McKenna Treece knows all too well what Leti Romero is going through right now.
While Romero is awaiting the verdict from the appeals committee regarding her request for a release from Kansas State today, Treece is finally able to move on and begin focusing on her future, one she hopes is a little less drama-filled than the past six weeks.
Treece signed a National Letter of Intent with K-State back in November with Salina’s Shaelyn Martin and Overland Park’s Lauren Mertz — a decision that was more than a year in the making for the 6-foot-3 forward from St. Peters, Mo.
But everything changed on March 9 when head coach Deb Patterson was fired from her post at K-State after 18 seasons, leaving a tidal wave that’s still wreaking havoc on the women’s basketball program in April.
With Patterson out, so was the rest of the coaching staff — one that had just brought in one of more talented group of freshmen the program had seen in years, highlighted by Romero, who was an All-Big 12 selection in her first season, and is now trying to leave — first reported by The Mercury on Tuesday morning.
Treece — a three-star recruit — was supposed to be part of the next group to call Manhattan home, until Patterson was fired following the Wildcats’ loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City.
“I was in shock and it took a while to let it set in,” Treece said Tuesday night. “There were some tears because I didn’t know what I was going to do and because I was worried about them and what they were going to do.”
Treece’s father, David, was equally shocked by Patterson’s seemingly abrupt dismissal.
“Bottom line, McKenna chose K-State because of the coaching staff,” he said. “We were disappointed in the way the whole thing was handled. It showed a lack of appreciation for 18 years of service and told us they don’t care much about people. So why would they care about my daughter?”
One thing was certain, however, Treece wasn’t interested in staying at K-State, no matter who the new coach was. She filed a request for a release from her Letter of Intent following Patterson’s dismissal, before Mittie was even named head coach, but it was promptly denied by K-State athletic director John Currie.
“We were very upset,” David Treece said. “Deb, Coach (Kelly) Moylan, Coach (Kamie) Ethridge and Shalee Lehning, all of them, we felt like, ‘good grief, there’s nobody there we know and that we would feel comfortable with our daughter spending time with.’
“We spent 15 months getting to know this staff and developing that relationship and then we were eight weeks away from sending her there for four years.”
Like Romero, Treece also felt a strong connection to the previous staff. It was the reason she chose K-State.
“The bond was gone,” Treece said. “I wanted to play in their environment, for them, and I knew another coach wouldn’t be able to replicate that, so we decided it was best to get the release before they even named a new head coach.”
David Treece said he was attracted to K-State because of the family feel the women’s program had under Patterson.
“When we met with them, they opened the university up to us like it was their home and invited us in and treated us like family,” he said. “They treated my daughter like family. We developed a relationship.”
“When Leti came in, we saw the same thing. They would take care of Leti to make sure she was comfortable because she didn’t speak English well in the beginning and she was very far away from home. I felt like we were sending our daughter five hours away from home to be around other people who would continue caring about our daughter the way we do.”
But since the initial request was denied, Treece and her family decided to visit with Mittie about getting released. He too wasn’t so willing to part ways, in the beginning, according to David Treece.
“(Mittie) said he wanted the opportunity to recruit McKenna and I was very sincere when I told him, ‘if you grant us the release, that would put us on even playing ground so we don’t feel like we’re held hostage,” he said. “We will open our door to you and give you the opportunity to recruit her.’
“And then we were denied for a couple weeks. It took a couple weeks of negotiations, deal-making type stuff.”
Romero told The Mercury on Tuesday that she was offered a deal by the K-State compliance office to stay another year and then if she still wanted to leave, she would be granted her release.
“They said they offered the same thing to Angel (Rodriguez) from the men’s team,” said Romero, who is to meet with the appeals committee today at 2. “If I would stay another year and still didn’t want to play for K-State anymore they will give me a release without a problem, but not this year.
“They said you have two options. You can stay another year and get your release and you won’t have to pay for your scholarship or you can go to the committee and try to win it. I think that’s blackmail.”
For Treece, the deal was more of a verbal understanding that if she were to be granted her release, there would be conditions to it.
“On paper, it’s a full release — we have a full release and are fully released to do what we want, but there are ‘understood’ conditions, all under-the-table stuff,” David Treece said. “I was told by Mittie, he told me himself, that he didn’t want to coach against her, he didn’t want to scout against her and he didn’t want to play against her.
“If you’re a true competitor, then welcome the challenge of competing against someone. Why is he afraid of one girl?”
McKenna is just happy to be moving on, though she hasn’t decided on a new school just yet.
“When we were trying to get the release, we didn’t feel like we had a lot to bargain with, and now that we have it, we’re very relieved that we’re able to look at some other schools and that we’re headed in a good direction,” she said.
“I still wish I had the opportunity to play for (the previous staff), but I have some good opportunities now too and I really excited for the future. Everything is working out.”
Due to student-athlete privacy laws, the K-State athletic department cannot comment on the matter.