Jayhawks meet the media, preview 2016-17 campaign

Coach Brandon’s Presser

LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the start of basketball season and Late Night in the Phog fresh on everyone’s minds, Kansas women’s basketball opened its doors to members of the media for KU’s annual media day on Monday, Oct. 3, inside Allen Fieldhouse.

The media-only event began with head coach Brandon Schneider’s preseason press conference followed by one-on-one interviews with the Jayhawks. Kansas will start practice for the 2016-17 campaign on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Below are quotes from Schneider and a few of the Jayhawks.

Kansas women’s basketball head coach Brandon Schneider
Opening Statement:
We’re really excited about the opportunity to build on the momentum that we’ve built this summer, especially in regards to our trip to Europe. I was really happy with a lot of things that I saw, both with team improvement, but maybe most importantly with the individual improvement that our players made, in particular our freshmen. It’s been said to me many times that we led the country in minutes played by freshmen last year, and it’s nice to see those young guys really develop and make some significant progress in their game.”

On playing a lot of freshmen last year and ones that made the most progress:
“I would say Jayde Christopher and Kylee Kopatich. Kylee spent a lot of time in the gym. She wasn’t happy with her 3-point percentage in particular a year ago. Now, that wasn’t all her fault. She played way too many minutes last year. For a player who needs to have their legs under them and that’s really got the opportunity to be a prolific 3-point shooter, she doesn’t want to hear that we have to get her minutes down. But 37, 38 minutes is a lot of minutes for anybody in the country, but especially a freshman. I think there’s some situations that we can do a better job managing, hopefully now that we have a little bit more depth.”

“And then Jayde really didn’t have a mid-range jump shot when she arrived on campus, and that’s something that we’ve worked really, really hard with her to develop. She’s so dynamic off the bounce and can get the ball in the lane. Last year, she was a little bit of an all-or-nothing player when she got in there, whether it was dropping it off or finishing it at the rim, and I think now she understands, especially with the size in our league, the value of having a mid-range or a floater game, if you will.”

On the payoff this year of playing some of the freshmen? I know you don’t want to have three or four on the floor at a time, but sophomore year, that experience:
“I think we started three freshmen and two sophomores a lot, and that’s not really a recipe for success, in particular in the Big 12. I do think that those are really valuable minutes that they gained, and they were thrown into the fire. I mean half of our team were freshmen. We didn’t have a lot of other options, but I am pleased with the progress that they’ve made.”

On the biggest challenge in bringing in somebody that’s a transfer trying to get them into the system and to mold them into becoming players:
“Two of them were here all last year in Jessica Washington and McKenzie Calvert. So they spent the entire season last year working in to things, but I thought they had really good summer with the 10 practices that we had in August in preparation for the Europe trip. I feel like they have a lot of experience already, even though it’s not on the court here in Allen Fieldhouse. And then in terms of the two front-line players, Sydney Umeri and Lisa Blair, it’s going to take them some time. Sydney was not here all summer. She had an internship with Nike that is kind of an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and going to benefit her long beyond her basketball career. We wanted to make sure she took advantage of that. And then Lisa was only here in July and played a little bit in Europe, not a lot. And Sydney didn’t play at all. So, October and November are going to be really big months for them.”

On the pace that the point guards and guards will play with:
“You know, the pace that we’ll play with will be quite a bit different. Jessica is going to play some point guard, but I think we can move her off the ball a little bit too. And then you talk about Jayde Christopher also being a point guard for us, the pace that they play with is much different than what we saw last year. I think you’ll see us throw the ball ahead a little bit more, and they’re both really dynamic and fast with the ball and can create not only their own shot, but create for others. McKenzie’s been really scoring in a lot of different ways, and I’m hopeful that McKenzie may be, along with Aisia Robertson would be two of our better on-ball defenders. McKenzie’s really got a little bit of that junkyard dog kind of mentality and can set the tone for your defense when you want to extend it.”

On the challenges of the transfers watching and not being able to play last year:
“I think so. There’s no doubt. It’s hard to go through that. You know, whether you’re a coach or a player or a transfer who’s sitting out, but those are learning experiences that we go through. And I’ll say this, I thought we got a lot better in the last three weeks, and I have tremendous respect for our players in that they never quit. They continue to get better. You know, maybe our performance in the Big 12 tournament, whether it was with the win over TCU or we’re in the game in the fourth quarter with Texas. I think we were down eight in the fourth quarter. That’s the No. 6 team in the country. And I just thought we really showed a lot of progress down the stretch when a lot of teams in those situations would have tanked it long ago.”

On who impressed coach as a potential leader:
“You know, I have to go back to Europe because I’m just not here a lot in September with the recruiting calendar the way that it is. But I do know that Jayde Christopher and Kylee Kopatich have been really vocal. And then our seniors, Caelynn Manning-Allen and Jada Brown. I think Chayla Cheadle is another player. I don’t know that right now we have just, hey, that’s our leader. You know, I think we need to get into October practices and get into some situations where some guys have to earn that.”

