So how good will next year’s Flashes be, regardless of coach?

So what will Kent State’s new women’s head basketball coach have to work with?

Quite a bit, I think.

There’s more talent on the roster than on any team since Bob Lindsay’s 2011-12 team, which started five seniors and went 20-11. There more be more than even that. It was far from Lindsay’s best team, but most of us would take anywhere near that record at this point.

It all depends on whether a new coach can put the pieces together.

Let’s look at the likely roster:

The post

Rising junior Jordan Korinek was honorable mention all-conference. She’s on a scoring pace that’s similar to Lindsay Shearer and Dawn Zerman – two of the greats of Kent State women’s basketball history – and she’s done that on a team that scores far fewer points. Any coach would love to build a team around her.

McKenna Stephens, another rising junior, looked like an all-conference player herself in KSU’s MAC tournament loss. She seemed to hit every 12-foot jump shot she tried. She only got better as the season went along. I don’t think she’ll average near the 19 points she scored against Eastern Michigan, but if she could average 12, it would be huge.

Merissa Barber-Smith is the 6-foot-4 freshman who averaged six minutes a game this season. She saw some meaningful minutes late in the season and did OK in my eyes. Could she develop as well as Cici Shannon, KSU’s last 6-4 center? Barber-Smith may already be  stronger than Shannon was. There’s potential, but I have no idea how much it will be realized.

Zenobia Bess is a 6-1 junior transfer from Western Illinois and a graduate of Gahanna Lincoln High School. Her statistics both places weren’t huge – she played sparingly on a poor college team and was on a high school team with five Division I recruits. But outgoing coach Danny O’Banion told me on several occasions that Bess was sometimes the best player on the court in practice and someone with a high basketball IQ. O’Banion had no reason just to say that; it wasn’t for an article. Bess could be an X-factory on next year’s teams.

Chelsi Watson is the 5-10 (probably closer to 5-8) post player who most often backed up Korinek. Very much a blue-collar player, the junior college transfer was a hard worker and decent rebounder who could score on offensive rebounds. She has the highest vertical leap on the team. But at her size and skill set, she’s a role player. Most of the playing time Bess gets is likely to come out of her minutes.

Lacy Miller and Savannah Neace are 6-3 post players. Miller, who will be a senior next season was a walk-on last season who got a leftover scholarship as a junior. She played the opposing team’s post in practice and was a popular member of a close-knit team. But it’s unlikely she’ll be a factor next season; I also don’t know the scholarship was a one-year deal (technically all scholarships are, and who knows what a new coach’s attitude will be). Neace is a 6-3 freshman who suffered concussion symptoms before the season and had disabling headaches throughout the year. She didn’t play a minute. I don’t know if she ever will be able to. Before the season, O’Banion called her a “developmental project.” She was clearly the fourth of KSU’s four scholarship recruits this season.

Wings and shooting guards

Tyra James was the third of O’Banion’s “big three” scorers at the start of the season. A redshirt freshman who missed all her first year with a knee injury, she did finish third on the team in scoring but spent most of the second half of the season as the team’s first player off the bench. When I saw her in Kent’s exhibition game and season opener, I thought we were seeing KSU’s first member of the all-MAC freshman team in a long time. But she was inconsistent and had a tendency to force action, make turnovers and get down on herself when she didn’t play well. Still her statistics actually were a little better than Korinek’s were as a freshman. It’s hard to imagine any success for this team if she doesn’t develop into an above-average player.

Larissa Lurken has been through it all. She has started almost every game since she arrived on campus three years ago and has gone from a freshman who stood in the quarter and shot three-pointers to the clear leader of the team. She became an improved and different player every season and actually scored more on drives and foul shots this season than she did on distance shooting. She’s been Kent State’s only real three-point threat, something that’s hurt her and the team as opponents concentrated on her and ignored the rest of the perimeter. Whether it’s opponents’ defense or her own style, she can be very inconsistent. Two games after her brilliant 37-point, 11-rebound game against Northern Illinois, she went 3 of 15 against Miami. Still, any coach should love her as a senior leader.

Alexa Golden could have been on an all-MAC  freshman defensive team had there been such a thing. She was the key player in Kent’s pressure defense and match-up zone. She had at least two steals in 13 games and had five in one of the Miami games. Coaches had hopes she would score more, but she averaged 3.4 points a game. She did average 16 points a game in high school and showed some potential as a three-point shooter. A good coach can built a very solid team around people like her.

