Freshman Craig an early scoring threat for young Cats

By Joshua Kinder

There’s no pressure or anything.

It’s not like Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said freshman Bri Craig has the chance to become one of the best guards to ever go through the program.

But that’s exactly what she said, before the Wildcats even played their first exhibition game. The new hadn’t even been worn off her No. 20 jersey.

“Hearing things like that makes me feel good, that she has so much faith in me,” said Craig, who came to Manhattan from Lincoln, Neb. “I don’t want to let her down or any of my teammates down, so I need to continue to put in the work at practice.”

So far so good for the 5-foot-10 guard too. Through two regular season games, the niece of former NFL running back Roger Craig, is averaging 10.5 points per game — wins over Idaho State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

“I’m extremely high on what she’ll bring to the floor all year long and immediately,” Patterson said. “She is a one of those young people who is establishing that she’s going to be a (Shalee) Lehning or a (Brittany) Chambers — a freshman you can trust to put the ball in her hands from the get-go and help develop along the way. She’s already made that transition.”

Craig figures to be a mainstay in the Wildcats’ lineup this season that is looking to replace three starters. Her presence early has been especially key with the absence of Mariah White, who is still serving a restriction for offseason violations.

“She’s very coachable and very athletic and she is competitive,” Patterson said. “To this point in time, she’s pretty tough-minded. Now, she has a lot to learn, because she’s a freshman. But she and Kelly Thomson, in the early phases of our practices, were the freshmen who really stood out to me as getting it, really connecting the dots — making me feel confident I could put them on the floor and know what I was going to get.”

Craig had eight points and five rebounds in her exhibition debut for the Wildcats against Fort Hays State. It was a solid first game, but Craig did turn the ball over five times.

“I was really nervous,” she said. “Getting on the court and playing, I didn’t know what to expect coming from high school.”

Whatever nerves Craig may have had in her first game seemed to completely vanish before playing her second exhibition game against Washburn when she made 6-of-9 from the field — including 4-of-5 behind the arc — and finished with 17 points, grabbing six rebounds while turning the ball over just twice.

“I think she began to understand at a little higher level what we wanted and the sense of urgency we were bringing to the need for her to make some changes,” Patterson said. “Its going to be really important that our young players understand that sense of urgency from one game to the next, one day to the next. Something’s got to change to make you a little bit better, and I thought she got significantly more aggressive in the big picture.”

At the least, Craig’s second game showed a glimpse as to exactly the kind of player she could be for the young Wildcats. Maybe Patterson was right after all.

“I think that is going to be what Bri is ultimately going to be as a player,” Patterson said. “I think she’s versatile and every opportunity she has to be on the floor she’ll learn a little bit from her competition on how fast, how hard, how aggressive and how physical its going to be.”

Craig has shown the ability to shoot and drive for this team, but perhaps her biggest strength is that she’s minimizing her mistakes doing it.

“When you can say a freshman is minimizing her mistakes, while still showing herself to be athletic, that’s a real positive,” Patterson said.

The new fast-paced tempo K-State has turned to this season is also playing into Craig’s wheelhouse. Sure, she’d like to have some more depth inside in the always-tough Big 12, but right now Craig is really comfortable with the gameplan. She hopes her larger frame for a guard can help her adjust to the physicality of the tough competition she’ll soon see.

“I like getting up and down the court,” she said. “It’s fun to run, use the transition game. This is what I like to do. I like to play this way.

“I think being a bigger guard can be an advantage because of the physicality of this level too. Everyone’s big, everyone’s strong and everyone is athletic.”

Craig’s versatility and ability to score going forward could also prove beneficial for Chambers, who often struggled to find scoring opportunities a year ago.

“Bri is a great shooter and having someone out there they have to pay attention to takes a lot of pressure off of me,” said Chambers, who leads the Wildcats in scoring at 18.5 points per game. “It helps everyone, especially when Ashia (Woods) and Chantay (Caron) step out too.”

The Wildcats return to action on Tuesday when they play at Tennessee State at 7 p.m. and then at Charlotte next Saturday. K-State won’t play another home game until Nov. 30 when the Wildcats host Mississippi Valley State at 7 p.m.

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