KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When asked to tell us something we don’t know about Bill Fennelly, Iowa State senior guard Adriana Camber had a quick answer.
“He always says, ‘He’s not the smartest in the room, but he is the oldest,’” Camber said. “I think he’s wrong though, he might be the smartest, too.”
Even if Fennelly is the smartest one in the room, not even the Cyclones’ head coach, entering his 25th year at the helm of Iowa State’s women’s basketball program, knows how to quickly replace Bridget Carleton or Alexa Middleton.
“I’m not good enough to replace them that fast, if ever,” Fennelly said on Tuesday at Big 12 women’s basketball media day of the departed stars from Iowa State’s 2018-19 squad that finished second in the Big 12 and hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Ames. “I think is it’s not about the games. It’s like we’ve had two or three days of practice where we’re very good. That didn’t happen last year. You lose the day-to-day understanding of what it means to be good. Now, kids have to learn what that means.”
Unsurprisingly, that sounds a lot like the same message preached by another coach on Iowa State’s campus. You know, the one who has led Iowa State to back-to-back bowl games on the gridiron. The one who has built his program on sermons about consistency and effort.
That guy Matt Campbell is pretty smart, but I’m not sure even he could figure out how to replace one of the best players to ever wear the Cyclone uniform in Carleton, plus one of the league’s best point guards last season in Middleton and do not forget vocal team leader Meredith Burkhall.
But, alas, that is the task Fennelly is shouldered with entering the 2019-20 campaign that will unofficially get underway next Wednesday when Missouri Western State visits Hilton Coliseum for an exhibition game.
Filling those shoes left behind falls on junior guard Madison Wise, senior guard Adriana Camber, junior forward Kristin Scott, sophomore guard Ashley Joens and others. But, putting the ball in the basket, at this point, is not Fennelly’s big concern.
It is who will be the one that continues to instill that culture of consistency.
“I think the biggest thing is they can’t have a bad day. They can have an off day shooting, but they can’t be the ones that, ‘Hey, if it’s not working out, Bridget or Alexa will take care of it,’” Fennelly said. “Meredith was always talking. So we lost three people who did exactly what we needed them to do. One was a great player, one was the point guard and one was the leader, the mom of the team. We’ve got to figure that out. They all say they want to be leaders, you know, ‘I want my time.’ Well, now it’s your time. Now, we’ll figure it out. They learned from three of the best. They don’t have an excuse. They know what they need to do. Now you need to want to go do it. We’ll see what happens.”
Scott expected to miss scrimmage, exhibition with back injury
Last year, Kristin Scott played as well as basically any player in the country for a stretch, scoring in double-figures during the team’s last 25 games. But, that success came while playing “sidekick” alongside Carleton, who was the league’s player of the year.
Now, the preseason All-Big 12 honoree is expected to step into a bigger role with more expectations. The only problem is she will have to do it after returning from a back injury that will hold her out of the team’s scrimmage on Sunday as well as the exhibition next week.
“I think with Kristin, like a lot of young players now, it’s the idea that she’s got to believe what we believe. When you have an off day or bad day, it doesn’t mean you’re not good. I mean, the best players to ever play have bad games or off games,” Fennelly said of the Kasson, Minn. native. “It’s a consistency of effort, being someone that wants the ball, takes tough shots, do the things that the average player doesn’t want to do. She’s got the skillset. In the way we play, she’s like a stretch five, I guess. It’s not about skill. It’s not about athleticism. Now, it’s more between her ears.”
Who steps up at point guard?
It is hard to find one position on Iowa State’s roster with a bigger hole than point guard.
Middleton was a steadying force for the Cyclones and probably did not really receive the recognition she deserved with Carleton drawing most of the accolades. The former Tennessee transfer’s graduation leaves a monster hole in Iowa State’s starting five with few proven contributors left to fill the void.
“Point guard is going to be an issue,” Fennelly said. “We know that.”
Do not be surprised to Scott work her way into a little bit of the role as somewhat of a point forward. The same could be said about Joens as she looks to step into the spotlight during year two in Ames.
Regardless of who ends up being the Cyclones’ primary ball-handler, Fennelly knows it will be a process in 2019-20. His players might say he is the smartest one in the room, but figuring out how to fill these voids this team has immediately is a problem too tough even for him.
“I think it’s funny because last year we got picked sixth and we had the player of the year and, arguably, a player that was playing as good as anybody in the league at the end of the year. We lose them and they pick us fourth so I’ve got to question the coaches in our league who maybe weren’t paying much attention,” Fennelly said. “We’ll see. Obviously, we’re not as good of a team as we were last year, but I think it’s a team that has a chance to grow. Kids who were role players now have to be better than role players. Hopefully, that will happen.”