Iowa State women’s basketball redshirt freshman TeeTee Starks at the program’s media day on Thurday. (Photo credit: Garrett Kroeger)
AMES — It isn’t any secret that the game of basketball is constantly evolving. This evolution is how buzzwords like “pace and space” become a thing. It’s what makes offensive minds like Steve Kerr and Fred Hoiberg hot commodities at basketball’s highest level.
The evolution is essentially a cycle of trends. What becomes trendy at the NBA level often trickles down to the college game. Not long after, the same concepts can be seen on the AAU circuit and in high school gyms across the country.
This cycle is what keeps basketball constantly moving forward. It is one of the few sports that doesn’t seem to stay the same. The winning formula in football, outside the growth of the forward pass, and baseball have been, pretty much, the same since the game was invented.
Basketball is always changing and the winning formula changes with it.
Women’s college basketball is often forgotten when it comes to that evolution. The trickle down effect exists here, too. This season’s Iowa State women’s basketball team is going to prove that with full force, according to head coach Bill Fennelly.
This year’s Iowa State roster is primed to embrace many of the “pace and space” concepts made famous by the Golden State Warriors. The Cyclones have length, they have shotmakers, ball-handlers, athletic bigs and versatility.
“The game has gone to, it’s always been this way, but I think more so than ever, it’s about matchups and spacing,” Fennelly said during his program’s annual media day on Thursday. “So now, it’s like where’s the matchup, where’s the space and where can you go get points and put the other guy under duress. Sometimes you suffer at one end, because maybe you’re not big enough to guard or rebound. Well, they’ve got to do it to you on the other end. That’s the great thing about basketball. It’s not like football where they can just ram it down you throat because they’re bigger and they don’t have to guard you. In basketball, the advantages of size might be a disadvantages on the other end or vice versa. That versatility might be the biggest thing we have going into this season with Seanna Johnson.”
Next to the word versatile in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Seanna Johnson, who was picked as a preseason All-Big 12 player heading into her senior season. Her ability to drive the lane, shoot from behind-the-arc, pass, rebound and defend make her perfect for his up-tempo, I hate to use the buzzword again, “pace and space” system.
Sophomore Bridget Carleton and redshirt freshman TeeTee Starks fit into the same mold. They have length. They can rebound. They can defend and score. They can do it all while playing pretty much any position on the floor.
“In women’s college basketball, I think it can be even more important because the game’s not played above the rim,” Fennelly said. “They can’t get overpowered and dunked on and stuff like that so when you have that versatility it does create some good things for you.”
Starks is a player that’s especially intriguing. She showed flashes during eight games as a true freshman, but a knee injury cut her season short. From all accounts, she’s one of the team’s best defenders and rebounders.
The 5-foot-9-inch, Brooklyn Park, Minn., native will fit into Iowa State’s equation at point guard. At the same time, she’ll fit in at every other position. The stage seems set for her to have a breakout season in 2016-17.
“I remember in the staff meeting saying, ‘This is the worst thing that could happen to our team,’” Fennelly said when recalling shutting Starks down last season. “I mean that sincerely because if you look at what TeeTee can do, there’s not many kids that want to win more than her. She grew up in a culture of winning in high school and AAU. She was raised that way. From a basketball standpoint, she was our backup at every position. So whoever had to come out of the game we would go to TeeTee. She started at three different spots in eight games that she played.”
Starks will be asked to fill that same role, and more, this season. One minute she could be bringing the ball down the floor, the next she could be defending the opponent’s best player — even if that best player has a considerable size advantage.
“To have that two way players that can go a lot of different directions, offense and defense, we haven’t had many of those kids in the past, but she’s certainly one of them,” Fennelly said. “It’s fun to see what we can do and create some things that will allow her to play at a certain level, but certainly put her in a position to help us win games.”
It is all a part of that winning formula that is constantly changing. The versatility, the ability to defend every spot, rebound and do a lot of things offensively all fit into the equation. It’s all part of how Iowa State’s constantly trying to evolve with the rest of the basketball world.
“Everyone wants to be the Golden State Warriors, but not everyone has Steph Curry and Kevin Durant,” Fennelly said. “There’s no question for our team to be successful we’ve got to play that way and play in a way, you know, I said last year, we didn’t shoot bad. We just didn’t make anything. We’ve got to make more shots. We got to rebound better. Our assist-to-turnover ratio was fine, but, maybe, this will give us driving lanes, open the court more, drive and kick, get to the free throw line more, invert our offense and post up a guard.”
I’m just hoping Coach Fennelly avoids the buzzwords.