On what the team learned most from last season and any surprises:
“I mean we knew kind of what we were getting into. And I think I probably sat here about this time last year and reminded everybody that 68 percent of the scoring graduated with Natalie Knight, Chelsea Gardner, who’s a WNBA draft pick, and Asia Boyd and on down the line. We knew it was going to be very difficult for us to score. And then that’s compounded by the fact that we have so much youth and then a coach that’s trying to get to really know his personnel and his players. And I think that’s one area where we’re a lot farther ahead this year than we were last year just kind of knowing what we have and how we want to play and how those pieces fit together.”

On how Washington and Calvert will help the team this season:
“It doesn’t matter who we have on our roster, we will always strive to be a program that can have four guys in double figures. I mean that’s just how I think basketball should be played. You have to share the ball and you have to get it from a lot of different spots on the court. But those are two players — for us to have the kind of turnaround that we aspire to, those two are going to have to be some of our better scorers, there’s no question.”

On the DeBruce Center and original rules of basketball on campus helping in recruiting:
“We’ll find out in November when signing day rolls around. I am really proud of our staff, not only with the caliber of player that we’ve been able to bring to campus, whether it be on official visits or unofficial visits. I’m also really excited about the homes that we’ve been able to get to and get in and talk about our program and our vision. There’s lots of great things and lots of reasons that a young lady should consider coming here. And with the new apartments that are being built that our players are going to live in in the fall of 2018, I feel like we’re covering all the bases.

On the competition during the European tour:
“The first two opponents — well, the first two games, I should say, were against the same team, and that was the best team we played when we were over there. I think we won the first game by nine. You have no idea what to expect, there’s no scouting report. It’s basically, you take 10, I got 11 or whatever. And the next day we watched about 10 minutes of film and talked about some matchups, so we were able to be a little bit more prepared the second game. But there were two professionals on that team and there were players that were on some of the younger national teams, under 20, under 19 and under 18. The next two opponents, they were more like exhibition games, if you will. But we moved the ball and we shared it. Every game we had four people or more in double figures. We shot it well, shot in the high 30s from the 3-point line and shot over 50 percent from the field. I thought we played really, really hard defensively. But for basketball, to me the practices were the most important part. The travel and the chemistry and being around each other, you know, I think that’s really, really something that’s invaluable and something that you only get a chance to do once every four years.

On where the team chemistry is at now compared to last year:
“I think it’s a lot better. Not only within the locker room, but I also think players to coaches, just because we’ve gotten to know each other. I think they know kind of what they’re going to get from me and when I’m being serious or when I’m not. They took me pretty serious for a long time early in the year last year. And I think we’ve made a lot of progress in that area. I didn’t have a house and I lived in an apartment all last year while our home was being built. So the team’s not coming over and you’re not doing all those activities that are really, really important to me. And now, since March that’s been completely different, just from just here in town, the team building and the chemistry that we’re able to do, whether it be the players, the staff, and we kind of have a place now.”

Jessica Washington
On if she feels pressure to perform during the first game with all the hype about her:
“I don’t really feel any pressure. We’ve got great preparation and I’ve got a great group of girls behind me, to support me. Coach Brandon’s been really good. With all the practice and preparation, I really don’t feel as much pressure.”

Basketball 101 from Jessica’s perspective, what she does best:
“Get stops and push the ball. Share the ball, shoot the ball. Get layups and stops. It (Late Night) was really fun. Being in front of a crowd like that was an experience I’ve never been able to experience before here in the Phog. I’m really looking forward to this season, with these girls. It was a blessing.”

On how big of a leap this year’s team can make from last season:
“Honestly, actions speak louder than words to me. I can say we’re going to make a huge leap, and we really are, but I just want to show everybody and let them be a part of the experience.”

On McKenzie Calvert’s game:
“She’s a go-getter. She’s a dog out there. She’s a scorer. She gets stops on defense. I love playing with Kenzie. We’re all going to be defensively intensive this year, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Kylee Kopatich
On the transfer players adapting quickly to Kansas women’s basketball:
“When a freshman comes, you’ve got to kind of explain what the different things are that we have to do, but with transfers, they kind of already have a mindset about what is supposed to happen and when it’s supposed to happen and how hard you have to play in order to get minutes.”

On if the integration of those players has gone well so far:
“I think the overseas trip really helped us, because that was just 10 days of just us, together. I think it made the whole transition process a lot smoother for them and I think the season’s going to start off great because we all already love each other so much.”

On the next step for this team, this program:
“We’re going to play as hard as we can and that we’ll improve from last year.”

