#HLWBB Starting Five: Road to Recovery Edition

Photo: Milwaukee athletics

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

1. ‘Dumb new coaches’ schedule power conference games

Unless you’re directly involved with a team, or some facet of the recruiting world, June might be the first truly boring month of the offseason. The NCAA Tournament stretches into April, while the transfer portal window extends through the remainder of the month. Things slow down a bit in May, though a pretty healthy flow of commitments remains to occasionally interrupt stretches of retweeting just about anything with a tangential association to the Horizon League.

Then June hits. Everyone’s roster is just about finalized by then. The coaches, as I’ve mentioned, are on the road recruiting, and summer workouts begin back at home – however, the people in charge frown on respected bloggers attending either of those things, which isn’t very nice of them.

The only true lifeline? Schedules. Generally speaking, teams put pen to paper on the bulk of their non-conference game contracts in June, which inevitably leads to a lot of those games leaking out into the world, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. And luckily, a couple of those recently-revealed games involve a good HL team going up against a power conference opponent.

Thanks to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s excellent feature on new Northern Kentucky coach Jeff Hans, we know that the Norse will be visiting Kentucky early in the season. How and why? “Some dumb new coach — and I’m not talking about Coach Brooks,” Hans quipped. Despite the NKU leader’s self-depreciation, UK has struggled over the last couple seasons (hence their own new coach, as Hans referenced) and could be vulnerable in that contest.

Meanwhile, Green Bay announced a home-and-home with Kansas State that will see the Phoenix travel to Manhattan on November 4th, before hosting the Wildcats in 2025-26. Unlike UK, K-State was ascendant last season, with 26 wins, including one against Iowa and another in the NCAA Tournament. They’re also expected to return star center Ayoka Lee, who holds the NCAA single-game scoring record, a 61-point detonation against Oklahoma in 2022. Sounds fun, enjoy.

2. Major(os) Moves

If you thought that Destiny Leo was the only Horizon Leaguer attempting to come back from a torn ACL in 2024-25, well, you thought wrong. Milwaukee’s Hallie Majoros (another Northeast Ohioan who went to high school 27 miles south of Leo, at Nordonia) is also well on the way back after wrecking her knee last fall and missing the entire season. In fact, she announced last week that she’s been cleared to play.

Majoros’ time out of the lineup was certainly productive, as she completed her marketing degree this spring, despite only starting college in 2021. She also had a pretty good seat to watch her Panthers teammates grow into one of the conference’s up-and-coming squads, a status punctuated by a win at rival Green Bay on the last day of the regular season to deny the Phoenix a standings-topping finish.

Of course Majoros, like any competitor, would rather be playing than sitting, and now she’ll have the opportunity to do just that, as Milwaukee looks to take another step towards contention this fall. The Panthers bring back Kamy Peppler and Jorey Buwalda – two of the HL’s breakout stars a year ago – along with a big-time transfer addition in former Wright State guard Kacee Baumhower, and reliable veterans Jada Donaldson and Anna Lutz. Most of the rest of the team is still very young though, and that’s where Majoros potentially has an important role to play as someone who’s been in the program for three years.

3. Making Swiss bank

We already know that Jazmyn Turner is smart, thanks to her Big Ten degree (even when known as IUPUI, the school now called IU Indy famously only offered diplomas that said “Indiana” or “Purdue” on them, contributing to a decidedly inside-baseball joke about IUPUI not actually existing). But she recently proved it again when she signed a professional contract with Switzerland’s Hélios VS Basket.

If that team name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because just under a year ago, I wrote a Starting Five post about former Youngstown State star Lilly Ritz signing there. So I might as well plagiarize something I said back then: “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.”

Turner seems to have a little bit of that same outlook, as told to Emily Reese, IU Indy’s women’s basketball sports information director: “I’m looking forward to being able to experience being overseas and learn more about what it’s like. Also, being able to compete at the next level and continue to learn and grow my game. I’m super excited to be playing at the next level, I’ve always dreamed of playing professionally and I’m glad my dream is coming true!”

