Big 12 Tip-Off: Ayoka Lee and Emilee Ebert

Junior center Ayoka Lee (right) and junior guard Emilee Ebert (left) pose after 1-on-1 interviews at the 2021 Big 12 Tip-Off at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Landon Reinhardt | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State women’s basketball participated in the Big 12 conference media Tip-Off in Kansas City on Tuesday. The Wildcats sent junior guard Emilee Ebert and junior center Ayoka Lee to discuss the upcoming season.

Both women stated their hunger for the season to begin.

“I’m just ready to start playing,” Ebert said. “Practices have looked really well. We’re playing well together.”

Lee said she knows the road ahead won’t be easy, but that it isn’t turning her away from the season.

“I’m really just excited to get playing,” Lee said. “We have a really tough non-conference schedule, but it’s a great opportunity.”

Part of that reason is the newfound energy the team has discovered this year.

“Our culture has shifted a little bit,” Ebert said. “To watch the pieces get put together in a game is what I’m excited for. I think the energy is better in the locker, practice, off the court, weights, training room. It’s just ten times better than it was. We have a lot of new faces and they came in with a lot of new energy, which we needed, so it’s kind of like a breath of fresh air.”

For Lee, some excitement stems from practicing side-by-side with fellow big-man, 6 foot 7 inch sophomore Taylor Lauterbach.

“It has been so cool to watch Taylor grow and improve as a player,” Lee said. “I think she’s gotten a lot stronger. It’s been fun to compete with her more every day. I think we both hate not being on each other’s team because we know it’s going to be a physical battle. With that, we know we’re both making each other better, so it’s fun, but we like being on each other’s team better.”

Along with practicing with Lauterbach, Lee got a lot of training over the summer by participating in the USA three-on-three tournament with teammates Rachel Ranke, senior, Cymone Goodrich, senior and Ebert. Lee said the tournament allowed her to expand on her game outside of the paint.

“I’ve definitely noticed a difference,” Lee said. “Some of those seeds were planted last year with it being the first year without Peyton and not having the strong presence of a four. I definitely think the 3v3 tournament helped me grow more, and building off of that, into the summer and fall, that was something we continued to work on.”

Ebert says that the three-on-three tournament not only helped Lee but also improved Goodrich’s game.

“Cimone has always been a good player, but I think she’s found a new level to her after 3-on-3,” Ebert said. “She really let loose, so it’s been fun to watch her let loose in practice.”

The women both shared the same goal at the end of the season — making the NCAA tournament.

“The tournament is always going to be our goal,” Ebert said. “The Big 12 is a goal too. We want to see success in the Big 12 — a Big 12 championship — and move on to the tournament as well.”

Lee said she wants it more for her team to get the feeling of making it to March Madness.

“It’s not easy to get to that point,” Lee said, “but having that goal in mind and knowing that every game matters to be able to get there is really important. For all of the girls on our team to experience going to the tournament would be such a great experience.”

Aside from the team goal of the tournament, Lee has personal goals she wants to reach.

“I don’t think I’m great at setting goals when it comes to basketball,” Lee said, “but I think that reaching 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds are good goals to have.”

The women’s basketball team opens the regular season at home against Central Arkansas on Nov. 9.