Keziah Lewis is the junior college transfer from New Zealand who averaged about 10 minutes a game. She was a big scorer in junior college but never scored much for Kent. I never quite figured out her role; her skill set is somewhat similar to Lurken’s and she usually spelled Lurken off the bench. Like Watson, I see her as a role player – not someone who will make or break the team like Stephens, James and Golden.

Ali Poole is the 5-10 guard from Carrollton High School who is – at this point – Kent’s only incoming freshman. She’s a big scorer – 18.5 points a game her senior year and more than 1,400 in high school. In a 100-29 tournament game, she scored 39 points, and had 13 rebounds, five assists, six steals and four blocks. She’s supposed to be a terrific leader. I’d say she’s Lurken’s heir apparent.

And point guard

And here is the position that will make or break Kent State and its new coach.

The Flashes definitely need a winner in this spot. O’Banion never found one. Her first (junior college transfer Ashley Evans) led the team in scoring (though at just 9 points) but wasn’t a great passer and had turnover problems. Her second – Mikell Chinn – was second in the MAC in assists but was such a minimal scoring threat that other teams barely guarded her.

This season we began with sophomore Naddiyah Cross, who played a lot last season when Chinn was hurt. Things started off well. She averaged about 10 points and five assists through KSU’s first five games and often drove aggressively to the basket. She seemed to be the key to the dribble-drive offense that worked well early in the season. Then I don’t know what happened. She never scored in double figures again. Her assist numbers were erratic – as many as 12, as few as 1 in games she played 30 minutes. She struggled with turnovers and fouls at times. I know she was banged up for a while during the conference season. But eventually she lost her starting job to…

Paige Salisbury, who was probably the only walk-on to start at point guard for Division I school. Salisbury was one of the best players in Brunswick High School history and might have gotten a Division II scholarship. Instead she walked on to Kent State last summer, paid her own way to summer school and became an integral part of the team. When she moved into the starting line-up, Kent started to play better – at least for a while. Salisbury isn’t fast and isn’t smooth, but she is steady. KSU’s offense – and, looking back, defense – worked better with her. Still, I just don’t see her as a long-term solution on a winning team.

Taylor Parker, a natural point guard from Detroit, is the fastest player on the team and showed potential a couple of times. But she often played out of control and made a lot of turnovers in the time she played. She’s a determined person – she tweeted early this month that she was going to take someone’s job away. In the best of worlds for her, a new coach could steady her.

Key person in this mix is probably Megan Carter, who was perhaps the team’s prize recruit this season. She was supposed to be as good on offense as Golden was on defense. She blew out her knee in the third game of the season and had her third ACL surgery (all on the same knee). She later had surgery to fix a shoulder she dislocated in high school and later reinsured in the Kent State weight room. She’s supposed to be on track to return to the court in June. Carter averaged 19 points a game in her senior year and had a reputation as a sure ball handler. Could she have the speed or Cross and the steadiness of Salisbury? Would she have made a big difference this year? Is she the key to next season? Ask me in December.

Will everyone be back?

A question during a coaching change is always: Are we going to lose players? O’Banion lost a key Lindsay recruit and eventually had a ton of transfers from Lindsay’s last recruiting class. She never at all clicked with the hand-picked point guard Lindsay was building the team around. And four of her own players – none of them key but a couple who would have helped – left the team after last season.

But…

Assuming the new coach doesn’t want to come in an clean house or comes in and immediately alienates players, I don’t see a lot of movement.

Everything I heard – from watching Twitter, from coaches, from players – said that this was a very close team. I think that at the very least, they’ll stick together to play for each other, the way soldiers fight for their buddies in the foxhole as much as they fight for their country. I get the idea that Ali Poole fits in that group as well as a high school student can.

James, Stephens, Bess and Carter have already used their redshirt year either because of previous transfer or injury. That makes it very hard for them to leave. Lurken is going into her senior year and is almost through KSU’s nursing program. The junior college players can’t easily transfer.

I see no reason a coach would want to force someone out. I know of no bad apples. And what new players is he or she going to bring in on April 1? Most 2016 recruits are long-since locked up.

The players know all the stuff I’ve written. They know the considerable potential they have and that a new coach with a new system could bring that out. They know what Bob Boldon did at Ohio with an inherited team in a not-dissimilar situation.

