunities from our defense. We have been a team that likes to get up and down and we asked all of the players if they liked to run — they all nodded their heads. We think it’s a style they love to play and a style that fans love to watch.”
Defensively, Henrickson likes to use a pressuring style that leads to easy baskets on the other end.
“At Virginia Tech our defensive numbers were consistently in the top 25, and that was predicated on ball pressure, pressuring passing lanes, but also on help,” Henrickson said. “This year, people are certainly going to try to take advantage of match-up issues that we may have. We may have to look at playing more zone than we’ve done in the past because of our size, and it may change from game to game more than we would like. We obviously would want to find something and perfect it as much as we can, but this year we’re going to have to adjust to deal with matchup issues.”
In terms of offensive personnel, Henrickson has been pleased with what she has seen so far.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the athleticism on the perimeter,” Henrickson said. “We’ve got some kids who seem to be able to knock down some shots, particularly from mid-range. Being able to look at what we’ve done in the past and tailor it to what we have, Crystal Kemp will be a vital part of our offense.”
Henrickson knows, though, the quality of the Big 12 and that Kemp will not be able to do it alone.
“Most of the teams in our league are good enough to take that away so we’re going to have to find some balance as much as we can,” Henrickson added. “One great way to get some extra looks for a quality post player like Crystal is in transition, so it would certainly help us to be a better defenisve team so we create those types of opportunities.”
One area that will be a strength in 2004-05 is experience. Kansas returns three seniors who have all taken different routes to their senior campaigns.
Waltz, the only four-year senior, collected 3.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game as a junior. She has posted 22 career double-figure scoring games. An unselfish player, Waltz can play inside or outside and has been among the team leaders in assists.
“Blair has a good stroke and we’ll look to free her up off some screens,” Henrickson said. “We’re trying to get her stronger legs and hips stronger, which will allow her to do more things.”
Joining Waltz is a pair of seniors who originally transferred to KU.
Burras has suited up for KU for two seasons after transferring from Central Arizona College her sophomore year. One of the team’s most versatile players, Burras’ career averages include 10.3 points, 5.3 boards, 2.3 steals and 1.8 assists per game, while playing over 31 minutes per game.
“Aqua’s athletic and can get to the rim,” Henrickson added. “She plays strong and I would anticipate her being a pretty good rebounder for us at the guard position.”
Rounding out the senior class is Graves, who came to KU last year via Southwest Tennessee College. Graves, who has changed her jersey number from 13 to 5, averaged 7.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 dimes per game as the team’s floor general last year.
“ReRe showed some real progress in the spring and her conditioning has improved,” Henrickson noted. “It will be important for her to make good decisions at the point guard position, for her to get the ball to the right people in the right manner. She caught on quickly to some fundamental things we addressed with her.”
The junior class is comprised of three players including Kemp, the team’s MVP a year ago.
Kemp showed great improvement in her overall game from her freshman to her sophomore campaign, especially in the area of consistency. She led the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game as a sophomore to go with 5.8 rebounds and 1.1 dimes per outing. She again will be vital to the team’s success.
“Crystal shoots the ball well and is very coachable,” Henrickson said. “We’ll look for creative ways to get looks for her. We need to make her hard to guard. We can’t sit her in the paint all night.”
In the backcourt, a pair of junior guards return in Hallman and Brown. Hallman is in her third year while Brown will suit up for her second season at KU after a year at Northern Oklahoma Community College at Enid.
Hallman is the team’s top three-point shooter and has already cracked the KU top-10 all-time leaders in three pointers made and attempted, and three-point percentage. She has posted career numbers of 7.4 points and 3.3 dimes per game. As a sophomore, she dished a team-best 91 assists while committing only 45 turnovers to lead the team and rank third in the Big 12 in assist/turnover ratio.
“Erica is able to put the ball on the floor and with her, as with anyone who can put it on the floor, it will be about making good decisions. She’s got to be able to know when to create a shot for herself or when to drop a pass.”
Brown came to KU highly touted for her long range shooting but was used sparingly as a sophomore. With her impressive court vision and willingness to do the little things like taking charges, she has the ability to take on an increased role this season.
“Kaylee shot the ball pretty well this spring” Henrickson said. “We’ll try to run her off some screens and utilize her strengths.”
A pair of sophomores return including Smith and Rhymes.
Smith went down with an injury in the preseason and missed the first 10 games of the year as a freshman. She gradually worked her way back and became an important role player by the end of the season.
Rhymes, a redshirt sophomore, went through similar troubles with injuries prior to her freshman season and played sparingly last season. Both Rhymes and Smith are still working to become 100 percent healthy.
“Sharita’s got to get healthy, same with Alicia,” Henrickson said. “They’ve both got to work on quad strength. With Sharita, I like her speed and her quickness. She can knock down some shots but she’s had trouble staying healthy. Alicia was hurt all spring and we’ll need to see her healthy before we can really evaluate her.”
A pair of freshmen will be thrown into the mix quickly with the addition of Boyd and McIntosh.
Boyd is Henrickson’s first signee at Kansas and may be used on the perimeter or high post as she will provide some needed size. The winner of the prestigious 2004 Miss Basketball award in Iowa, Boyd posted 17.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for Underwood High School.
“Jamie came in for our summer elite camp so that was very nice,” Henrickson said. “She can score and has got a very good stroke. We’ll work with her on being harder to guard. She’s got to be multidimensional. She won’t be able to just sit and score like she did at the high school level, she’s got to be more creative.”
McIntosh committed early to KU and becomes the third player on the team from the state of Kansas. At Wichita Heights, McIntosh won two Kansas class 6A state championships. She scored over 1,400 points in her four-year career and led her team to an overall record of 89-8 in that time span. As a senior, she averaged 17.5 points, nine rebounds and three steals per game.