Mittie in a good spot with young roster

By Joshua Kinder

Jeff Mittie has only been on the job a week and there’s already a lot for the new Kansas State women’s basketball coach to get excited about when he looks at his new team.

K-State had the youngest team in the Big 12 this past season, and despite the coaching change, the Wildcats don’t appear to be losing any of their key returners for next year — including All-Big 12 freshman Leti Romero.

Mittie, who was officially introduced at a press conference this afternoon at the West Stadium Center, takes over a team that had its share of struggles — 11-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big 12 — but showed improvement throughout the season.

Despite the improvement, it wasn’t enough to save Deb Patterson’s job after 18 years at K-State — she was fired the night of March 7 following the Wildcats’ overtime loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. Now Mittie is tasked with seeing this young group through the coaching change and into a conference that’s going to look quite different next season.

“I have a vision already for how I want to play this group,” said Mittie, who came to K-State after serving as head coach at TCU the past 15 seasons. “That may change as I get them on the floor and work with them, but they have some really good pieces.

“This is a team that I really think has a tremendous upside.”

With Romero — who was ninth in the league in scoring at 14.2 points per game — the Wildcats are set to return nine players who started at some point this past season, including key freshmen, guard Kindred Wesemann, and forward Bre Lewis.

Like this past season, the Wildcats will have only three seniors, guards Ashia Woods, Haley Texada and Heidi Brown.

Also expected back are sophomore Bri Craig, freshmen Jessica Sheble and Erica Young, and redshirt-freshman Kelly Thomson, who recently underwent her second ACL surgery in as many years. Stacy Malone, who has battled injuries her first two years here could also be back.

“They have some good shooters, a point guard in Romero who can do some things with the basketball,” said Mittie, who grew up in Blue Springs, Mo. “I thought Bre Lewis was an outstanding talent who got better and better as the season went along. I thought she was maybe the most improved player in the league form Game 1 to Game 18. I’m excited to work with them.”

Mittie will be doing so in a Big 12 that loses some significant firepower next season. The top three scorers this past season — Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, Oklahoma’s Aaryn Ellenberg and Iowa State’s Hallie Christofferson — will all be gone. In fact, seven of the Top 20 Big 12 scorers are set to move on, as well as six of the Top 20 rebounders and four of the top seven assist leaders.

For young teams like K-State, especially one that saw significant individual improvements by the end of the season, next year’s new-look Big 12 could provide an opportunity for the Wildcats to make an immediate splash under their new coach.

As of now, Mittie intends to implement the motion offense he used at TCU, replacing Patterson’s set-based offense that ranked toward the top of the Big 12 in 3-pointers made nearly every season.

“Depending on the maturity of your team, motion is great if they know where the ball needs to get to,” said Mittie, whose Horned Frogs ranked eighth in scoring (63.2 points per game) this past season, just ahead of the Wildcats, who scored 62.2 points a game.

“Motion is bad if its an equal-opportunity offense… we need to know what our strengths are and that’s what we’ll be figuring out in the next six or seven months.”

Defensively is where TCU (18-15, 8-10) excelled the most this season — ranking second in scoring defense (58.7 points a game) and fourth in field-goal defense. The Horned Frogs, who primarily ran a zone defense, led the league in steals and blocked shots.

“We played a lot of zone, disguised a lot of it, using a 2-3, some man-to-man and a 3-2,” Mittie said. “We played the most zone as anyone in the league and were in the Top 20 defensively.

“We will change for personnel if we have to because we have to find out what we can and cannot do.”

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