Monday, February 27, 2017 83
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Is Kevin Hambly here for the long haul? How about Matt Bollant? Ask beat writer Jeff Huth, who chats at 11 a.m. Submit questions any time.
Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini women's basketball and volleyball. We'll get started in a few minutes.
At the top, I wanted to follow up on a question that was asked last week. It had to do with when Adrienne GodBold might play her first game with the Illini this season after sitting out the first semester while academically ineligible.
I responded that Matt Bollant had said a while back that the Dec. 28 game against Georgia was most likely, but that there was a possibility GodBold could return as early as Dec. 21 for the Illinois State game.
A few days ago, Bollant indicated that the earliest Godbold now could be cleared to play was for Georgia's visit to the Assembly Hall. With final exams for the fall semester not ending until Dec. 20, there simply isn't enough time to finalize grades and submit the finished paperwork that will be needed for the senior guard to be cleared to play.
I am quite excited by the impending arrival of the incoming players, particularly Katie Stadick and Michelle Strizak. It appears that Kevin Hambly is very excited about them also. From your vantage what might we expect?
Kevin Hambly has indicated to me several times that Strizak and Stadick are major talents with high ceilings. There's a possibility both could step into the lineup as freshman, particularly Stadick.
With Erin Johnson having completed her eligibility, there's will be an opening at middle blocker next season. It could be the 6-foot-3 Stadick from Watertown, Wis., who was named to the 2012 Under Armour High School All-America first team. Hambly has referred several times to her "farm girl" background and how strong she is compared to the typical incoming freshman.
On Wednesday, Cincinnati native Strizak was named Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year. The 6-1 outside hitter previously joined Stadick on the Under Armour All-America first team. Look for Strizak to be strongly in the mix next season for the outside hitter position alongside Jocelynn Birks.
Hambly potentially faces an interesting decision since Liz McMahon showed such promise after being moved from right-side hitter to outside hitter late last season. Are McMahon and Birks the Illini's two best outside hitters, or does Strizak perform so well in preseason practices when she arrives late next summer that she deserves to be in the starting lineup? And, if that's the case, does Hambly move McMahon back to the right side?
I suspect that's a decision the UI coach would welcome because it would reflect the kind of talent and depth he would have among his hitters.
(1) I love Alexis Smith's game. What do you think are the most important things she brings to the team? Where does she have most room to improve?
(2) Can Karisma Penn play in the WNBA? Limited slots are available there. She's got the quickness and the skill, but does she have the size and/or strength?
Alexis Smith brings multiple qualities that you like to see in a point guard. She has an attacking mentality and can really push the ball in transition. From what I've seen, she's a good finisher, which you can't say about some in the women's college game (those short missed shots have to drive coaches crazy).
And since a point guard's primary duty is to distribute the ball and get it into the hands of teammates in high-percentage scoring situations, Smith clearly meets that criterion. Entering the week, the 5-9 sophomore ranked 14th in the nation in assists per game, and she currently ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten.
Areas of needed improvement would be cutting down on her turnovers and improving her defense, although Matt Bollant was highly pleased with how Smith played D against Oregon in the Illini's most recent game. He praised her role in a UI defense that held Oregon eight points below its scoring average and helped force 22 Ducks turnovers.
Regarding your second question, I'll admit my knowlege of the WNBA is sparse. Since I haven't covered UI women's basketball since the late 1990s, I've gotten away from following the women's pro game. Penn is a battler around the basket and I suspect she could easily handle what I presume is a more physical game at the WNBA level. And she clearly has worked hard at developing offensive moves in the post. She appears to be pretty accomplished in that area.
I think you're right to question whether her height would be an issue. At 6-2, she could be too short to play the same position in the pros that she plays in college.
Looks like there are no more questions, so we'll wrap up the chat now. Talk to you next week.