The biggest thing we know about next year’s women’s basketball team is it will be very different from this year’s.
Three starters are gone, including Jordan Korinek, the Flashes’ leading scorer and one of the top players in Kent State history. So is McKenna Stephens, who started with Korinek at forward for most of the last three years,
Six freshmen are incoming, in what looks like the best recruiting class in school history.
It will be the first true Todd Starkey team. The coach inherited a complete roster his first season and won a MAC East championship with it. Every starter in the 2017-18 season was a Danny O’Banion recruit; none of the five freshmen Starkey’s staff brought in averaged more than 10 minutes a game.
That sure won’t be true next year.
I’m guessing three freshmen will start.
So the question of the next season is simple: Can Kent State win with freshmen, even very good freshmen?
First, let’s talk about the key players returning. They’re a solid base but can’t carry the team by themselves. Key people are:
- Senior guard Alexa Golden, who has started 76 games in her three years at Kent. You think of Golden as a defensive specialist, and that was her role for her first two years. She started to show more scoring at the end of her sophomore year (she led the team in three-point percentage) and in non-conference play this season, when she averaged just over 9 points a game. But she scored nine or more only three times in KSU’s 18 conference games. Part of that was because of her role shifted when Megan Carter returned to the lineup; part was the fact Golden played the last half of the season was severe shin splints. Golden is a critical piece for the 2018-19 team; she’ll likely be the main senior leader and anchor the defense. She also is a tenacious and determined rebounder for a 5-9 guard.
- Junior guard Megan Carter, the team’s second-leading scorer (10.2 points per game) and the first player off the bench this season. Carter was the team’s go-to perimeter player after she became eligible second semester. At times she was very good; at times she would miss 10 shots in a game.
- Junior guard Ali Poole, probably KSU’s most improved player this season. Poole was the only new starter on this season’s team and averaged 7.1 points per game, four points more than her freshman year. Her defensive was markedly better. Poole, like Carter, was a big scorer in high school.
Two other key returnees:
- Senior wing Tyra James, KSU’s third-leading scorer two years ago as a sophomore. James missed all of 2016-17 with a injury and barely played in the conference season until the last five games, when she averaged more than 20 minutes and eight points a game. James can have turnover problems and a tendency to try too hard to make things happen
- Senior Merissa Barber-Smith, the teams ‘s tallest player at 6-4. Barber-Smith missed the last 15 games of the season with a medical issue but told me late in the season that she planned to return. At times during her junior year she could be dominant in rebounding and defense and seems to play her best against tall and talented opponents. She’s the only post player returning with any experience. She’s never been a big scorer in college or high school.
Of the five freshmen who finished the season (one left after the end of the semester), point guard Erin Thames played the most minutes — 9.7 a game. But two of the incoming freshmen play the point, including the player of the year in Massachusetts. So Thames will have lots of competition for playing time. I still think the best of the class is Monique Smith, a 5-11 forward-guard from San Diego who averaged a double-double her last three years in high school.
As for the incoming freshmen:
- Start with point guard Asiah Dingle, the Boston Globe’s player of the year in Massachusetts. She’s 5-3 (I’ve seen her listed up to 5-5) and helped her team to three state championships in four years. 19.5 points a game, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals. “Most dynamic player in the state,” her coach wrote me.
- Perhaps just as good is 5-10 guard Hannah Young, who was Virginia’s Class 3 player of the year in 2016-17. She was first-team all-state for three years, second-team as a freshman and never averaged less than 17 points a game.
- Annie Pavlansky, a 5-11 guard-forward from Lakeview High School in Cortland. All-state third team as a senior, second team as a sophomore (she was hurt her junior year). Averaged 21 points as a senior, 19 as a junior and about nine rebounds a game throughout high school.
- Lindsey Thall, a 6-2 forward from Strongsville whose highlight film was as much three-point shots as inside moves. Strong rebounder and shot blocker (once blocked 14 shots in a game). “A program changer,” her coach says. With Korinek and Stephens graduating, Flashes will need her.
- Mariah “Ri” Modkins, a 5-foot point guard from Solon whose high school team was one of the best in the state. She averaged about 9.6 points and 4.6 assists as a senior and is tough on-the-ball defender.
The Flashes added two players in the April signing period — 6-2 post player Ijah Fletcher from Hicksville High School on Long Island and junior college transfer Jessee Wallis, a 5-10 guard from Walters State Community College, a perennial junior college power in Tennessee. Fletcher averaged about 21 points a game her senior year; Wallis was a 1,000-point scorer in high school. It’s very difficult to evaluate April signees; the best players usually commit before their senior years. I’ll have more on Fletcher and Wallis when I round up the senior-year performances of the recruiting class.
So here’s the roster. I’d think someone will be transferring out because I count 16 scholarship players, and the team can have 15 scholarships. I haven’t heard anything official; the new roster is posted at the start of summer, when the freshmen arrive.
POST: 6-4 senior Merissa Barber-Smith; 6-3 sophomore Amanda Sape, who scored one point as a freshman; 6-2 freshman Lindsey Thall; 6-2 freshman Ijah Fletcher.
GUARD-FORWARD: 6-1 senior Tyra James, 6-foot junior Ali Poole, 5-11 sophomore Monique Smith, 5-11 freshman Annie Pavlansky, 5-10 freshman Hannah Young, 5-10 junior Jessee Wallis. (I’ll explain the “guard-forward” in a minute.)
SHOOTING GUARD: 5-9 senior Alexa Golden, 5-7 junior Megan Carter, 5-10 sophomore Kasey Toles, 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 (5): Sape, Smith, Toles, Thames, Eibel.
- Juniors (3): Poole, Carter, Wallis.
- Seniors (3): Golden, James, Barber-Smith.
So what kind of team will next year’s Flashes be (besides very young)?
Without Korinek, it certainly will look very different on the court. She averaged 20 points a game; Kent’s offense went through her. There’s nobody remotely like that on next year’s roster. Even Thall is a very different kind of player.
That’s why I emphasized “guard-forward,” which may be more than the traditional wing. All of the players I listed have some size and most played some post in high school (though it’s a lot easier to be a 5-10 forward in high school than college). All have solid rebounding statistics at some point in their career.
I can see the team playing, at least some of the time, what coaches call a “four-out” — a post and four players on the perimeter. Ohio has played that kind of offense successfully for several seasons.
The team has a lot more outside shooters; it — I hope — is likely to move out of last in the MAC in three-point shooting.
I think the team will have considerably more speed and quicker hands on defense.
I’m sure Starkey and his staff have been retooling his offense and defense to reflect the new personnel.
A contender? Unlikely. A .500 team? Maybe. Better than this year’s 13-19 record. Maybe. With so much new, it’s impossible to guess.
The team is probably at least a year away. But Starkey is so high on the freshmen (as are their high school coaches) that I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen next November.