With eight seniors on a veteran-heavy roster, new Wichita State women’s basketball coach Keitha Adams will begin her Shockers career essentially coaching two separate seasons.
There is this season, of course, one Adams calls a “work in progress” as she attempts to blend the familiar with the unknown. But next season awaits, when WSU must replace all of its seniors and start almost from scratch.
That leaves Adams, an Oxford native who played at Southwestern College and coached at Independence, in an unusual position of taking on a long-term project without being totally sure of its components. WSU begins its season Friday on the road against Creighton.
“We’re going to graduate so much that in a lot of ways next year is probably going to feel very similar,” said Adams, who was hired on March 29 to replace Jody Adams-Birch after 16 seasons at Texas-El Paso. “We’re going to have so many new people again, so it’s going to take some time to build this program.
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“It’s kind of in a unique place with having so many seniors. If you have a nucleus of players and you have two seniors, you’re working with kids and you’ll have them back next year. I’ve got a short time with those eight (seniors) and I’m going to do everything I can to make it the best it can be.”
WSU’s eight seniors have been through a lot in the last year. The transfer of sophomore reserve Ellie Lehne started a chain of events, including a boycott of one January practice, which led to Adams-Birch’s dismissal early this year.
Assistant Kirk Crawford coached two games while Adams-Birch was briefly suspended prior to her firing, then former coach Linda Hargrove returned to finish the season. Adams is the Shockers’ fourth coach of the calendar year.
If WSU’s seniors became tight-knit during the experience, they faced more turbulence with Adams’ hiring and the addition of six new teammates, added by Adams during the spring and summer.
“I think our underclassmen and our girls from overseas balance us out,” senior forward Rangie Bessard said. “They bring a different style of play.… When they arrived here, they were very mature, they were very eager to learn.”
Adams is aiming for balance as she tries to cater to the strengths of returning players while establishing new ideas that put her stamp on the program. Like the Shockers, who finished 15-16 in their final season in the Missouri Valley Conference, Adams is looking for a measure of redemption.
After finishing 29-5 in 2015-16, UTEP dropped to eight wins last year. That seemed like the anomaly, though, because Adams reached 20 wins in four of the previous six years with four postseason appearances since 2008.
Improvement from WSU, now in the American Conference, will likely hinge on its seniors. Bessard, an all-Missouri Valley pick as a junior, averaged 17.3 points and forms a strong post duo with senior Angiee Tompkins.
TaQuandra Mike is the only non-returner among WSU’s eight top scorers, and Adams leaned heavily on veterans during WSU’s two exhibition wins.
She won’t be able to do that for long.
“Next year, we’re going to be starting again with a whole crew,” Adams said. “We’ve got a lot of work, it’s going to take some time, but I’m really excited about being here. Being a part of a basketball school and a basketball conference really excites me.”
WSU Women’s basketball schedule
10: at Creighton, 11:30 a.m.; 14: at Oklahoma St., 7 p.m. (FCSP); 18: South Dakota, 2 p.m.; 20: at Tennessee, 6 p.m. (SEC+); 24: a-New Mexico, 8 p.m.; 25: a-Illinois, 1 p.m.; 26: a-UC Irvine, 1 p.m.; 29: Missouri St., 7 p.m.
1: Western Illinois, noon; 7: at Missouri St., 7 p.m.; 9: UMKC, 2 p.m.; 15: Chicago St., 7 p.m.; 16: Alcorn St., 6 p.m.; 20: at South Dakota St., 7 p.m.; 30: Tulsa, 2 p.m.
2: at Houston, 7 p.m.; 6: at Central Florida, 1 p.m.; 10: Memphis, 7 p.m.; 13: at Tulane, 2:30 p.m.; 16: SMU, 7 p.m.; 21: South Florida, 3 p.m. (CBSSN); 27: at Memphis, 1 p.m.; 30: at East Carolina, 6 p.m.
3: Houston, 2 p.m.; 7: Cincinnati, 7 p.m. (Cox 22); 10: at Connecticut, noon; 14: Temple, 7 p.m. (Cox 22); 17: at SMU, 2 p.m.; 24: Tulane, 2 p.m. (Cox 22); 26: at Tulsa, 7 p.m.
3-6: AAC Tournament, Uncasville, Conn.