Ritz has since moved on to Australia, with the Central Districts Lions in NBL1 Central, but was able to produce well in her brief time with Hélios, so it’s probably fair to expect the same from Turner.

The Marion, IN native was a force in the paint for the Jags, after previous stints at Wabash Valley College and Ball State. She was a second team All-HL selection in 2022-23 and offered 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game across 52 contests in Indy. In other words, Turner will certainly be a welcome addition for a Hélios team that was once among the best in the Swiss top division before struggling in recent seasons.

4. Penguins actually do have ‘eers

Youngstown State was quite notable for its large contingent of West Virginians over the last few seasons, with Dena Jarrells, Paige Shy, Shay-Lee Kirby and Emily Saunders – a quartet of former club teammates who reunited at YSU via the transfer portal – standing as an outsized share of the Guins’ identity. However, with each of those players graduating, and former assistant/interim coach John Nicolais (another person who arrives home via country roads) now at Eastern Michigan, that pipeline was in danger of drying up.

Six-foot-three freshman Ashlynn Van Tassell, the second-ranked 2024 graduate in the state, should do plenty to hold things down in the near future, but Melissa Jackson and company didn’t want to take any chances, so they added a pledge from 2025 point guard Brooke Adkins this week.

Adkins is an interesting case, as she was offered by John Barnes and the previous YSU coaching staff last summer, before the new staff jumped back in and said “hey, we want you here too.” She agreed, notably passing on MAC champion Kent State and Nicolais’ new EMU team to commit. Clearly, you just can’t pull West Virginians away from the Mahoning Valley.

Adkins is Prep Girls Hoops’ third-ranked 2025 prospect in Jerry West’s homeland, and she has been a two-time conference player of the year, as well as an all-state selection, at Wayne High School. The scouting reports really love her length, versatility and IQ, with PGH labeling Adkins as their top breakout player from West Virgina back in December. In short, it’s hard not to think that Jackson, who has developed a ton of high-end backcourt players over her two-decade career, will have plenty to work with.

5. Quiet winning

Northern Kentucky, Milwaukee and Oakland have unquestionably had good months, at least in terms of doing well at things we don’t talk about enough.

The Norse and Panthers were the only two HL teams with perfect four-year academic progress rate scores of 1000 in the most recent NCAA data dump (covering 2019-20 through 2022-23), issued on June 4th. It is worth adding that beyond those two programs, Purdue Fort Wayne, Robert Morris, Green Bay, Oakland and Youngstown State were all clear of the national average for women’s basketball, 981.

The only school that tabulated what could be called a bad APR was Detroit Mercy with a score of 937, just above the 930 threshold where the NCAA starts to get mad at you. It is worth re-iterating, however, that these scores are rolling four-year averages, and something rather substantial happened with the Titans program right at the beginning of the current period that disrupted the academic progress of numerous student-athletes.

Meanwile, Oakland captured the 2023-24 McCafferty Trophy, the Horizon League’s all-sports award, for the seventh time in the school’s 11 years in the conference. The Golden Grizzlies, of course, won HL regular season and tournament titles in men’s basketball, though successes from OU’s men’s soccer and women’s golf teams, along with their juggernaut swimming and diving programs, represented the bulk of the winning point total.

Youngstown State finished second, thanks largely to their track and field and cross country programs, followed by Milwaukee and their powerhouse women’s soccer team and Cleveland State, which won titles in men’s tennis and softball.

It really is pretty unfortunate that Horizon League members have tons of programs that are absolute wagons over long periods of time in their respective sports, yet their achievements are largely ignored by the outside world because those sports aren’t basketball. Oakland swimming and diving, Milwaukee women’s soccer and CSU men’s tennis certainly fall into that category, as do Wright State baseball, Purdue Fort Wayne men’s volleyball (seriously, look them up), and several others.

I’m going to leave this post by asking a favor: if you’re lucky enough to be affiliated with a school that has an under-the-radar dynasty, please do your best to support them. They’ll appreciate it far more than you realize, and it really does make a tangible difference.

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