A new assistant, an award for another, and recruits for 2017 and 2018

Lots of stuff to catch on in Kent State women’s basketball — a new assistant coach, an award for another assistant, a new recruit for 2017, another for 2018 and a 2017 recruit that went elsewhere.

An assistant from the men’s side

Todd Starkey’s new assistant coach was a surprise — not because I didn’t know of Mike McKee or liked what I knew — but of whom he coached.

McKee was director of basketball operations for Kent State’s men’s team. He’s a former star on the men’s team and has been around the M.A.C. Center since he arrived as a freshman in 2005. After his playing days, he was a graduate assistant for the men’s team and became director of operations in 2011.

I know of only one other coach who made the switch from men to women.

That’s Starkey himself, who was an assistant on the men’s team at Division II Lenoir-Ryne University before being named head women’s coach there. Starkey held that job for 12 years before going to Indiana as an assistant for two, then becoming head coach at Kent State almost exactly a year ago.

I’m sure other coaches have made that transition; I certainly don’t know the background of all the assistants in the MAC, let along in country. But it’s unusual in this day.

Starkey and McKee — both of whom practically live at the M.A.C.C. — had offices about 30 feet from each other and struck up a friendship long before the assistant opening came up. Reading between the lines of press releases and other stories, I get the idea that McKee’s joining the staff in been in the works for a while. It makes sense that no announcement would be made while both teams were still playing.

McKee replaces Pat Mashuda, who was the first assistant Starkey announced last year. Mashuda was a former Division II head coach and a friend of Starkey from their days in North Carolina. Mashuda went on a leave of absence between semesters. He sometimes tweeted support for the team during the season, but it was clear as the year went along that he wouldn’t be back.

His absence made Kent State’s run to the MAC East championship even a little more impressive. The Flashes did it with just two assistants, with Fran Recchia and Morgan Toles working even longer hours and director of operations Alison Seberger taking on some duties of an assistant. A director of operations does a lot of the mechanics that keeps a team running — making travel arrangements, scheduling recruiting trips for coaches and visitors from potential players, and handling some interaction with the public like inviting high school teams to games.

Starkey has said McKee, a wing on the KSU men’s team, will work with post players. McKee and the other coaches are already off watching potential recruits at an AAU tournament this weekend.

I hope to interview him sometime once school is out.

Assistant Toles one of “Thirty under 30”

Toles was honored as one of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “Thirty Under 30” — an award for the best young coaches in the country.

Toles is finishing her first year as an assistant. She joined KSU after spending two years as a graduate assistant at Florida State. She previously had been a starting point guard for FSU and Auburn, where she attended for two years before transferring.

Toles worked with KSU’s point guards and helped steady a position that looked to be a problem spot going into the season. Junior Naddiyah Cross improved as a ball handler and redshirt freshman Megan Carter became a scoring threat and first player off the bench in the second half of the season. It was clear from an interview I had with the two of them before Kent’s WNIT game that both loved working with Toles.

Toles’ sister, Kasey, is one of five incoming freshman for the Flashes next season. She’s a shooting guard. Their older brother, Andrew, starts in the outfield for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Toleses are an amazing family of athletes. Father Alvin was a first-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1985 after playing linebacker and fullback at Tennessee. Mother Vicky played shooting guard at Hiawasse College in Madisonville, Tennessee. Uncle Johnnie Jones is the fourth leading rusher in Tennessee football history and played in the NFL and Canadian Football League.

Another of the “Thirty under 30” is Kylene Spiegel, a KSU assistant under former coach Danny O’Banion and now head coach at Lawrence Technological University, an NAIA school near Detroit.

A 6-1 forward for next year’s team

Starkey added 6-1 forward Kennedy Roberts-Rosser of Fairfield High School in Cincinnati to next season’s recruiting class. Because of injury, she played only 12 of her team’s 22 games and averaged 8.4 points and 4.3 rebounds. Her team finished 15-9; three players averaged between 8 and 10 points a game. KSU’s press release and a scouting report both described her an an athletic player whose speciality was defense and rebounding. You never know what to expect of a late signee; I suspect she won’t be a major contributor until at least her sophomore year.

Roberts-Rosser joins Toles, 6-3 center Amanda Sape of Bloomfield High School in Michigan, 5-10 wing Monique Smith of San Diego and 5-7 point guard Erin Thames of Hopewell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. I plan a post later this spring on their senior seasons.

One 2017 graduate Kent State didn’t get was Brelynn Hampton-Bey. She was a four-star point guard for Notre Dame Academy in Toledo who decommitted from Michigan last summer and had been called the best unsigned prospect in the Midwest.

Kent State (and about eight other schools) had recruited her hard. She visited campus in February and tweeted things had gone well. But she signed with Massachusetts of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Massachusetts coach is Tori Verdi, who had been the head coach at Eastern Michigan until last season.

Assuming no one transfers and McKenna Stephens follows through on plans to forego a last year of eligibility, the Flashes still have one scholarship available for next season. Besides a late high school recruit, KSU also could sign a transfer. Several hundred (literally) players across Division I have announced they plan to leave their current team. Or Starkey could hold the scholarship and use it in the 2018 class.

A shooting guard for 2018

The Flashes have their first verbal commitment from the 2018 class. Annie Pavlansky, a 5-11 junior shooting guard from Lakeview High School in Cortland tweeted in March that she will join the Flashes after she graduates. Pavlansky averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds before an ankle injury ended her 2016-17 season after 15 games. Pavlansky, who has already scored more than 1,000 points in high school, was second-team all-state as a sophomore and special mention this season.


  • Michigan, which knocked Kent State out of the WNIT with a 67-60 first-round victory, went on the win the tournament with an 89-79 triple overtime win over Georgia Tech in the finals. The Wolverines, who finished third in the Big Ten, had to be one of the last teams out of NCAA tournament consideration. They finished the season 28-9.
  • One of the assistant coaches the Flashes faced in Ann Arbor will be coaching a MAC rival. She is Megan Duffy, a former star at Notre Dame. Duffy had coached at Michigan for two years. Earlier she was an assistant at George Washington and St. John’s. Miami was 11-21 last season, 5-13 in the conference.  Coach Cleve Wright was fired at the end of the season.
  • Kent State picked up more academic honors after the season. Seniors Stephens and Larissa Lurken, junior Jordan Korinek and sophomores Alexa Golden and Paige Salisbury all received MAC all-academic honors. Players with at least a 3.2 average and who played in half of a team’s games are eligible. Lurken and Korinek, early named to second team Division I all-academic, also were distinguished scholar athletes in the MAC.
  • Former women’s basketball center Jessica Shields made it through two episodes of CBS’s Amazing Race reality TV series. Shields went by “Ellie” when she started at center for the Flashes. After she graduated in 2011, Shields became a Youngstown police officer. The Amazing Race is a competition among 12 two-person teams, with one being eliminated each week. In the April 6 episode, Shields’ team was eliminated after struggling with a delayed flight to Brazil, her partner getting sick, and then not getting the clue they needed to complete the challenge. She told Youngstown TV station WKBN that her next goal was a spot on the TV show Survivor.

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