Great depth gives Mittie one of his most talented teams at K-State

Guards Serena Sundell, Gabby Gregory, head coach Jeff Mittie and center Ayoka Lee sit together during the team's introductory press conference for the season. The four discussed many things including the team's newfound depth, the competitive offseason and growing together on the court. (Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

“It’s going to look messy; it’s going to look chaotic at times,” women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie said about the team in the early season.

(Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

Mittie’s comment during the first team press conference actually came from a positive mindset.

Kansas State women’s basketball was without star center Ayoka Lee and forward Gisela Sanchez because of injury last season. This led to a small rotation of about six or seven players receiving substantial playing time. That problem is now gone.

“This is one of the deeper teams I’ve had,” Mittie said. “I think it’s the deepest team I’ve had here at Kansas State, which is going to make for a very interesting next 29 days of practice because it is going to be great competition and we’ve got some lineup versatility.”

The team has an early season focus on getting reps together and continuously competing. With every player having a chance to crack the rotation, Mittie had the team play three or four competitions on Day 1 to find who fits with who to reach the team’s highest potential.

“That’s gonna allow us to kind of play around with some lineups,” Mittie said. “See who plays well together. It’s going to be great competition. I mean, there’s going to be great competition.”

It is not only Mittie who notices the team’s potential even as it goes through early growing pains. Last season’s scoring leader, guard Gabby Gregory, sees the issues their depth can cause for other teams.

“I wouldn’t want to have to guard it,” Gregory said. “It’s gonna be pretty tough for people to try to figure out what to do when Yoki’s [Lee’s] on the court, but then she could get subbed out and then it’s a completely different team that’s on the court. Just makes matchups really, really difficult.”

The team’s depth will help the Wildcats fill weaknesses from last season — such as 3-point shooting (29.5%) and an interior presence. Mittie mentioned guards Ja’Mia Harris and Taryn Sides and forwards Sanchez and Alexis Hess as shooters to uplift the team with the long ball. Mittie also praised Louisville guard transfer Zyanna Walker who “has looked very good” despite not being cleared until after July 4.

Lee’s return obviously will greatly improve the team’s productivity near the basket as an All-American center and the NCAA Division I record holder for points in a single game. Another player Mittie mentioned to help down low is another Louisville transfer, forward Imani Lester. Mittie said Lester is “going to be one of the best passing bigs that we’ve had.” Lee and Lester provide a new way for the offense to operate.

(Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

“There’s still stuff that we got to figure out and our style of play from last year is different because we have more presence in the post this year,” last season’s assist leader, guard Serena Sundell, said.

Lee saw the team adapted after her injury last season, allowing for the two different offensive styles this season.

“Last year [was] obviously not what everyone wanted, but I think we made the most,” Lee said. “They did a great job and I think a lot of people grew from that. It’ll be very exciting.”

(Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

As well as changes offensively, Mittie looks for an improved defense from last year. Pointing to the three players next to him (Lee, Gregory and Sundell), Mittie said the leadership revolves around them, but must grow beyond them and to the defensive end as well. 

(Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

“Defensively you know, ‘Well I’m soft-spoken,’ ya, I don’t care,” Mittie said about the players being loud on the court. “You can be soft-spoken everywhere but between those lines.”

Mittie also mentioned guards Jaelyn Glenn and Brylee Glenn being leaders with experience, each having started around 60 games in two years.

The Glenn twins, Sundell, Gregory and Lee all have experience playing with each other outside of Lee and Gregory together. Mittie said the issue will be the new depth finding on-court chemistry with everyone.

“When you have [a] six player rotation, those players really get a lot of reps with each other, they learn it faster.” Mittie said. “So, we’re going to have this balance of depth being a strength, but we’re going to get a lot of reps.”

For Mittie, the team will continue to find themselves in the offseason as the players gel and compete to earn playing time. Mittie said the team’s Day 1 of practice showed the work the team put in to reach its full potential.

“I thought it was a really good first day, good energy,” Mittie said, “I think that the thing that I’m enjoying the most out of this team is that they continue to work hard; they’re coachable. I think in every area we’re seeing things better than we were in the summer. They’re in the gym extra. They’re getting the stuff done that I feel like we need to get done.”