Kansas State coach Deb Patterson continues to heap praise on freshman Jessica Sheble, and for good reason.
The 6-foot-3 forward from Olathe has provided big minutes off the bench for Kansas State this season, providing some needed offensive punch at times and key defensive stops. On the season, the athletic forward is averaging nearly four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes a game.
(Kansas State freshman forward Jessica Sheble blocks a shot against Grambling State on Dec. 7 at Bramlage Coliseum).
Sheble had a season-high seven points in the home opener against Tennessee State and a season-best six rebounds in the Wildcats’ win over Grambling State. This past Sunday against UC Santa Barbara, she had four points, three rebounds and three blocks.
But as good as Sheble has been for the Wildcats in her limited minutes, Patterson believes she can be even better eventually.
Patterson doesn’t shy away from comparing the Sheble’s potential to former Wildcat Ashley Sweat, another long forward that could play inside and out.
“She’s versatile and smooth — can move in a variety of ways, has a flow to her game off the catch,” she said. “That makes her interesting to guard. I think she’s just at the baby stages of what she can be when her strength does elevate.
“I think she’s going to be on the caliber of an Ashley Sweat.”
No pressure. Sweat is only K-State’s fourth all-time leading scorer with more than 1,800 career points — behind only Brittany Chambers, Nicole Ohlde and Kendra Wecker.
“Offensively, I think she’s just got a ton of potential,” Patterson said of Sheble. “I want her to really step it up and really want to be that shot maker that I think she can be. She’s versatile and young in all aspects of her skills. The game is spinning around her right now. But if we can get her to have the game slow down some, really good things are going to start to evolve with her.”
Sheble is ready for that challenge, but knows she has a lot of improvement to make if she’s going to reach the same level of Sweat. For Sheble, that starts with becoming more consistent and really making the most of the opportunities she has.
“There are some games when I’ve brought really strong minutes to the court with rebounds, blocks and points, and then there are other games when I don’t have as many rebounds as I’d like, or I have too many fouls,” Sheble said. “Consistency is huge because you want be your best every time you get on the court.
“You have to fight hard for your minutes and work hard for the minutes you do get. It’s just about giving it everything you have while you’re on the floor.”
A big part of that is learning how to you your body too. Though Sheble is 6-3, she’s still relatively undersized in the paint when it comes to her build. She’s tall and long, but not always the strongest physically.
“I was nervous about that coming up here, because I’m not one of those big forwards,” Sheble said. “I knew I would have to get more weight on me, but being as big as I am, I think I’m more agile than some other posts. I’m really work on running the floor and finding my shot, so I can play inside and outside. I want to finish around the rim with quick moves and be able to step out and hit a jumper too.”
Sheble has been sharing minutes with fellow freshmen — 6-5 forward Bre Lewis and 6-3 Erica Young. She said working against Lewis and Young in practice has been beneficial in her development.
“Having Bre Lewis and Erica Young really helps because we go it during practice — we block each other’s shots, get angry with each other and compete. We’re all working to get better. It helps you fight harder when you have two players like that in the gym with you everyday.”
Lewis is averaging 5.3 points and 6.1 rebounds a game for the Wildcats, who play at Hampton on Saturday at 3 p.m. Ideally, Patterson wants to see Lewis and Sheble be able to combine for around 20 points a game at some point this season.
“Jessica has the potential for a significantly expanded role, because if we could get 18 or 20 points between her and Bre Lewis, that would make us a significantly better basketball team,” she said. “I think that’s an attainable standard for both of those two.”
Though Patterson believes Sheble’s offensive game will develop into something great eventually, she admits she has been somewhat surprised by her young forward’s improvement defensively, especially her timing on shot blocks.
“In high school, defense definitely was not my strong suit,” said Sheble, who has six blocks in eight games this season, including four in her last two. “But getting up here, defense was something I really wanted to focus on. As a player coming off the bench, you want to do well offensively, but getting it done on defense is huge too, so I’ve worked hard at it.”