Kansas State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie stopped short of calling his recent trip to Las Vegas a vacation.
“Working vacation” is the better descriptor, Mittie said. “Especially with the transfer portal.”
The Wildcats lost Chrissy Carr, their second-leading scorer and an All-Big 12 honorable mention from last season, to the portal April 13. Carr committed to Syracuse while Mittie was in Vegas (where, he admitted, he found time to play a few rounds of golf).
Mittie accepts roster turnover as a part of his college basketball’s new free-market reality. He pointed out that K-State can, has and will use the portal to its advantage. And while losing Carr hurts the roster, he’s confident that, between internal improvements and the five players he signed this offseason, the Wildcats still have a promising future.
“I don’t think any coach can sit here and say they know exactly how things are going to play out going forward,” Mittie told The Mercury last week. “But I like our team. I like what we’ve been able to add, and I look forward to getting back on the floor here in June.”
So begins what Mittie has deemed “the most interesting summer” of his K-State tenure, mainly because of everything Wildcats missed last summer.
The 2020 offseason took place during the throes of the coronavirus pandemic. Players participated in limited skill drills, Mittie said, but nothing more. No contact, no competition, no teamwork.
“Everything we did was not playing basketball,” Mittie said.
Now that the Wildcats are free of “most” COVID-19 restrictions, Mittie is excited to see his players, who will arrive in waves. The freshmen will arrive in early June; the returners will arrive the following week, and sophomore Rebekah Dallinger, the Wildcats’ Australian transfer from Miles Community College in Montana, will arrive later next month.
As of May 21, Dallinger the 2020-21 WBCA Two-Year National Player of the Year, still was quarantining after returning to her home country from Montana. She hadn’t even seen her parents yet, according to Mittie, but she hopes to get vaccinated before she arrives in Manhattan.
Once she does, the Wildcats can witness Dallinger’s versatile skillet up close. She ran lots of pick-and-roll in Montana, where Mittie said she displayed proficiency on pull-up 3-pointers and, if defenses defended the screens aggressively, downhill drives to the rim.
She boasts a quick release and made good use of it while averaging 25.8 points per game (most in the National Junior College Athletic Association) on 48.7% shooting and 42.9% from 3-point range last season. The 61 combined points she scored in two NJCAA tournament games gave Mittie confidence that her skills will translate against Big 12 opponents.
Mittie also received intel from a coaching friend in Australia who saw Dallinger play for Narrabeen Sports as a high school player. The coaching friend told Mittie that Dallinger is comfortable playing off the ball, too. And her overseas experience suggests a player mature beyond her years, which is why Mittie believes Dallinger could quickly help the Wildcats.
“I anticipate her being impactful,” Mittie said. “I like her aggressive mentality. The kinds of shots she makes will translate well to the Big 12.”
Thanks to connections in Denmark (“I’ve been lucky to travel, I guess,” Mittie said), Mittie also added Malene Pedersen to the 2021 class. Pedersen, whom her new coach thinks can play every position but center, averaged 19.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.6 steals for Aabyhoj IF last season.
Mittie called her a “stat filler,” and he likes that she played against older competition during her European career. He hopes that experience taught her how to maintain her body for a long season.
“The European (players) tend to be pretty advanced maturity wise,” Mittie said. “They’ve watched older players prepare and take care of their bodies.”
Perhaps Pedersen’s habits can rub off on the Wildcats’ true-freshman trio, which includes Serena Sundell, Brylee Glenn and Jaelyn Glenn.
Brylee averaged 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals while collecting 2021 Crossroads Conference Player of the Year and 2021 District Player of the Year honors at the Barstow School in Missouri. Her sister, Jaelyn, averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and almost two blocks while earning a McDonald’s All-American Game nomination, and 2021 all-district first team honors.
Mittie said both sisters are strong scorers and defenders. He called Brylee a “hard-nosed” defensive player and thinks Jaelyn could become a disruptive force thanks to her length.
Sundell should help raise the Wildcats’ 3-point percentage (30.9%), which ranked ninth in the 10-team Big 12 last season. Mittie says Sundell evolved from a shooter to scorer during her high school career. She poured in 2,358 points — the all-time record at Marysville High in Missouri — during her high school career.
Mittie’s player evaluations will evolve this summer once he sees K-State’s newest additions in live action. He’s excited to foster a competitive environment again, to challenge his players again — heck, to see them play pick-up hoops again.
Their outlook next season depends on what they learn from those sessions.
“You can do a lot of skill work, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to compete,” Mittie said. “You’ve got to be able to play together. All of those things are gonna be helpful this summer.”