Kent State added two transfers from strong junior college programs and a 6-2 post player from Long Island in the April signing period.
IJAH FLETCHER, a 6-2, 225-pound post from Hicksville High School in Nassau County, New York. She averaged 20.8 points a game as a senior, sixth in her county, which is one of New York State’s largest. I couldn’t find any other complete stats, but looking at box scores, she often had double digit rebounds. One game she had 21 rebounds and 16 points. An opposing coach called her “one of the top inside threats in the county.” She was honorable mention all state as a junior; I couldn’t find New York’s 2018 all-state teams online. Her high school team was 14-7.
The Flashes needed another post player. Their top three forwards in 2017-18 — leading scorer Jordan Korinek, McKenna Stephens and Zenobia Bess graduated. Top returner is 6-4 Merissa Barber-Smith, but she didn’t play the second half to he season because of a medical issue. As a sophomore, she showed potential to be a stronger rebounder and defender. Rising sophomore Amanda Sape, who is 6-3, also returns, but she played only eight minutes all season and scored one point. Sape averaged a double-double in high school but had shoulder surgery last summer and didn’t practice until just before the season started. The only forward among recruits who signed in November is 6-2 Lindsey Thall of Strongsville, who averaged 13.5 points and 7 rebounds as a senior and scored as much from the outside as the inside.
SYDNEY BRINLEE of Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas, is another post, albeit a somewhat undersized one. I saw her listed variously from 5-10 to 6 feet. She was the second leading rebounder (7.3 per game) on a junior college team that went 35-1 and lost in the Division II junior college national semifinals. She averaged 8.8 points a game on 50.2 percent shooting. At Latta High School in Ada, Oklahoma, she averaged 11.1, 8.8 rebounds and three blocks a game in her senior year on a team that went 24-8 and reached the state quarterfinals. I’m pretty sure she’s the first Kent State player from Oklahoma.
JESSEE WALLIS is a 5-10 guard from Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. She played on a junior college team loaded with players with Division I ambitions, and competition for playing time apparently was vicious. Wallis was injured a good portion of her freshman year and averaged 2.6 points per game last season. During her senior year at Rhea County High School in Evansville, Tennessee, she averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game and scored 23 points in a Georgia-Tennessee all=star game after her senior year. She’s supposed by be a good shooter who worked to improve her ball handling and defense at Walters. Her team went 30-6 and reached the final eight of Division I junior college tournament.
Researching Wallis and Brinlee gave me a little bit of a picture into top-tier junior college basketball. Both Walters State and Highland Community colleges are consistent major junior college powers.
At Walters State, only one player averaged in double figures on a team that scored 71 points a game; six averaged between 5.9 and 9.6 points. And this was team that won 30 games. The idea, it seems, is to give everybody exposure to four-year university coaches.
In an interview with Wallis after she signed with Kent State, Wallis’s hometown paper called the junior college “cutthroat basketball.” Wallis herself said it was “probably the hardest two years of basketball I’ve ever played.”
“Everyone is trying so hard not only to win but also trying to grab the attention of coaches,” she said. “These last two years have just been incredibly competitive the entire time.”
Brinlee started 35 of the team’s 36 games at Highland but averaged just 18.4 minutes a game. Twelve players averaged more than 10 minutes.
Wallis will be fighting for playing time at Kent State, too. KSU’s top three returning scorers are Megan Carter, Alexa Golden and Ali Poole — like Wallis, all shooting or wing guards. One of the Flashes’ best incoming freshmen is Hannah Young, a four-time all-state player in Virginia. At 5-10, wing will be her logical position in college. Another freshman is 5-11 Annie Pavlansky of Lakeview High in Cortland, who averaged 21 points per game her senior year. Also in the mix is 5-11 Monique Smith, perhaps the best athlete in last year’s freshman class.
In the story about Wallis’ signing, Kent coach Todd Starkey said: “We already have some great dynamic guards, but we were looking for junior college players who could come in and provide some experience and great leadership. We know Jessee can do that and more for us.”
It’s very hard to evaluate what impact April signees will have on a team. An overwhelming majority of the best players sign with colleges before the beginning of their senior year; they often verbally commit as much as a year earlier. I can’t remember the last time a late signee played a major role any time in her career at Kent State.
Junior college players are a different story. Because the forward positions are so wide open for the Flashes, I would guess Brinlee will play significant minutes. That need may create an opening for Fletcher, too, and Sape will in effect be repeating her freshman year.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if, with all those 5-10 and 5-11 wings, we saw some four-guard offense for the Flashes in 2018-19.
Two players transfer
Starkey had three scholarships to offer because two reserves on last year’s team have left the program.
One was Tyra James, a 5-11 wing who sat out two of her four seasons in Kent with knee injuries. She blew out one knee the week in the last week of practice before the first game of her freshman year. She came back the next season to be the team’s third-leading scorer. Last season she hurt the other knee before official practice started in October.
This season she was about the third person off the bench in non-conference play, barely played in the first 12 conference games, then played more than 20 minutes in five of the last six games. James had a lot of athletic ability. In the one year she played for former coach Danny O’Banion, she was often the one with the ball in her hands at the end of a close game. But she tried to make things happen so much that she almost always struggled with turnovers. She never quite clicked in Starkey’s system, either.
O’Banion mentioned her in the same breath with Korinek when she talked about that recruiting class, which was the former coach’s best. Had she not been hurt, things could have been different for her and the Flashes. My contact with her was always good; she worked hard to come back after every injury.
The other transfer out is Kasey Toles, who played in 11 games as a freshman, mostly in the non-conference season. She hurt her ankle early in MAC play and wasn’t on the bench for much of the end of the season. She scored 10 points in her Kent State career. Toles is the sister of Kent State assistant Morgan Toles.
The 2018-19 Flashes
So barring someone leaving the team late, here’s the roster for next season:
POST: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith, 5-11 junior Sydney Brinlee, 6-3 sophomore Amanda Sape, 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall, 6-2 freshman Ijah Fletcher.
GUARD-FORWARD: 6-foot junior Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, 5-11 freshman Annie Pavlansky, 5-10 freshman Hannah Young,
SHOOTING GUARD: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden, 5-7 junior Megan Carter, 5-10 junior Jessee Wallis, 5-11 sophomore walk-on Margaux Eibel.
POINT GUARD: 5-6 sophomore Erin Thames, 5-3 freshman Asiah Dingle, 5-foot freshman Mariah Modkins.
By class, it’s:
- Freshmen (6): Thall, Fletcher, Young, Pavlansky, Dingle, Modkins.
- Sophomores (4): Sape, Smith, Thames, Eibel.
- Juniors (4): Poole, Carter, Brinlee, Wallis.
- Seniors (2): Golden, Barber-Smith.