Not only did the Kansas State women’s basketball team have a difficult time getting to the free-throw line a year ago, but when it did, the Wildcats had a hard time making shots.
That was just part of an offensively-challenged squad last season that saw the Wildcats rank at or near the bottom in every offensive category in the Big 12.
New head coach Jeff Mittie can’t fix all the shortcomings of a year ago in one offseason, but one place he started was in his team’s ability to get to the line.
“I didn’t feel like we were able to get enough pressure on the rim last year — it wasn’t good enough,” he said Tuesday during a small media gathering at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
K-State (11-19, 5-13 Big 12) attempted a league-worst 515 free throws last season — 21 fewer than the next team — Texas Tech — and 102 fewer than Kansas, which was eighth. Making the problem worse were the Wildcats only connecting on 67 percent from the stripe, also last in the Big 12.
The Wildcats’ best free-throw shooter was freshman point guard Leti Romero, who was 99 of 128 from the line (77 percent), but she’s now at Florida State after transferring this summer.
Enter Deborah Meeks and Antoinette Taylor, a pair of junior college guards who joined K-State this summer — Mittie’s first two signees he hopes can add some depth and athleticism to the Wildcats’ backcourt.
“There just weren’t that many opportunities (to get to the free-throw line) and so when we looked at some players who were available late, these two were able to do that at the junior-college level,” Mittie said.
“Can they take that to the next level? That’s a different level, a different challenge, but they’ve come in and worked hard. We were able to add some pieces I think will make us better.”
Taylor — a 5-foot-7 guard from State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo. — averaged nearly 16 points a game last season, while making more than 75 percent of her free throws.
Meeks — a 5-8 guard from Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas — joins the Wildcats after scoring 9.6 points a game and leading Trinity from behind the arc (77 of 218), helping the Cardinals to the NJCAA national title with a 36-1 record.
At the least, the addition of Taylor and Meeks adds a certain level of maturity to a team that was the youngest in the Big 12 a year ago and only has three seniors — Haley Texada, Heidi Brown and Ashia Woods — this next season.
“When you have such a young team, you’re bringing in kids with a lot of game experience,” K-State associate head coach Brian Ostermann said about the two junior-college guards. “Having been a junior-college coach myself, even a junior-college player is going through half a year, at least, of an adjustment period. It’s no different than a freshman adjusting to the speed of the game, the size and strength of the game.”
“They’ve played 60 more games in the junior-college setting, and for the most part, against better players, or certainly more mature players,” Ostermann said. “That helps them and their learning curve might be shrunk down a little bit because of that.”
Ostermann, who previously coached the men’s programs at Colby Community College and Missouri State-West Plains, said a benefit in adding mature junior college players like Meeks and Taylor is that you’re adding young people who have already experienced adversity in their lives — something that translates well to a young team that includes six sophomores and one freshman next season.
“They’re at junior college for a number of reasons and I’m not quite sure any of those reasons are any good reasons,” said Ostermann, who spent the last six seasons as an assistant for Mittie at TCU. “They either weren’t good enough and became better, they were too big and clumsy and then they became more agile and their game developed, they weren’t academically-inclined, so they went to brush up on their academics — you have a lot of issues as to why they were there.
“But because they made it out, they certainly showed the ability to adjust and overcome some obstacles in their lives.”
Now they’re sure to face even more adversity in their adjustment to the Big 12.
“Out of the 35 games they played last year as junior-college players, 30 of them were blowouts,” Mittie said. “The competition level every singe night, every single day in practice is totally different. So much of what they have had to go through — which is what I’ve been very pleased about with these two — is that they have to learn to work everyday.
“Every JUCO player I’ve ever signed has gone through that. And right now, the summer is the easiest part. Wait until we get to October, November and December and then we’ll see.”
That adjustment doesn’t just take place during games, either, but at practice as well.
“They don’t always realize how good the competition is at Kansas State, and while they’ve overcome a certain area, they’re still like a high school kid in that they are now are going against 12 other players at practice everyday that are on a Big 12 scholarship,” Ostermann said.
“Take Hutchinson junior college, which has won about 90 games and lost three the last three years — 70 to 80 percent of their roster will never be at a division-I school. They have three (who signed).
“Here at Kansas State, everybody is a Big 12 player.”