As I’ve said, I don’t know if Savannah Neace will ever be physically able to play college basketball. Being walk-ons, Salisbury and Miller have less of a stake, but they’ve been an integral part of a tightly knit group.

I could be wrong, but I think the roster on opening night in fall will be pretty much what it is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 comments

  1. goldenflash101

    I think your analysis is pretty much right on. The only thing I would add is that few if any of O’Banions players performed better than expected. For that reason, I am skeptical Bess would perform much better than she did at Western Illinois for example. A coach will always say a player who can’t play will really help next year. Nielsen told me at a women’s game that CiCi would be great and then, at least on offense, I saw a reincarnation of Tiffany LeFleur (did you know Lindsay proposed a wall on the Canadian border after she snuck in to keep it from happening again).

    That being said the coach they hire is ten times more important than the players they have. While the team was close to one another, my sources say the coach was not well liked or respected. The personality projected to the press/alumni/etc. that made her so popular when compared to Lindsay didn’t necessarily carryover to the team. My sources were university employees that had contact with players. I think that is what drove Lindsay recruits and some of her own later recruits away. Really the same issue Lindsay had the last few years of his regime. If you didn’t play a lot, it wasn’t worth hanging around. If the new coach can stop this turnover it will be a big plus.

    I do agree there won’t be a significant turnaround without an upgrade at point guard. We have plenty of candidates for the back-up but none for the starter. I can’t believe anybody on the roster is the answer because if they were they would have stood out enough to have started the season as the first stringer(unless the coaching staff was so bad they didn’t see it). Lindsay’s good teams had Burden, Smith and Zerman and they all arrived and started playing. No significant development was necessary. He never had anybody close to that level afterwards (maybe Willoughby?) and it showed. This league is a point guard league and we haven’t had a good one for awhile. The new coach and that position are the key to next year. The one good thing is it won’t take long to find out. By the time Conference season starts next January we will know.

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    • flashfanday1

      It’s clear everyone agrees, the PG spot could be the real turn around for this team. I continue to like this roster and I think its unfair to count any of the current PGs out or any of the players on the roster ( besides S. Neace and maybe Miller). Mainly because if you truly followed this past season, its clear O’banion did not allow any movement and leadership from the PG spot. I thought it also became obvious most of these players were going through the motions and when they did find inspiration it was for each other in spurts. A great PG has to be allowed to run the floor and attack the basket to open up the offense. More importantly, not be afraid to make a mistakes.

      I still believe in Cross as the leader, I also like Sailsbury for what she offers if she can shoot more and run faster but not as starting PG, and I still say Parker hasn’t had a real chance under O’banion. If Carter can come back from injury like new and grow she could continue what she started.

      I hope a coach shows up and allows players to play their game and excel at the things they’re good at within the confines of a properly constructed game plan.

      Most importantly the coach better be liked and respected by the players.

      How well do you perform, when your boss makes work hell for you? You never show up, even though you’re physically there. So I do agree the coach is really the true X factor.

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  2. Michael Carter

    I enjoy reading the WBB Flashes blog, especially since I am the father of Megan Carter and wanted more insight about the WBB program’s history. I wanted to correct an error in this, your most recent blog, and give you some insight on Megan “Megathon” Carter. Megan did not blow out the same knee that she experienced a tear and re-tear of her left ACL. She blew out her right ACL this season. I understand that you really don’t have adequate knowledge of Megan’s background so I will fill you in. At the age of 10 she was paid a visit from two big ten assistant Coaches, One from Michigan and the other from Michigan State. They continued to follow her through middle school and backed of a bit when she experienced her first ACL tear between her 7th and 8th grade years in middle school. As we know, injury can make people forget about you fast. In Megan’s case, power conference schools such as Minnesota, Michigan State and Kansas State regained interest in her at the start of her AAU season before her senior year but it was not enough time for them to get to know her and feel comfortable enough with her injuries. With that said, she had plenty of offers from MAC schools and will probably end up at one of them if this Kent thing doesn’t work. I can tell you this; she is the best point guard Kent has signed in a while. Barring injury, she will make a huge impact on this program. She has done it since about 8 years old, she has a gift and I pray that this program will benefit from it. She is also a chemistry major and will fall back on Med School if this basketball thing doesn’t work out. I have a feeling that she will do what she has always done. Exceed expectations! I look forward to reading your blog, especially as it relates to the next coach.

    If you want accurate information about Megan, please don’t hesitate to reach out c7cc@netscape.net.

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