On if she’s in tune with the Big 12 this year and where teams are supposed to fall in place:
“Honestly, no. I think that we need to focus on what we can do better so that we can prevent some of what happened last year.”

On what she notices is different about the team due to the overseas trip:
“I think we’re in a lot better shape. We had that 10 days, so we already know all the plays. Usually we would use this first week to introduce all that, but we’ve already been introduced to all that a couple of months ago. It’s much easier and we can just jump right into it.”

Caelynn Manning-Allen
On Late Night in the Phog:
“I had some anxiety going into it, but it was definitely an amazing experience. It was definitely a lot more that came with it this time, especially for her (Jada Brown) since she hosted the men’s skit. Just getting out there and dancing, I was afraid I might mess up a move and I didn’t want to ruin it for everybody. I was right in the middle and I was the tallest in my group.

“It was amazing. I can honestly say that this was my favorite one of the four. The preparation we put into it, all the practices were all so much fun. We were blessed to have the Rock Chalk Dancers help up with that. It was amazing. I felt like the turnout was great and we looked good doing it. We’ve all gotten compliments from the performance, so I’m just happy for what we did.”

On this year’s team:
“We have a lot of personality on our team. The team chemistry is great, it’s amazing. I’m super excited to get into the season with these ladies.”

On the overseas trip helping create team chemistry:
“That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, honestly. Europe was amazing and it was my first time out of the country. Outside of playing basketball, we hung out a lot, we got to shop and just see the cities, just move around and see everything. It was so much fun.”

On this being year two under Coach Brandon:
“Obviously, coming into a new coaching staff is always nerve-wracking just because you don’t know the person, they don’t know you. You have to get to know each other, basically start over. That’s the vibes I got last year; I was going from being a junior to being a freshman. Just being around him all the time, we’re always at his house, and I feel like we’ve definitely built a bond. I’m excited to have him coach me again this year.”

On the last few weeks of the season last year differentiating from the team’s overall record:
“I feel like our last few weeks in the season were amazing. We were honestly learning to play well together. We had changed the offense several times, so we were really just trying to get a good feel for what we needed to do to be successful. I feel like this group that we have right now, with the amount of tempo that we have from Jess (Washington) as a guard, and the offense that we have, I feel like we have a really good shot at doing a lot better this season.”

On the next step for this team:
“The next step is to get into practice mode and working on everything that we’ve been preparing for up to this point.”

McKenzie Calvert
On what last season was like, having to sit out and not have a lot to cheer about:
“It was actually pretty good for me, I think, to sit out. I could see a lot of positive things from our team and we were super young, so I always cheered for them regardless if we won or lost. I was always happy for them because they were going to battle against the top teams in the country. Kylee (Kopatich) had a great breakout year her freshman year. It was hard for her to score sometimes just because she didn’t have a lot of people to get her the ball to score. I saw so much growth. Defensively, she was locking up Niya Johnson (of Baylor). A freshman’s not supposed to do that, but she did it. Chayla (Cheadle) and Jada (Brown) battling Nina Davis (of Baylor). So I always tried to pick out little things after the game. Chay might be upset and I was like, ‘You held Nina Davis to six points in the first half. Usually she has 20 by now. You’re fine.’ It was honestly a great experience for me.”

On herself and Jessica Washington being inseparable since their arrival at Kansas, and the hype around them:
“At times, it’s kind of overwhelming because people are always like, ‘Kenzie and Jess, Kenzie and Jess.’ But we always make sure to tell people it’s not the Kenzie and Jess show. Yes, we’re here. Yes, we were ranked in high school and we were highly noted, but we’re not going to win a single game without the 13 other people on the team. We’re not. Everybody has a role and everyone has to play their own role in order for us to be successful. Every piece comes together. We are attached at the hip, we workout together, we go to the gym together, we make sure we’re on each other about our academics—we’re in a lot of the same classes. So we are (always together) but our teammates are always included in what we do.”

On her hobby of coloring:
“Coloring probably started for me my freshman year at USC. I used to do it because our plane rides would be long coming from California. It was long flights everywhere, so that’s when I developed coloring.”

On if she continued coloring last year when having to sit out the season:
“It was kind of different when I was sitting out. I actually listened to music so I could get hyped and get them (her teammates) hyped for the game.”

On if she’s tried to talk any of her teammates into coloring:
“Actually, yes. In the airport, I started coloring and it was funny because Timeka (O’Neal) and Sydney Benoit started stealing my colored pencils and my pictures, tearing pictures out of my coloring book. It was cool that they wanted to color with me.”

On if sitting out last season helped her see the game from a more mental aspect:
“Definitely. I actually got to see what the smart plays are to make and how one bad thing can lead to another. Or, how one bad thing can lead to two positives. I also got to understand how Coach Brandon coaches and what he’s looking for in the offense and how he sees every piece fitting together.”

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