Head coach Bill Fennelly calls out to the Cyclones at the Oklahoma game on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. Photo by: Lani Tons
AMES — Everybody wants to play basketball like the Golden State Warriors.
It is easy to understand why when you see the franchise in the midst of one of the most successful three year stretches in the history of basketball. The only problem is not everybody has Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly has seen the trend trickling down from the National Basketball Association. The “positionless” movement has entered every level of hoops, including women’s college basketball.
This year’s Iowa State team will be trending that way, too. There most likely will not be a traditional point guard. In Fennelly’s 23rd season at the helm, the program will feature several unorthodox post players compared to some of their Big 12 foes.
While the move towards versatility on the court has not forced Fennelly and his staff to make major changes to their approach, it can still be seen in the types of players who have entered the program in the past several years.
“I think we’ve always been a program that’s leaned towards skilled players,” Fennelly told Cyclone Fanatic during Iowa State’s annual media day on Tuesday. “Now, you’re looking at kids that are maybe a little taller that can play, but it’s still about skill. It’s still about versatility. It’s about people that aren’t one dimensional. So I don’t know that it’s changed us as much. I do know that we haven’t sat in meetings and said, ‘We need a point guard. We need a point guard.’ Yeah, we’d like to get one, but we’ve kind of gone to let’s get the best players we can get. You do need a little size and even that now has become overrated. It’s more about fit and skill and, maybe, depth. I think that’s kind of the way we’ve done. We’ll see how it evolves in time. Sometimes the kid that you get that you liked turns out to be the old traditional point guard or center. But we don’t go into it that way. I think it’s more right fit, right skillset and depth of position for us.”
Iowa State’s 2017-18 women’s basketball roster rides on the back of junior wing Bridget Carleton. That is not any sort of secret after the Canadian has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the country over her first two seasons in Ames.
Of course, there will still be a few mainstays from the Cyclones’ past couple teams led by the now departed Seanna Johnson and Jadda Buckley, such as seniors Emily Durr and Claire Ricketts and junior Meredith Burkhall.
The rest of the roster is made up primarily of newcomers and players without much experience wearing the cardinal and gold. It is a fact that is not overly daunting to Fennelly considering he sees this group of new players, headlined by five-star prospect Madison Wise and top-100 recruits Rae Johnson and Kristin Scott, as one of the most talented he has had in his time at Iowa State.
“I think right off the bat they have a maturity level,” Fennelly said. “The stage, the environment is not overwhelming. They just seem to be comfortable, at least on the court. Obviously, there’s an adjustment to college life being away from home and that stuff. The basketball part of it, they’ve all been coached very well in high school and AAU. They came in here not just completely overwhelmed by everything and usually it takes kids a little bit longer, but they have a skillset and I think they came partly because they knew there was an opportunity to play. They don’t back down from people, but every little box you want to check off, they seem to be a little more advanced than a lot of the freshmen we’ve had in the past.”
That group of newcomers also includes junior college transfer Bride Kennedy-Hopoate, who was rated as the No. 1 JUCO prospect in the country by All-Star Girls Report. The Hutchinson Community College product, and Australian native, will add a level of toughness Iowa State has not had in past seasons.
Fennelly compared the addition of Kennedy-Hopoate on the block to a pitcher learning a new pitch in today’s age of positionless basketball. The true post player will allow the Cyclones a changeup they have not had since one of the program’s all-time greats was in Ames.
“I think every coach wants options and she gives us an option that we haven’t had here in, hell, maybe since Angie Welle was here where you throw it in the post and score,” Fennelly said. “Even if that, just have a big body to bang against all the other big bodies in our league. It gives us an option. It gives us a changeup. Like being a pitcher adding another pitch kind of thing. She gives us that and she’s older so she’s not a freshman. She’s used to, not Division I basketball, but she played at a great junior college program. So I think that helps a little bit, but she’s already made an impact. We’ve got to get her in shape. She came in late because she had to go to summer school. Conditioning, she’s behind, but if we get her caught up, right now I’d say she’s a 12 to 15 minute a game player because of conditioning. If we can get her to 22 to 25, she’s going to change our team.”
Iowa State’s 2017-18 season will largely rest on the shoulders of Carleton, but she is going to need some help from some fresh faces if the final destination will be the NCAA Tournament.