Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB from the past week, or however long it takes me to come up with five items during these doggiest of offseason days. The concept probably doesn’t require a ton of explanation, other than the fact that the order is absolutely meaningless, so let’s jump right in.
The nation’s various travel basketball circuits fired back up this month, but significantly, it’s also the first time that college coaches have been able to hit the road in earnest (besides some state-sponsored events last month) since 2019. The recruiting calendar allows for three weekends, this one along with the next two, for coaches to take in everything from the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago to the Run 4 The Roses Classic in Louisville. The sheer volume of activity makes it an absolute grind of a month that goes on the cover of the “so you want to coach” pamphlet, with a payoff – teams are hoping – of a couple good players on a future roster out of the hundreds on their radar.
HLWBB teams haven’t been shy about sharing the specific destinations of their coaches on social media for obvious reasons, and despite the always-enticing presence of the transfer market, enthusiasm for traditional recruiting remains extremely strong from what I can tell. Also, don’t embellish your packets kids:
2. Staff changes at Cleveland State
CSU suddenly found itself back on Indeed this week when assistant coach Katelin Oney moved on to Northern Iowa. Oney was a standout for the Panthers from 2008-12 and is originally from Cedar Rapids, just an hour down the road from Cedar Falls (though it’s probably a bit longer if you take the Cedar River instead of I-380), so retaining her would have been a losing battle for just about anyone. Despite being less than a decade removed from college, Oney has a ton of diverse experience ranging from North Dakota to Texas, and the Vikes will try their best to fill her spot with a similar complement to Desma Thomas Bateast and Frozena Jerro.
The Oney news comes just a couple weeks after the program promoted Shelby Zoeckler to Director of Women’s Basketball Operations, replacing Furman-bound Lauren Bornstein. While Zoeckler just received her bachelor’s degree in 2020 and is currently working on her master’s, she is actually the senior member of the staff with five years of service, the last three of those spent as video coordinator. Zoeckler will undoubtedly bring her unmatched passion for the program to a job that requires a ton of thankless, behind-the-scenes work.
One final note on the staffing front: Cleveland State is also looking for a Director of Basketball Performance to cover both the women’s and men’s teams. The position is likely one of those vague “program enhancements” that was a part of the Dennis Gates extension on the men’s side but hey, nothing wrong with accepting some spillover.
3. Detroit Mercy on the rebound
Don’t look now, but things are slowly returning to normal after an explosive six months at UDM. Since the AnnMarie Gilbert saga ended with her walking away last month, leading to the appointment of LaTanya Collins as interim coach, Motown appears to be singing once again. Through everything, the Titans somehow held on to combo guard Taylor Blunt (who signed during the early period), then added three more just-announced freshmen in Akyia Baker, Sonia Pereda, and Emma Trawally, along with Louisiana Tech transfer Irene Murua, during the height of the chaos. More recently, NKU grad transfer Janna Lewis and a pair of jucos, A’Moni Waiters (a desperately-needed big) and Imani McNeal, have committed to pump the Titans’ 2021-22 roster up to eight. UDM also hired Dashia Chandler as Director of Women’s Basketball Operations this week.
Collins and company still aren’t home just yet, and it remains to be seen how competitive the team will be, but things feel light years ahead of where they were not too long ago.
4. Dons add Johnson
Another late-ish transfer portal add involves Purdue Fort Wayne (coincidentally, one of the teams that benefited from the Gilbert situation, landing former Titan Sylare Starks through the portal), which grabbed Texas native Shianne Johnson away from Weber State. Johnson doesn’t have much tape over the last two seasons – she didn’t play the second half of 2020-21 and was a medical redshirt in 2019-20 – but there’s plenty of reason to think she’ll be a great add for PFW. While the usual caveats about sample size apply, last season she boasted a 25.8 percent usage rate for the Wildcats, in part because she got up more than ten shots per game in 23.5 minutes. Shooters shoot, and this shooter might offer a jolt to a Mastodons team that averaged only 53.7 points per game last year.
5. UIC to visit K-State
It’s not much, but we finally have the tiniest of leaks when it comes to the 2021-22 non-conference schedule. Kansas State announced their full schedule on Wednesday, which includes a visit from the Flames on December 22nd. It should be quite the test for Tasha Pointer’s retooled squad, which was only spared from the conference basement last season by the Detroit Mercy situation, as the Wildcats thumped UIC 84-40 in the only previous meeting between the teams, on November 11, 2019. Of course, Shelby Case and Tiana Jackson are the only current Flames who played in that contest, so it’s ancient history from the Windy City side of things.
The last time we started a season on a relatively normal timeline (2019-20, of course), the Horizon League released the conference schedule on September 18th. Green Bay was the first team to release a non-conference schedule on July 16th, followed by UDM on July 30th, then six more schools during the month of August. But until those start to drop, scouring the releases of non-HL teams for a handful of dates will be our favorite hobby.