RCW: WBB primed for 2017-18

2017-18 Kansas Women’s Basketball

Hawk Talk
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In his third season at the helm of the KU women’s basketball program, Brandon Schneider added seven newcomers including three freshmen and four junior college transfers, to the Jayhawks’ roster for the 2017-18 season. Kansas matches its group of seven newcomers with seven players returning from Schneider’s last season’s squad.
The three freshmen are joined by redshirt sophomore Tyler Johnson to round out the underclassmen. Johnson, who is in her third season as a Jayhawk, sat out last season after suffering a knee injury. The freshman and sophomore group will all appear in KU’s front court, filling an important role for the Jayhawks.
While not a member of the 2017 signing class, Johnson leads the underclassmen with two years of experience on the roster. As a freshman, Johnson led the squad after shooting 50 percent (75-of-150) from the field. The Leavenworth, Kansas native was the first rookie to lead the team in field goal percentage since Carolyn Davis in 2010.
“Tyler is our most skilled post player, there’s no question about it,” said Schneider. “She’s an excellent passer, she does a great job finishing around the rim with both hands and (her) range extends to about 17 feet.”
After a season-ending injury sidelined her, Johnson utilized her redshirt year.
“Tyler is still trying to get in the kind of condition that is required not only at this level, but especially in Big 12 play,” Schneider said. “If she continues to make strides there, I think she could play significant minutes for us.”
Bailey Helgren, a 6-5 center, came to Kansas after prepping at Edina High School in Edina, Minnesota. While at Edina, Helgren earned all-conference honors in 2015 and 2016. She also served as the team captain during her senior campaign.
“I think Bailey is someone who really had a good summer, and fall for that matter,” said Schneider. “She’s still a young player who has a lot to learn, but she has represented herself as somebody I think will have an impact on our team this year. She has a chance to really develop into a nice frontline player for us.”
Next up in the lineup of newcomers is Rayville, Louisiana product Micaela Wilson. The 6-3 forward prepped at Rayville High School, nabbing all-state honorable mention honors in 2014 and 2015. Wilson earned first-team all-conference honors and was named conference player of the year in 2016 to top off her high school career.
“Micaela is very gifted offensively and she knows that she has got a lot to learn on the defensive end,” Schneider said. “I think as she learns more about our scheme, our philosophy and develops the same kind of pride that she does in the other end of the floor, I think she has a chance to be an impact player. She is definitely a player who can make shots and has a really good basketball IQ on the offensive end.”
A 6-5 center from Plymouth, North Carolina, Brittany Franklin is the final member of the freshman class. While at Plymouth High School, Franklin was named conference player of the year and helped lead her team to a conference and regional championship.
Ahead of the upcoming campaign, Franklin suffered a knee injury that will sideline her indefinitely during the 2017-18 season.
“I think now we have to plan as if we’re not going to have Brittany (this season),” said Schneider. “If we get very deep into the year and she ends up using her redshirt season, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for her. With her length and her athleticism, I thought she had just started to turn the corner in terms of catching on to how we want to play and what her role could be.”
The junior class makes up nearly half of KU’s roster with six Jayhawks, including four newcomers to the program and two returning players.
Kylee Kopatich, a 5-10 guard out of Olathe, Kansas has emerged after two seasons with Kansas. She averaged a team-best 29.2 minutes and totaled 286 points, good enough for second on the team, during her sophomore campaign. Throughout the 2016-17 season, Kopatich had 15 double-digit scoring efforts, including 11 in Big 12 Conference action.
“She’s doing really well on expanding her game and trying to be more versatile,” Schneider said. “I think she’s really improved in her ability to move on to the next play. As a young player, she struggled with plays that didn’t go her way it got in her head a little bit, but she’s done a much better job of understanding that next play mentality. Obviously, she’s someone who we’re counting on for leadership, but also for production in every phase of the game.”
Six-foot-three center Chelsea Lott looks to increase her role on the Jayhawk roster in the 2017-18 season. As a sophomore, the Fresno, Texas native appeared in 20 games with three starts, scored 21 points and grabbed 33 rebounds.
“She’s in the best shape of her life,” Schneider said. “I’ve had people tell me that they don’t recognize her so she’s worked really hard in that part of her game. We need her down there with that big group because she’s gotten lots and lots of reps over the last few years so it’s good to have her go first in those drills so the other players can see how it’s done.”
Schneider brought in four community college transfers to complete his junior class, the largest class for the Jayhawks. All four will be available to play this season.
The first of the junior newcomers is guard Christalah Lyons. The Dallas, Texas native played two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas where she led the Cardinals to a 61-10 record, including a 30-6 record during the 2016-17 season that ended in a loss in the national championship game. Lyons averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game in her final season as a Cardinal.
“You just don’t recruit junior college players with the idea that they’re not going to play,” Schneider said. “Christalah’s our point guard, especially with Jessica’s injury, and I think that she knows that.”
Lyons is prepared to step into a vocal leadership role in her first season with the Jayhawks.
“She’s a really quiet kid, but I think she is learning that she has to be vocal when she’s on the court, she’s got to command her troops,” Schneider said. “She’s a much better shooter and finisher around the rim, other than Jess, than who we’ve had here in the last few years. She is going to be a player that we look to help fill that scoring void that we lose with Jess this year.”
