KSU recruits Casey Santoro (photo from a tweet from her father and coach) and Lexi Jackson (from KSU Twitter feed).
Kent State signed the two Class of 2020 recruits it had expected on Wednesday, and both look like strong additions to the Flashes for next year and beyond,
Wednesday was the first day high school players could sign a national letter of intent and the first day coaches could comment on their new players. Both players had tweet earlier that they planned to sign with Kent State.
The new Flashes are:
5-4 guard Casey Santoro
She’s a two-time first-team all-state guard from Bellevue High School, which is about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. Santoro was district player of the year both her sophomore and juniors years.
She averaged 21.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 4.0 steals per game during her junior year and 22.5 points as a sophomore. Santoro last year scored 40 points in a game where she made 10 three-point shots.
“What I love first about Casey is her toughness,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said in an interview Wednesday. “She’s hyper competitive and a very smart player. She makes players around her better.
“As a point guard, she’s a phenomenal shooter. So you can’t help off of her; you have to know where she is at all times.”
Starkey said KSU had watched Santoro in high school and AAU basketball for several years.
“She was a player that we wanted in our program. She came to campus, enjoyed it and committed,” the coach said. “Sometimes a fit just happens quickly.”
Santoro is 5-4, about the same size as current sophomore point guard Asiah Dingle.
“She’s feisty,” the coach said “She doesn’t back down from anybody, I’m a results coach. I don’t care what their size is.”
Bellevue last season went 24-3 and was ranked eighth in the state in Division II. It lost in the regional finals. The team has won nine straight championships in two different leagues and five district titles in the past six seasons.
Casey is the sister of Carly Santoro, who was an all-MAC player for Bowling Green. Carly graduated early and transferred to Ohio State, where she started last season. The Santoro sisters’ father, Kory, is Bellevue’s head girls coach. A younger sister, Corey, is a junior on the Bellevue team and was second-team all-district last season.
6-4 center Lexi Jackson
Jackson is either 6-3 or 6-4, depending on what website you’re reading. She was a third-team member of the Pennsylvania Sports Writers 5A all-state team last season. One recruiting service ranked her the third best power forward in Pennsylvania.
At Gateway High School in suburban Pittsburgh, she averaged 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks a game last season. In one game, she had a triple-double of 37 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks.
“When you see her walking in the door, she has a presence with her size, ” Starkey said. “As you with her play, you really feel like her best basketball is definitely ahead of her. She’s still kind of learning how good she could be. I think she’ll just grow in her confidence and strength in as she goes through her senior year and gets here next year.”
Her team finished 19-4 last season, won its league title and lost in the regional quarterfinals.
Jackson had offers from at least four other mid-majors, including Western Michigan and James Madison, according to TribLive, a Pittsburgh online news site.
How they fit in
Kent State will lose seniors Megan Carter, Ali Poole and Sydney Brinlee to graduation. Carter was KSU’s leading scorer last season and was a preseason all-MAC East player this year. Poole has played both forward and wing and started 19 games last season. She was the team’s fourth leading scorer at 8.8 points a game but currently is limited because of a knee injury. Brinlee is a reserve forward who averaged five minutes a game last season and probably will play more this year.
Besides the two incoming freshmen, next year’s Flashes will have 6-4 Indiana transfer Linsey Marchese, who can practice but not play this season because of NCAA transfer rules. Marchese was a highly ranked high school recruit out of Georgia who was recruited by Starkey when he was an Indiana assistant. ESPN ranked her as a three-star recruit and the 14th best high school center in the country. Marchese was a backup at Indiana, averaging about 11 minutes a game over two years.
She, Jackson, current 6-2 freshman Nila Blackford and current 6-2 sophomore Lindsay Thall will give the flashes as much size on the front line as they’ve had in my memory.
“It’s going to be really good for both Lexi and Linsey to have to play against each other in practice every day,” Starkey said.
Santoro will have a chance to compete to replace Carter. Starkey has shown that he has no problem with playing two point guards together. But Santoro will have lots of competition; current freshman Clare Kelly was one of the best shooters in Ohio in high school. Current sophomore Hannah Young was the team’s top backup at shooting guard and wing last season.
The two-person class is the smallest in Starkey’s four years at Kent State. He said he didn’t expect to sign anyone else in the early signing period but that the team was still recruiting for possible spring signings. Undergraduate or graduate transfers are common in this era, and most of them are announced in April or later.
The Flashes still have two open scholarships for 2020 — more if someone transfers out, which has happened the last two years.
KSU will graduate guard Margaux Eibel and forward Monique Smith in 2021. Neither has played major minutes for the Flashes. Their recruiting class was put together in just four months after Starkey was named head coach in 2015. Three other members of that class have left the team. Eibel was a walk-on who earned a scholarship.
When Jackson tweeted her verbal commitment to Kent State in October, I wrote that she was the third member of the new recruiting class. KSU coaches had tweeted of a commitment in June, but NCAA rules don’t allow them to name names until signing day. It turns out that recruit was Jackson.