#HLWBB Starting Five: Multiple Semicolon Edition

Photo: Horizon League

Welcome (back) to the Starting Five, your rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB since the last Starting Five post.

1. Could she BE any more active?

New Robert Morris coach Chandler McCabe has been on an absolute rampage during her first three months on the job, including pulling together a staff and getting her first portal class on board. She’s also kept a close eye on the future as well; it seems like every two hours, I see a social post from someone who just received an RMU offer.

Two of those offers turned into 2025 commitments last week, including London Creach and Layke Fields. Both players are western Pennsylvania natives, signaling a stark departure from the Colonials’ past reliance on internationals. Fields, notably, attends Kennedy Catholic High School, the alma mater of Youngstown State’s Malia Magestro. Hey, if you want to bill yourselves as “Pittsburgh’s team,” that’s great, but it has to be more than a marketing slogan.

I think it’s okay to offer a little bit of brutal honesty when it comes to what Robert Morris has been so far during its Horizon League tenure: a bad team that struggled to score points as much as anyone in Division I, so much so that being typically pretty tough defensively and well-coached didn’t matter a whole lot – though obviously, wins and losses override opinions from bloggers as to whether the coach was the issue or not.

As is natural in the current era, the Colonials’ leadership change meant heavy roster turnover (including a player I considered a potential difference-maker in Naomi Barnwell), though some very solid pieces stuck around, including Danielle Vuletich and Simone Morris.

McCabe has added significantly to that in a short time, including Noa Givon (Iona), Mya Murray (Brown), Raissa Nsabua (Wichita State), Jada Lee (Mount St. Mary’s), Hailey Unger (USC Aiken) and Katelyn Chomko (a juco from Mineral Area College).

Is that enough to win a Horizon League title in 2024-25? Realistically, probably not. But there’s undoubtedly a new energy around the program, and a trajectory not seen since its days of NEC dominance.

2. Blanton is inevitable

Former Horizon Leaguer Ke’Sha Blanton was hired as an assistant coach at Kennesaw State on May 24th, where she will try to help Octavia Blue turn around an Owls program that has struggled for quite a while (an issue that began well before the current regime).

Also recently hired by Blue: former Cleveland State Director of Basketball Operations Lauren Bornstein, who will serve in the same role at KSU.

But back to Blanton. It’s been quite an interesting few years for a coach who has managed to spend time at almost every Division I school in Northwest Ohio or Southeast Michigan. She’s a Toledo native who attended UT, then worked at Detroit Mercy for five years (back when they were a solid program, before cratering for six years prior to Kate Achter’s arrival) and, of course, most recently spent a couple years at Eastern Michigan.

It’s always been her time at Oakland that’s been the most compelling line on her resume though. She was only there for three seasons, but spent most of two of them as the acting head coach while Jeff Tungate was on medical leave. In 2021-22, she managed to guide the Golden Grizzlies to a win at Purdue Fort Wayne with exactly six available players, as well as a very-much-unexpected trip to Indianapolis for the Horizon League semifinals after a tournament upset of regular season champion Youngstown State. She even got to watch her brother, Kendall, win a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams that February.

Blanton has never been a head coach, though that feels like a technicality, given those two seasons at OU along with a successful-under-the-circumstances interim stint in 2023-24 at EMU after Fred Castro was dismissed.

With Tungate’s chances of lasting at Oakland beyond this coming season in question, could Blanton’s stay at KSU be a short one? Stay tuned.

3. From black(top) to (go) blue

Blanton never directly coached Brooke Quarles-Daniels at Oakland, though she certainly recruited her and was undoubtedly pleased to learn that the former HL Freshman of the Year has landed at Michigan.

Quarles-Daniels was probably one of the two biggest names to exit the conference through the portal this summer, alongside Carter McCray, so I suppose it’s fitting that both wound up in the “Big” Ten (I’m so sorry about that). McCray’s Wisconsin team is a former doormat on the rise, while Michigan has essentially been a finished product for a long time, so it will be interesting to see what sort of role the former L’Anse Creuse North star plays for the Wolverines – though it’s probably fair to say that it will be a significant one, given the options she had.

The fantastic Talia Goodman, who was on the inside with Quarles-Daniels throughout the process, reported on March 28th that she had heard from no fewer than 35 schools, including Purdue Fort Wayne and Detroit Mercy in the HL, and high majors like Wisconsin and Maryland.

A team with Quarles-Daniels, McCray and former CSU assistant coach Frozena Jerro would have been fun, especially given that the Badgers play sister schools Green Bay and Milwaukee fairly regularly. Oh well.

Regardless of that demand, Quarles-Daniels is 5-7 and has averaged 6.4 and 6.7 rebounds per game in her two seasons so far. If you can’t work with that, that’s a you problem.

4. Smart cookies

One of the oldest points of tension in college sports is winning versus academic performance, but Youngstown State has repeatedly proven over the years that both things are possible.

In fact, the Penguins posted a team-wide 3.943 grade point average for the spring semester, part of a 3.747 cumulative effort across the roster. Eleven of the team’s 14 players had straight As, and all 14 earned at least a 3.75.

Can we stop for a second and respect how absolutely bonkers those numbers are? A typical team usually has a couple academic standouts, and if one of them also happens to be a star player, that’s a feat worthy of multiple feature stories.  

At YSU, it’s literally everyone.

The Horizon League has always been very good academically; after all, Robert Morris topped last season’s WBCA Academic Top 25, while YSU, Green Bay and Purdue Fort Wayne also made the cut.

But for the Guins, it was a ninth consecutive appearance on the list (which will undoubtedly become ten when the 2023-24 ranking is released later this summer). It’s a program that literally has a display for academic top 25 finishes prominently in the front lobby of their office, the way others might for on-court success.

A lot of that, of course, came under the watch of John Barnes, so new coach Melissa Jackson has a lot more on her plate than winning a conference title.

5. An unsettling settlement

These posts, while an honest attempt at reporting, do have a fair bit of editorialization fused into them. With that in mind, here’s an opinion: Julie Roe Lach is a great commissioner, particularly because of her fearless advocacy for the Horizon League.

She’s been extremely vocal when it comes to the proposed settlement in House v. NCAA, and for good reason.

For those who somehow aren’t caught up on the landmark case, former Arizona State swimmer Grant House and Sedona Prince, a basketball player at both Oregon and TCU, filed the most visible of a bevy of lawsuits against the NCAA over similar student-athlete compensation issues back in 2020. Specifically, House and Prince sought damages for lost NIL revenue prior to 2021 (when NIL became legal), and the case was recently settled when the defendants agreed to pay $2.8 billion in back pay over a ten-year period along with establishing a revenue-sharing framework going forward.

Great, right? Wrong.

The defendants – notably only including the NCAA itself and the so-called Power 5 conferences – somehow came up with a settlement payment scheme that put responsibility for 36 percent of the settlement on mid-major and low-major conferences.

Were those conferences consulted? No. Do they have that kind of money to spare? Probably not. But didn’t they hoard revenue that rightfully belongs to student-athletes? Ummm…see the previous question. They weren’t viewed as enough of an issue to be a party to the lawsuit, and didn’t have any sort of seat at the table, but they’ll now have to pay as if they were and did.

Roe Lach understandably isn’t thrilled about that reality and has showed up on every platform in sight, including the Add Drop Podcast this week, where she spent 20 minutes articulating her issues with the whole situation.

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