AMES – Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly told this year’s women’s basketball team and the incoming recruiting class that they are the foundation of the end of his time at the program.
Fennelly, who enters his 29th season at Iowa State, isn’t contemplating retirement by the day. However, he knows that he won’t be the coach forever.
Behind the 2023 group of freshmen commits, which ranks as the programs highest rated class ever, Fennelly hopes to build that foundation for this year and beyond.
“The future’s got to be now,” Fennelly said. “And I told him that yesterday. You can wait and feel sorry for yourself when things go bad… or you just say, ‘let’s go play.'”
All five members of the class committed early on in the recruiting cycle and have developed a unique chemistry that the program hopes shows itself on the court.
“I think part of the reason or part of the the way we’ve done it is the five freshmen all committed fairly early,” Fennelly said. “So the five freshmen and myself we were in like a group text all the time, so we’re always communicating. They came in as friends. They came in having a little bit better knowledge of each other, and a little bit better knowledge of the program.”
It’s a unique time in Ames.
That team’s roster features 10 newcomers – and a majority of them haven’t played division 1 basketball yet in their careers.
In both practice and the team’s overseas trip, Iowa State has had all five freshmen on the floor, playing at the same time.
“Like, we’re working on special situations last night, and we’re calling plays with eight seconds to go down one and you look out there and there’s four freshmen and a transfer,” Fennelly said. “You don’t do that if you don’t believe a kid can make a play. So I really believe that they’re all going to impact our team and hopefully sooner than later.”
Ironing out where productivity will be found and ways to push a young team forward has become a bit of a challenge thus far, although it is early.
“If you came to practice five days in a row. All of you would leave and go, ‘those are the best two players on the team,’ and you’d all pick two different people every day. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but the challenge for us initially is at some point, who are you going to throw the ball to when you have to throw the ball to them?”
“Ashley Joens isn’t here anymore,” Fennelly said.
Due to a variety of things, the team has not yet practiced together with its full roster available.
Point guard Emily Ryan is battling a minor injury and has been limited thus far in practices. She is confident, however, that she’ll be ready to go for the team’s season opener against Butler on Monday, November 6.
“I’m confident I’ll be cleared and ready to play basketball when the time comes,” Ryan said.
Ryan is one of the only players that Iowa State can feel rather comfortable about what they’re getting from her.
Nyamer Diew has shown flashes of talent and very well could break out this season. There’s hope that Izzi Zingaro can grow as well.
But the surefire return that Iowa State will lean on is the leadership that Ryan brings to the table.
“I’ve done this a long, long time, and I’ve never been around a person like that – a leader like that,” Fennelly said about his point guard. “She’s kind of on a load management pitch count. It’s a long year. We’re not trying to overwork her. We’re trying to give the freshman a lot.”
“If you come to practice, Emily’s calling the plays, I mean, from the sideline,” Fennelly said. “She just she gets it, she understands it.”
The situation has pushed Fennelly and his staff to make adjustments.
He said he thinks they’ve scrimmaged more this year than ever before.
“We’re actually scrimmaging more than maybe we ever have, because we want to see them play,” Fennelly said. “You’re going to see them all (play), for sure, early.”
There are still 13 practices remaining before the season opener, which serves as a bit more time to figure things out for the staff.
That staff wants to see the talent it brought in and players that want to work for it, and it will. There’s too much experience in the room to think otherwise.
“I’m really big on, ‘You either find a way or you find an excuse,'” Fennelly said. “We have an excuse – that we’re young, if you want to use it. No one that we play cares.”
And it always goes back to a Fennelly quote that he may repeat quite a bit this year.
“Coaches don’t decide who plays,” Fennelly says. “The players do.”