There’s no doubt the Kansas State women’s basketball team will go as seniors Brittany Chambers and Mariah White go this season.
It’s their team.
Chambers, a four-year starter at shooting guard, and White, who came into her own at point guard last season, will lead the Wildcats’ backcourt this season with the hope of getting K-State back to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
Doing that won’t be easy, though, as K-State has lost three starters, including both starting posts, leaving the Wildcats with a shorter, guard-heavy team.
While that can sound daunting when thinking about playing teams like Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma, the new-look Wildcats think the speedier, more athletic version this season, could actually work to their advantage — led by the two seniors.
“In the past we’ve really been a set-offense kind of team,” Chambers said. “We’re looking to play quicker and use the athletic abilities we have as an advantage to us.
“We want to push it more, and because we are undersized, we have to work with what we have, and that’s speed this year.”
In fact, the 5-foot-8 Chambers said the up-tempo style on offense fits her game better because it can help create more scoring opportunities for her this season, something that became a struggle in the second half of the Big 12 last season.
“There’ll be a lot of times when we have five players on the court that can shoot,” she said. “That’s going to be different for us. We obviously lost a lot of talent, but we also gained different strengths. Having five players on the court who can shoot the ball — I’m excited to play with that.
“I think it will help me and allow me to play more of my game.”
Chambers, who is the Wildcats’ top-returning scorer at 14 points per game, had to fight for every shot a year ago. The Jordan, Minn., native saw a dip in her field goal percentage and accuracy from 3-point range. As a freshman, Chambers buried 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip, followed by 37 percent her sophomore year. But last season, Chambers dropped to 31 percent. Her field goal percentage dropped from 43 percent to 35 percent.
A two-time All-Big 12 selection, Chambers made just 2-of-12 behind the arc in the Big 12 tournament then only 3-of-13 in the NCAA tournament.
Sometimes Chambers struggled to even got a shot off from the outside.
“I need to be more patient,” said Chambers, who led the Big 12 in 3-pointers made last season. “I think toward the end of the season I tried to do too much and it ended up hurting me and my team in the long run. I need to trust in the players around me to do that right thing when I don’t get the shot, because I’m not going to get the shot all the time.”
K-State coach Deb Patterson said Chambers’ late struggles behind the arc a year ago was partly due to personnel issues brought on by running a slower halfcourt offense that allowed teams to double-team the Wildcats’ most dangerous shooter.
“But this year, with so many who can handle the ball, I think we’re in a much better position in how we play to allow her to enter offense,” Patterson said. “I think we’ll be playing in a manner that will allow her to get catches. When you’re playing around two big post players, it slows the game down for your perimeters and this year, I think we’ll be moving all five around consistently.
“That will alleviate the pressure for the catch — people were switching onto Brittany and showing her two defenders on the catch… I think with how we intend to play this year, the game will be dramatically different for Brittany.”
The same could be said for White, who is often left unguarded on the perimeter. The Midwest City, Okla., native will now be expected to take that shot, forcing defenders to come out on her in the up-tempo system.
“I think it will help us both,” White said. “If I can make those shots, it will, of course, open things up for Brittany too. I think it will open things up for everybody.”
The Wildcats may be young this season, but it doesn’t appear K-State will lack leadership, thanks to Chambers and White.
For the two seniors, it’s the classic good cop/bad cop and something Chambers and White take a lot of pride in as leaders of this basketball team.
Chambers has never shied away from speaking her mind. She’s been in a position of leadership since arriving in Manhattan almost four years ago when she was thrust into a starting job as freshman.
“I’ll be the one who is more of the call-out, like, ‘you’re not doing it right and I’m going to show you how to do it right,’” Chambers said. “I’m definitely the hothead.”
White, while quarterbacking this team as point guard, hasn’t been as vocal. She’s naturally quiet, more reserved and lets her play on the court speak for itself.
“She’s not the vocal leader,” Chambers said of her partner in the backcourt. “She’s not the one that’s going to yell. She’ll be the one on the court showing energy, leading by example and being the encourager.”
Yet, this season, more might be required from the Wildcats’ only two seniors, as K-State welcomes six new faces to the program and prepares for life without a true post presence.
Knowing that, White’s growth into a more vocal leader began in the offseason.
“Last year, everyone could tell that I was quiet,” she said. “This year — it started this summer during pick up games — I’d try to make sure I was more vocal.”
Chambers is ready for the challenge as well.
“I’ve always felt like I could lead this team, and in some situations I have already, but this year, having it on my shoulders, I like that role and being that player my teammates can lean on and talk to.” she said.
Though Chambers can be more in your face than White, it’s a leadership style that’s sometimes needed with so many young players expected to contribute right away. Chambers knows that because it wasn’t all that long ago she was one of those players.
“The coaches aren’t always around, the coaches don’t see everything and they aren’t on the court with us,” she said. “So, somebody needs to step up and hold people accountable, and when you have someone like that, it makes everyone better.
“As much as they may not like it that day — I went through it my freshman year with Kari Kincaid — it will make them better. There were days I really didn’t like her. But in the end, she led me in such a positive direction by calling me out. It’s not just basketball. It’s being good people in life. I’m trying to be that person for them.”
But there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with the leadership responsibility as well.
“The pressure with that means that if I’m going to hold them accountable, then I need to hold myself accountable,” she said. “In the past, I’ve been a good leader on the court and been good in practice. But now I want to be the leader off the court, how I act, my actions, be that role model.”
Sometimes feeling can get hurt though.
“Yes, instantly they may feel something if you call them out, but as soon as we leave the court, we’re dancing, laughing and having a good time again,” Chambers said.
It’s that camaraderie that Chambers says could set this team apart when it opens the season Thursday with a home exhibition game against Fort Hays State.
“I’ve always been close with my teammates, but this team, as a whole, has never been closer,” she said. “We do group messages — a chat on our phones — talk to each other all day. We constantly talk to each other, we come in here, hang out Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never had that where all 13 of players are so connected with each other all the time.
“There’s not one person who doesn’t fit in with this team.”
And that’s where White comes in. While Chambers takes an active approach with her leadership skills, it’s White who is, in a way, the glue that holds it all together with her more passive, yet still effective leadership style.
“We even each other out, I think,” White said. “If I’m encouraging, then Brittany will be the bad guy.”