Press Day and a scrimmage: Emphasizing defense on a team that’s ‘a work in progress’

The word from Kent State women’s basketball coach Todd Starkey is very consistent:

It’s a “work in progress.”

The team “has a long way to go.”

The players attitudes are good, but they’re having to learn a lot of new things.

Starkey has been at Kent State since April, taking over after Danny O’Banion’s contract wasn’t renewed after a 21-98 record in four years. Starkey had been an assistant at Indiana for the last two years after being head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina for nine seasons. He was NCAA Division II Coach of the Year in 2009 after leading his team to a 27-5 record.

Wednesday was preseason Press Day for both basketball teams, and Starkey, senior guard Larissa Lurken and junior forward Jordan Korinek met with reporters (maybe five of us). I also got to watch an intrasquad scrimmage for two hours earlier in the morning.

Defense is a watchword

More than I had realized, Starkey is a defense-first coach. The team shot terribly in the scrimmage, but the coach was more unhappy with his first team’s half-court defense. He repeatedly pushed them to play harder, talk to each other more, to deny drives and entry passes.

“You’ve got to make something else happen if your shots aren’t falling,” he told the group during a timeout. “You play defense, you rebound, you drive to the basket, you shoot foul shots. You can’t be a one-dimensional player.”

At the press conference, Starkey said his offense was flexible based on his players, but half-court defense was a “basic principle.”

Korinek, named to the preseason all-MAC East team last week, said one of the biggest adjustments players were making under their new coach was “switching from an offensive mindset to a defensive mindset.

White 52, Blue 52

The two squads played two independent halves with game officials. The white team —  pretty much the first string at this point — won the second half 29-26 while the blue won the first 26-23. (See what I meant about shooting?)

First five players on the court were the same people who started the most games last season: Korinek, Lurken, sophomore guard Alexa Gordon, junior forward McKenna Stephens and sophomore point guard Naddiyah Cross. In the second half, freshman Ali Poole, redshirt freshman Megan Carter and redshirt junior Zenobia Bess switched to white.

Those eight would be my best guess at the rotation right now, perhaps plus senior forward Chelsi Watson and 6-4 sophomore Merissa Barber-Smith. (Watson, who shot just 34.2 percent from the foul line last year, looked far more comfortable and made every free throw she took.)

The blue team actually led most of the scrimmage. White took the lead in the last minute, then didn’t let blue get off a shot in the last 12 seconds.

Nobody particular stood out to me. Stephens’s 15-foot jump shot worked at times, and she had a couple of nice steals. Poole showed some nice three-point touch — mostly on the blue team. So did Lurken.

Korinek did not have a good practice on either offense or defense, probably not scoring more than eight points (there was no box score). Without her playing well, this team will struggle.

Korinek: Three-levels of offense

Starkey is counting on his 6-2 forward, who led Kent State in scoring at 15.5 points a game last year. But he’s going to use Korinek somewhat differently that the strictly in-the-post style she played last season.

“Jordan is a very good three-point shooter for a post player,” Starkey said. “We want teams to have to defend her on all three levels — around the basket, where she’s accustomed to scoring, and in the midrange, with her face-up game if teams zone us. But then she can stretch the floor and bring post players away from the basket  because she can shot the three.”

A freshman shooter, a sophomore defender

At the press conference, Starkey mentioned Poole as a player who’s likely to make a significant contribution in her first year. He said Barber-Smith — the tallest player on the team — was the most improved player, especially on defense and in rebounding. “She’s making life tough on Jordan in practice,” he said, which is good for both of them.

More noise from the leaders

There was a long pause from Starkey when I asked him after practice who his leaders were.

Korinek and Lurken are the logical ones, but neither is naturally loud.

“They’ve both done a good job of coming out of their shell,” Starkey said at the press conference. “When you have players who do a good job of leading by example, they also have to step up and be vocal when it’s time. Leadership isn’t always the loudest voice, but I think their teammates are kind of craving their ability to lead. They’re improving in that area and will continue to get better at that, no doubt.”

Korinek, a woman with 662 points in two years and a 4.0 average in special education, said it doesn’t come naturally.

“Coach Starkey has been having leadership meetings,” she said. “It’s just becoming more confident. I know what to say. I just keep it back a lot, so it’s just working on expressing what I have in my head.

Lurken was a tri-captain as a sophomore and says one good thing is that almost all the team is back from last year.  “We know each other, and we know how to correct each other and how to speak to each other when we’re on the court,” she said.

Cleveland State for practice, Bradley for real

This weekend the team scrimmages against Cleveland State, a team it lost to by a 60-49 score last season. It opens at home against Bradley Friday, Nov. 11.

James is out for the season

Redshirt sophomore Tyra James, KSU’s third-leading scorer a year ago, is out of the season with a knee injury.

James, a 5-11 wing guard, missed her entire first year on the team with an injury to the other knee right before the season started.

She was hurt this fall before official practice started and had surgery about four weeks ago. She was was manning a clipboard on the sidelines at Wednesday’s scrimmage and actually was moving quite well on her feet.

James, one of O’Banion’s top recruits, started 12 games last season and averaged 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. When she didn’t start, she was usually the first player off the bench.

James was an archtype “3” position player (that’s current basketball terminology for the position also sometimes called a wing guard or small forward).

James could score in many ways — driving, posting up, midrange jumpers and three-pointers. She could even help bring the ball up court. (She also sometimes tried so hard to make things happen that she made mistakes. James led the team in turnovers and shot only 37 percent from the field and 53 percent from the foul line.)

So far in practice Golden, who actually started more games than James, and Poole have spent the most time in that spot in the lineup. Both are very different players than James; Golden is a defensive specialist and Poole more of a long-range shooter.

It’s possible for a player like James to petition the NCAA for what essentially would be a second redshirt season. That would allow her to play four full seasons. Both she and the coaching staff would have to want that; by that sixth year, she’d likely be well into graduate school.

Here’s the video of the full preseason press conference.

One comment

  1. goldenflash101

    It’s scary to think the team was offensive minded the last two years. I do like the defense first philosophy though. Too bad about James. I was looking forward to seeing her with a different coach. Oh well.


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