Cats start early with Italy trip

By Joshua Kinder

If you told the Kansas State women’s basketball team this is football season, the Wildcats would probably disagree.

After all, K-State is getting ready to play some basketball in August — today, in fact — when the Wildcats meet the Italy All-Stars in Como, Italy.

This morning’s game marks the first of three in 10 days for the Wildcats, who departed for Italy on Friday — their first International trip since 2008 when K-State traveled to the Czech Republic and Austria.

K-State will play the Vicenza All-Stars on Monday in Mestre, which is just outside of Venice, and then wrap up the tour with a game against ASD Bull Basket on Aug. 17 in Rome.

“It’s really fun to think we have three games ahead of us in the two weeks and knowing our players are already focused on bringing accountability to competing,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said this past week.

Playing three games in August is already a head start for the season, but for the Wildcats, being able to spend 10 days in the gym prior to their trip could mean even more for a team that added six freshmen in the offseason.

“This is a priceless experience for them, in many ways,” Patterson said. “From a basketball perspective, these 10 days of practice have been huge. We got a little bit of a jump mentally, system-wise, and competitively. And they’re going to get a good, competitive lesson in these three games in Italy. We’re going to play under FIBA rules, so it’s a faster game, and you’re going to play against women, not girls. It’s going to be extremely physical.

“Getting these types of games now will do nothing but help us in the long run.”

The Wildcats, who were 19-18 overall, advanced to the WNIT semifinals in March, despite playing the final 19 games of the season with just seven players. Five of those Wildcats are back — including returning starters Haley Texada, Bri Craig and the lone four-year senior Chantay Caron. K-State will also get redshirt-freshman guard Kelly Thomson and senior forward Katya Leick back, who both missed last season with ACL tears. Ashia Woods, Ashlynn Knoll and Stacy Malone are still recovering from their injuries suffered last season.

It’s early, of course, but it doesn’t seem the Wildcats will have a depth problem next season, thanks to what could be one of K-State’s better recruiting classes in recent years and the added bonus of getting players healthy. The most noticeable difference in the Wildcats today is their size. A year ago, K-State didn’t have a single player taller than 5-foot-11. That’s won’t be the case next season, though, as the Wildcats added 6-5 freshman forward Breanna Lewis and a pair of 6-3 forwards Jessica Sheble and Erica Young.

“It’s a different feel with the number of bodies, the youth, the diversity of their skills and their size,” Patterson said. “It’s been months and months and months since we’ve walked into the gym and encouraged them to pass the ball inside on every catch and have someone there who can actually catch it.

“It was drive it, and if you went to the rim, it was very rarely on a pass, and we were very dribble-oriented, shooting a ton of 3s. It’s a very different mindset now.”

Texada, a junior who is expected to handle the bulk of the point guard duties when the Wildcats get underway for real in the fall, said she is still adjusting to having options inside.

“I love the height,” said Texada, who averaged 11.8 points a game last season. “We’re not used to being able to lob it in there and seeing someone go up and get it. Erica has been crashing the boards and Jessica goes up and gets it too. It’s very different, but good to have.”

The Wildcats also added three guards — Jai Murphy, Kindred Wesemann and Leticia Romero — who didn’t make the Italy trip because she’s still playing for Spain’s junior national team in Europe.

Craig, who averaged 8.3 points a game as a freshman a year ago, said he hopes the young players understand the significance of getting a jump of the season in August.

“I would have loved to had the opportunity to be on the court with the coaches earlier than I did because I think its helps with the transition in learning the plays, the defensive technique and adjusting to this level of basketball,” she said.

“It’s a great head start for them.”

Yet with all the positive things taking place right now for the Wildcats, who were perhaps the unluckiest team in the Big 12 last year, it doesn’t change the fact that do-it-all guard Brittany Chambers and point guard Mariah White are now gone. Not only the loudest voice for K-State, Chambers averaged a career-best 21 points per game and led the Wildcats in rebounds and 3-pointers. White, in addition to leading the Wildcats in assists, was also K-State’s best defender.

Caron, who was the Wildcats’ best option inside last season at 5-11, said she’s ready to be the vocal leader this team needs.

“They prepared me for this, reminding me Brittany and Mariah wouldn’t be here this year, like, ‘Chantay, you need to step up,’ putting me in situations where I could lead and have a voice,” said Caron, who averaged 6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds last season. All of us — not just me — were kind of thrust into that in some ways a year ago because of our numbers. I’m ready and excited.”

With a good mix of returners and a crop of young talent now on board, Patterson said she’s promise for the upcoming season, but her Wildcats have a long way to go before the grind of the Big 12.

“We’re so far from where we need to be for the season, but this team is very committed to learning and they’re very hard workers,” she said. “Those two things are what you hope for right now. You can build on those things.”

The Wildcats will open their season Oct. 28 at home with an exhibition game against Washburn. The regular-season opener is Nov. 8 when K-State hosts Tennessee State.

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