Wings, guard and point guards: Lurken and lots of competition

Every player who started at guard last season for the Flashes returns.

KSU’s only true freshman is a guard. Megan Carter, one of last year’s top recruits, returns from a knee injury that knocked her out of last season after three games.

So there are lots of possible combinations for new coach Todd Starkey as he starts looking for his eight- or nine-player rotation for the upcoming season. In an interview last week, Starkey gave early impressions of his roster from the two hours a week the NCAA allows him to work with players on the court in the off-season.

Full-scale practice starts Monday, and KSU’s first game is Nov. 11 against Bradley.

Our last post talked about post players. Today, the rest.

Shooting guard and wing

Most coaches call these the “2” and “3” position these days. The 2 guards tend to be outside shooters and drivers to the basket. 3 guards do the same but tend to be taller and at times will post up along with crashing the offensive boards. “1” guards are point guards, and we’ll talk about them separately.

KSU’s guards start with Larissa Lurken, who will become the first four-year starter for the Flashes since Bob Lindsay graduated his entire starting line-up in 2011. That was also Kent State’s last winning team (20-11, second in the MAC East).

Lurken almost certainly will become the Flashes’ first 1,000-point scorer since Jamilah Humes, who graduated in 2008. Lurken has 911 points going into the season. She was KSU’s second-leading scorer (behind forward Jordan Korinek) last season at 13.9 points a game and led the Flashes in scoring in 2014-15 at 11.1 points a game. She’s led the team in minutes played in both the last two seasons and was a team captain as a sophomore.

Lurken has been the team’s only consistent three-point threat throughout her career, but she hasn’t ever had a great shooting percentage — 31 over her career. She can be streaky — last season she made 7 of 8 three-pointers while scoring 37 points against Northern Illinois, then 2 of 13 in the next three games combined. And other teams concentrated on shutting her down because the Flashes had no real alternative. In 10 of KSU’s 29 games, she got off five or fewer three-point shots.

Starkey knows she’s a key component. “She certainly has ability as a shooter,” he said. “We need to get her better looks.” That likely will come from Lurken setting screens, then peeling off as a shooter. (Starkey repeatedly mentioned screens as a key to his offense this season.)

Sophomores Alexa Golden and Tyra James started with Lurken last season. At 5-11, James is a classic wing or 3 guard who can score on drives, jump shots and three-pointers She was the Flashes third leading scorer and rebounder. She’s a player who tries to make things happen, which also led to her leading the team in turnovers. Starkey called her “sneaky athletic” and the best on the team at slashing to the basket.

Golden was KSU’s defensive specialist last season. “She plays at as high an (energy) level as you could want,” Starkey said. “She’s learning where we want her to be on defense.” At times last season, he said, she seemed to be so aggressive that she got out of position. The coach also said she had “more ability to shoot than she gets credit for.” Golden tied with James as KSU’s second leading three-point shooter last season (but just 15 baskets). She averaged about 16 points a game as a second-team all-Pennsylvania player in high school.

Ali Poole was the only recruit signed by former coach Danny O’Banion last year. She was a second-team all-Ohio player at Carrollton High School, where she averaged 18.5 points a game and was conference player of the year as a sophomore and as a senior. Starkey talks  of her as the outside threat who could take some of the pressure off of Lurken. Poole, who’s 5-11, had 39 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, six steals and four blocks in a district tournament game.

Keziah Lewis was a big scorer at Ellsworth Community College but scored only 2 points in 9 minutes per game last season. Starkey said she showed potential as a “fourth big guard.” She played mostly in the wing last season.

Point guards

O’Banion never really found a strong point guard in her four years. She had ball handlers who didn’t score — Mikell Chinn, who led the MAC in assists — and scorers who weren’t strong ball handlers — Ashley Evans, who led the team in scoring  and turnovers in 2014.

Last year’s starters were 5-6 Naddiyah Cross, who averaged 9 points a game through KSU’s first five games and less than 2 points for the last 24. She lost her starting job late in the season to walk-on Paige Salisbury, who never looked fast or flashy but steadied the offense and kept turnovers down. Starkey talked of Cross as a capable guard who needs to learn to take the right shot — and cut down on turnovers. Salisbury, he said, can be a better shooter than she showed last season and might find some time in that role.

Sophomore Taylor Parker (“quick on quick,” Starkey said) still wins every sprint in practice. But she needs to learn more on changing pace and ball control, where she struggled last season.

The unknown factor at point guard is redshirt freshman Carter. She was one of the better guards in Michigan in high school, when she averaged almost 19 points a game her senior year. Carter had off-season surgery on a knee and a shoulder but is fully cleared for practice. “She’s a playmaker with the ball in her hands — perhaps the most effective on the team,” Starkey said. Because of missing so much time with injuries, “she’s got to make up some ground.”

Right now, Starkey said, it’s still “point guard by committee, as it seems to have been.”

But the coach said the offense likely will de-emphasize point guard as the primary ball handler and the player who always starts the offense.

“We’ll play to our strengths,” Starkey said, “and we do have some. What we need to be is the best version of us we can be.”

Last season’s statistics and this season’s roster.


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