Six-foot forward Austin Richardson, a Lee’s Summit, Missouri native, joins the Jayhawks from just down the road at Johnson County Community College. Richardson left the Cavaliers with numerous accolades including NJCAA All-America First Team honors, a Kansas Jayhawk Conference MVP title and is one of only four JCCC players to record over 800 points and 500 rebounds in their career.
“Austin is a player who we recruited to come in and really impact our team in a positive way. I think with Jessica’s injury she becomes that much more important,” Schneider said. “It’s looking like we’re going to have to play her at a couple positions. I know that she can guard in our league and rebound in our league. She’s got to continue to find her niche within our offense, but she was recruited with the idea that she would come in and really provide us with some good minutes.”
Brianna Osorio, a 5-8 guard from Las Vegas, Nevada is another junior college standout who Schneider expects to have a large role on Kansas’ 2017-18 squad. During her time at the College of Southern Idaho, Osorio was named a NJCAA All-American and Region 18 Player of the Year. As a sophomore, she averaged 15.4 points, 5.9 rebound and 3.9 steals per game.
“She has a really good feel for the game, a very high IQ and good vision,” said Schneider. “She’s a player who’s going to have to play more point guard now. She won’t be our primary point guard, but I think whenever Christalah is not in the game, I think that’s a role that Bri is going to have to take on, kind of that combo guard role. She’s going to have to shoulder a little bit more of the scoring load. She’s a really good defender with long arms and she’s going to play a bunch for us. She’s going to have a lot to do with the success of our team.”
The final member of the junior class is Sara Boric, a native of Kator Varos, Bosnia. After spending one season at North Carolina State, Boric joined the Northeast Oklahoma A&M roster where she started all 32 games as a sophomore. Her large presence at the center position helped NEO to a 28-3 record, an OCAC championship, a Regional II championship and an appearance in the NJCAA National Tournament in 2017.
“She’s in the competition for minutes at the post position,” Schneider said. “Sara wasn’t here in the summer so I think she’s playing a little bit of catch up not only from a conditioning standpoint, but also from a knowledge standpoint and understanding offensively and defensively some of the things that we do in the summertime, so she’s playing catch up. We needed size desperately. We’ve felt like we added that and now we’ve got good competition for minutes at that spot. I think nonconference play will be really important especially for Tyler and Bailey and Sara and even Chelsea.”
Leading Kansas this season is the four-member senior class, the only group with all returning players. These four student-athletes will guide the Jayhawks both on and off the court in the 2017-18 season.
The 2017 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Jessica Washington served as a leader for the Jayhawks as a junior and looked to continue that leadership role in her senior campaign. The All-Big 12 Second Team member was poised for another successful season as the Jayhawks’ point guard, but an unfortunate season-ending knee injury will keep her sidelined for her senior season.
“It’s disappointing, I feel terrible for her,” Schneider said. “But she’s really had the right kind of mindset and approach, just a few days off of surgery.”
As a junior, Washington led the Big 12 with 19.3 points per game in league action with 16-of-18 double-figure scoring efforts in the process. Her offensive presence was key in the Jayhawks 2016-17 campaign, leading the team with an average of 17.1 points per game.
“We want to give her the ability to have some decisions to make and that starts obviously with trying to put in a waiver for her to get a clock extension and get a sixth year,” Schneider explained. “As soon as we get the waiver in and get an answer from the NCAA then Jess and her family are going to hopefully have the ability to have a choice as to what her future holds.”
Six-foot forward Chayla Cheadle has contributed on and off the hardwood since she first stepped onto campus as a freshman and is looking to continue making an impact in her final season wearing a Jayhawk uniform. The Columbia, Missouri native started all 30 games, scoring 141 points and pulling down a team-best 141 rebounds during her junior season. Cheadle reached career-high marks in both scoring and rebounding during the 2016-17 campaign, netting 21 points (8-of-12) shooting at Memphis (11/20/16) and grabbing 16 rebounds against in-state rival Kansas State (2/25/17).
“She spent a lot of time in the gym over the summer and she’s shooting the ball a lot better (because of that),” Schneider said. “She’s going to be an important piece of our team (this season). We’ll play her a little bit different (than last year) in that we’re going to have her play a couple different spots.”
Two former community college standouts round out Schneider’s senior class for the 2017-18 season.
Eboni Watts, a 5-6 guard, came to Kansas by way of Tallahassee Community College. Last year, she appeared in three games, averaging five minutes per game during her first season with Kansas, but Schneider sees a larger role for Watts in her senior season.
“Eboni is another player who has really made significant changes in her body, her strength and conditioning and her approach to that,” said Schneider. “I think that right now Eboni needs to understand that her role could be much different with Jessica’s injury. She’s part of that perimeter group who needs to be ready at a moment’s notice and needs to practice that way.”
A Smith Center, Kansas native Sydney Benoit rounds out the 2017-18 senior class for KU women’s basketball. Benoit helped lead Hutchinson Community College to a pair of national runner-up finishes during her two years with the Blue Dragons. The 5-10 guard played a career-high six minutes against Rhode Island (12/11/16) last year, but Schneider sees a role bigger and similar to Watts’ for Benoit’s final season at KU.
“I think she’s right in that boat with Eboni – their roles can change in a matter of minutes based on fouls, based on injuries and they need to be ready to come in and contribute,” Schneider said.
The Jayhawks will look to follow the Tough and Together mold and leadership that these four seniors helped to create under Schneider throughout the 2017-18 campaign.