1. On the Marchesano
Life has been pretty solid lately for the Horizon League’s head coaches, to say the least. Generally speaking and for starters, I think most would agree that any offseason where nobody gets fired qualifies a good one. However, on top of that, more than one-fourth of the league’s coaches have agreed to contract extensions over the last couple months.
The most recent program leader to join the group also occupied by Chris Kielsmeier and Kate Bruce is Purdue Fort Wayne’s Maria Marchesano, who signed an extension through 2027-28 on July 6th.
All three coaches with new deals have pulled off the unlikely in some way or another, but it’s really hard to overstate the extent to which Mastodons were in dire straits before Marchesano returned to her hometown in 2021-22. PFW won just one game the prior season, their first in the HL, and when Marchesano went a modest 9-21 in her first campaign, it was the school’s best record since 2014-15. Seriously. Last year, of course, things improved further to 14-19 (including a couple of high-profile dubs among the 14) and a run to the semifinals of the conference tournament. With most of their core returning and a good looking incoming group, the Dons will have to deal with expectations for the first time in recent history, but as Billie Jean King likes to say, “pressure is a privilege.”
2. Swiss Miss
Youngstown State graduate Lilly Ritz, who should have been the Horizon League’s Player of the Year in 2021-22, will continue her basketball career at the professional level with Hélios VS Basket, a club in Switzerland’s top division, the SBLW. Though Hélios was mid last season, as the kids say, with a 9-11 record, they’re typically one of the country’s more successful sides, including five league titles in the last eight seasons.
In a nice article on Wheeling, WV-based website LEDE News (Ritz played at Wheeling University previous to YSU, and her hometown is roughly 50 miles away), the HL’s Defensive Player of the Year and walking double-double admitted that she struggled a little with the decision to go overseas. But at the end of the day, you get paid to hoop while living in Switzerland for nine months, and in your 20s, before life chains you down in its various ways, there aren’t really a ton of reasons to say no to something like that.
“It’s such an amazing experience to be able to get paid to do something that I’ve been doing for 15 or so years and to do it in a beautiful country like Switzerland,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful I’m going to be able to experience it.”
On a related note, if anyone can find someone who can put that incredible logo on a t-shirt (and preferably not steal my card number while doing it), get at me.
3. A program fit for a King
Erica King is on the other end of her college career from Ritz, but the 2024 combo guard from Akron, OH (and the second-most-famous person sometimes called “King” to attend St. Vincent-St. Mary High School) will play at the same university as the departing legend, as she committed to Youngstown State on June 30th.
Nobody seems to agree on whether you abbreviate her high school’s name “SVSM” or “STVM,” but SVSM (I prefer that one, though people inside the school seem to like STVM), advanced to the OHSAA regional semifinals last season, with King playing a starring role as the Irish’s number two in each of the big three statistical categories (their leading scorer, Jazmin Torres, was a senior who starts at Kentucky Wesleyan this fall).
King’s Prep Girls Hoops scouting report just sounds like a Guin:
“Erica King is a scrappy defender who seems to get her hands on a lot of balls that comes across her way, she battles in the paint for rebounds, [and is an] aggressive defender. [She] runs the floor on both ends of the court [and is a] knock down shooter. [King is] very shifty with the ball [and] can make a move and blow [past] you to the basket.”
There should be plenty of opportunity to grab some Beeghly Center court in 2024, so we’ll see if King can make the most of it.
4. Staff Shuffles
Now-former Cleveland State assistant coaches Bob Dunn and Desma Thomas Bateast were officially announced as new hires by Miami and Florida State, respectively, last week (and I might as well brag about breaking that story one more time), but they were just two of several coaches and staff moving in or out of the league recently.
- Niko Quezada, most recently a video coordinator at Oakland, has landed a full assistant job at Saint Francis (tragically, I no longer have to specify which state Saint Francis is in). On a personal note, I’m fairly certain that Niko was the first non-CSU HL staffer who went out of his way to say hi to me before a game, and then I was like “how does this person even know who I am,” and I appreciated that. He’ll undoubtedly do great things for the Red Flash.
- The Golden Grizzlies brought in Myron Brown as the program’s director of player development and brand management (surely, Phog Allen had one of those). Brown played for OU coach Jeff Tungate at Rochester University and has a couple decades of experience since then in a variety of sideline roles, so he’s certainly well-equipped to understand the current climate of college basketball, both on and off the court. Different schools have reacted to that climate – particularly NIL – in different ways, but Oakland seems well-positioned to stand as a leader among HL schools.
- Not to be outdone in the area of 21st century positions, Green Bay hired Jada Patterson as their director of operations and content creation. I’ll be honest, I thought the Phoenix’s content was already pretty good (they were the first HL team on TikTok, if I’m not mistaken, and I really enjoyed their season countdown videos last year), but then again, I’m not really their target audience. Content is such a difficult balancing because the stuff that engages recruits is very much not the same as the stuff that engages fans and boosters, and very few schools really pull off both things at highest level unless they can afford entire departments dedicated to it, like in the Big Ten. So, uh, good luck Jada.
5. High School Never Ends
CBS published a really, really good piece this week concerning the transfer portal and the chilling effect it (along with the still-relevant-for-now COVID bonus year) has on high school recruiting. It focuses on high-major men’s basketball, sorry, but the realities there carry over to the women’s game as well even if the magnitude isn’t quite as pronounced, at least in my observation.
Here’s one of the key paragraphs:
“A weird duality has emerged in college basketball recruiting: Coaching staffs will sometimes spend two, even three years recruiting a player. If they’re lucky, they land that player. But that player’s impact on a program could easily wind up being inferior to a transfer who gets recruited for a week — sometimes a transfer decision takes a couple of days — who will transfer in and be better. That dynamic is why high school recruits hold less value now than ever.”
Or, try these quotes on, if you prefer:
“The thing is, they get the one-time transfer,” a Big Ten coach said. “If you can get a kid after he leaves, after his freshman or sophomore year, and then he’s stuck? That shit’s like gold, man.”
Added another Big Ten coach: “However many freshmen you take, you need to prepare to have that many spots available open in the spring. Freshmen are a bad investment. They’re all rentals.”
It often seems like most of the portal discourse boils down to old men yelling “these darn kids today…” at clouds and while it certainly is true that student-athletes often give little thought to jumping around for playing time and NIL, it’s also true that coaches and programs are going to look out for their best interests and go portal shopping at the expense of high schoolers they’ve talked to for years, and even players on their current roster. My hope is that you, as someone smart enough to read this here website, understand that college basketball player movement, like many things in life, carries nuance well beyond the shallowness that dominates so much of our communication.