The last time coach Deb Patterson started four freshmen, Kansas State’s current foursome of young starters were barely even 10-years-old.
Until last Friday’s regular-season opener, the last time the Wildcats had four freshmen in their starting lineup was 2005, a group that included JoAnn Hamlin, Marlies Gipson, Danielle Zanotti and current assistant coach Shalee Lehning.
Those four led K-State to the WNIT championship that season, while Gipson, Zanotti and Lehning later helped the Wildcats capture the 2007-08 Big 12 regular-season title.
Patterson is hoping the youth movement this season with freshmen starters Kindred Wesemann, Breanna Lewis, Leti Romero and Erica Young goes on to do great things for the Wildcats as well.
So far, so good for K-State, which opened the season with a pair of victories last weekend over Tennessee State and Charlotte. The Wildcats take the show on the road this weekend when they travel to play UTEP on Saturday at 3 p.m. in what will be K-State’s toughest game so far.
“We’re young and in order for us to be great, we have to come in and do extra stuff, maybe more than the average team,” Young said. “We have a lot to learn and we learn something new all the time. We just have to get into the gym and work harder to be better.”
And though Romero has received a lot of the early headlines with the sizzling start to her career — including Big 12 Freshman of the Week honors on Monday — Young may not be too far behind.
A 6-foot-3 forward from Tampa, Fla., Young has emerged as one of the Wildcats’ more versatile talents, able to play on the inside and the outside with legitimate rebounding ability.
“It’s rare to have a player like her here at K-State,” Patterson said this week. “The explosiveness, the wingspan, her ability to go snatch rebounds, the potential she has to be a great drive player from 15 feet and her ability to post people up is something we haven’t had.
“We’ll line up against players like that… they’ve been wearing the other jerseys. Now, we’ve got a young one in Erica who we believe has fantastic upside.”
Young scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds, blocked one shot and came away with one steal in the Wildcats’ 85-53 victory over Tennessee State last Friday. She followed that with five points, five rebounds and a block in K-State’s 73-65 win over Charlotte on Sunday.
“She’s gaining more and more confidence day-in and day-out,” Patterson said. “It was very challenging for her at first to take in all the offenses and to remember things. Then she started to embrace that, but then wasn’t playing aggressive because she was overthinking out there, and then she starting letting the aggressiveness come.
“She’s really coming along and her game is growing almost every day. Its fun to watch.”
Young came to K-State after a stellar career at Tampa Bay Tech High where she averaged 19.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game as a senior. She chose the Wildcats over multiple offers, including Charlotte, which was in her final two.
Acknowledging some awkwardness during the Wildcats’ game against Charlotte last weekend, Young said he’s confident she made the right decision.
“I went on my visit to Charlotte and it was the best — I’m not going to lie,” said Young, who was rated as the 70th-best forward nationally by ESPN Hoopgurlz. “I had so much fun, but I just didn’t see myself fitting into their program the way I thought I could here. I made the right choice.”
Young chose the Wildcats for several reasons, but a big factor in her decision to play here was K-State’s need for immediate help inside. The Wildcats played the final half of last season with only one forward — Chantay Caron — and she’s only 5-11.
“I only got to watch one of the Baylor games last year — against Brittney Griner of course — and I saw Chantay was having a hard time out there, like everyone,” said Young, who visited Baylor during the recruiting process. “I used to play against Brittney in AAU and I wanted to play against her so bad at this level. But now we’re the team with a lot of height and we’re learning to take advantage of it.”
Young is one of three sizable post threats to join the Wildcats this season — including 6-5 Lewis and 6-3 Jessica Sheble. A team in so much need of height — and healthy bodies — a year ago, has now become one rich in size and depth.
“They needed height — and I saw myself getting a lot of playing time as a freshman here,” said Young, who scored 10 points in 11 minutes off the bench in the Wildcats’ first exhibition game victory against Washburn. “After my visit, I knew I would fit into the program here. I’m glad I picked K-State.”
And as good as Young has been so far, there’s still much to learn — as there is with all five freshmen.
“It’s been a big adjustment, but when you can see improvement on the court it makes it worth it,” Young said. “Practice is hard. It’s not easy at all. I still make a lot of mistakes. It’s like ‘Erica, Erica, Erica,’ all the time, but I see that they see potential in me and want me to do better.”
She’s right. Patterson has big plans for Young.
“She’s strong, super athletic and explosive,” Patterson said. “And she’s going to be a great defender. She runs the floor and will able to go get us layups — she has great speed. She plays very hard in the lane, so once she establishes some good, strong offensive moves, she’s going to become a good scorer.
“Her rebounding and her explosiveness have begun to emerge, not just on the boards, but also on offense on catches. I’m seeing her improve in a lot of different areas.”