#HLWBB Starting Five: Yooper Edition


Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the five key stories in #HLWBB since the last Starting Five.

1. Phoenix phirst with schedule

Even though the order of these is totally unimportant most of the time, I had to lead with Green Bay, the first HLWBB team to announce its non-conference schedule. Take a look:

After touring the rest of the state system with exhibition games, things officially get underway for the Phoenix on November 9th at South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are one of the tougher mid-major programs out there – they’re only a couple years removed from a Sweet Sixteen run as a six seed, and they made the NCAA Tournament again last season – so Kevin Borseth and company will have to be ready to go right out of the gate. Other highlights include a trip to Wisconsin, the South Point Shootout (an MTE in Las Vegas, with the other Ts in that E still unknown), and the always-crucial HL vs. MAC battle for Great Lakes region supremacy against Central Michigan.

While Green Bay might be the first team to pump a full non-conference schedule out there, you may recall that Northern Kentucky has announced a couple of games as well. Regardless, expect the majority of teams to release their slates over the next month or so.

2. Prestige Worldwide

Another sign that we’re on a collision course with 2021-22 are posted rosters. Last week, Robert Morris joined the rest of the league in adding their squad for the coming year to their website (Detroit Mercy, in case you’re wondering, has a partial list of their announced signings up, but the page has rolled over from last season so I’m counting it).

The Colonial Sports Network has more on the roster, which includes eight new players in all, seven of which are traditional freshman recruits.

Plenty of the Colonials’ trademark diversity is on display as RMU brought ‘em in from places like London (Rebecca Dwomoh), Montreal (Phoenix Gedeon), Spain (Alejandra Mastral) and, uh, Berlin Center, OH (Danielle Vuletich). Vuletich, one of the group’s headliners, was rated one of the top 25 players in her class statewide by the Ohio Girls Basketball Report as a junior in 2019-20, and should be an immediate interior upgrade.

3. Titans bolster staff with Owsley and Edwards

While Detroit Mercy’s list of players remains a bit short (as mentioned), the Titans keep adding to the names that typically appear just under that, the coaching staff.

Interim head coach LaTanya Collins hired Wanika Owsley as her associate head coach early in the week. Owsley, like Collins herself, has a bevy of experience with a lot of different types of programs. Most recently, she was an associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Morgan State, while prior to that she spent a pair of seasons at Mississippi State and three at Jefferson Community College in Missouri.

A couple days later, Stephanie Edwards jumped aboard as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Edwards spent the last four seasons in a similar role at Jacksonville (where she was the Dolphins’ captain as a player from 2012-14) and had a separate two-year stint as a grad assistant at JU prior to that. In between the two tours at her alma mater, Edwards was part of the inaugural season at Florida Southwestern State College.

The Titans aren’t out of the woods just yet, and as long as Collins carries the interim tag who really knows how permanent any of this is, but at the very least UDM is pulling together a staff that can set the program up for some success.

4. WSU poaches Beck from Ohio

Transfer activity has thankfully (it’s exhausting trying to keep up with it, I’m just going to be honest about that) slowed down quite a bit from its peak a couple months ago, but Kari Hoffman and Wright State landed a late newcomer in former Ohio Bobcat Deesh Beck.

The Raiders haven’t been particularly active in the portal this summer, in large part because of the delay between the departure of Katrina Merriweather (along with her whole staff) and Hoffman’s hire. However, I’m going to put myself out on a limb and say that Beck may prove to be a sneaky good add.

Despite not offering overwhelming size at 5-9, she’s a hard worker in the paint and on the glass – in the per 40 stats from her last full season (2019-20), she was in the 83rd percentile nationally with 3.4 offensive boards while adding 2.4 steals. Additionally, she shot 48 percent from two as a freshman in 2018-19. And hey for good measure, here she is getting a loose ball and holding off Macee Williams for a bucket, which is pretty hard to do.

Basically, there’s some evidence to suggest that Beck is a versatile player who can make more of an impact than she was given the opportunity to make down in Athens.

5. Barnes honored by UP hall

Finally, congratulations are in order for Youngstown State head coach John Barnes, who will be inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame on August 15th.

Barnes, who was actually voted in last year (but, you know, pandemic) has been with the Penguins since 2013 but before that was a longtime Yooper. The Escanaba, MI native scored over 1,000 points for the local high school before playing at Division II’s Michigan Tech. He later returned to serve as a longtime coach at MTU, including six seasons as a men’s assistant and as the women’s head coach from 2003-10. In the latter role, he amassed a 156-55 record and three conference titles, along with a couple trips to the Elite Eight.

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