Women's basketball moves right along in offseason
Matt Bollant was on his way back to Champaign on Wednesday, the final recruiting period of the summer complete.
The recruiting calendar for women’s basketball contained one contact period and four evaluation periods from the end of the 2013-14 season in March through this month. Bollant and his Illinois coaching staff approach the last evaluation period — this year from July 23 to Tuesday — a little differently.
“The last one, I think you do more chasing the kids around that you’ve already offered scholarships to — make sure they see you in the crowd,” Bollant said. “I think we did a great job of making sure they saw a lot of orange. We feel good about the kids we are recruiting, and now we hope we can get them to accept a scholarship to Illinois.”
Of course, recruiting never really stops. Bollant expects at least three players — and possibly a fourth — to visit campus next week.
Bollant didn’t have any down time once he got back to Champaign on Wednesday. The Illini had a 5 p.m. practice scheduled for part of the two hours Bollant and his coaching staff get with the team each week during the summer.
Bollant said he tries to vary the summer practice schedule. Some weeks the Illini practice twice a week for an hour at a time. Other weeks, it’s three 40-minute sessions. Once official practice starts in October, Bollant will get 16 hours a week with his team — essentially more than he got the entire summer.
Less contact from coaches during the summer leaves most of the workout organization to the players. This summer, that role has fallen to point guard Kyley Simmons.
Simmons, who played one season at Missouri, sat out the 2013-14 season at Illinois after transferring and has two seasons of eligibility remaining for the Illini. She led Missouri in assists while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three-point range to earn All-Big 12 Freshman honors.
“Kyley has done a great job with our team, getting them organized the days we’re not in the gym,” Bollant said. “It’s great to have a strong leader on the floor. I think our players know they can trust her and that she believes in them.
“They can see her work ethic — how often she’s in the gym and how hard she works on her game. This is her team, and she’s going to lead us from the point.”
Bollant also said he was impressed with how the Illini newcomers have played this summer. That includes McDonald’s All-American Chatrice White, fellow freshmen Brooke Kissinger and Amarah Coleman and redshirt freshman Kennedy Cattenhead, who missed the 2013-14 season after suffering a knee injury last July.
Bollant said 6-foot-3 sophomore-to-be Jacqui Grant looked fully recovered this spring and summer from the mononucleosis that sidelined her for six games in February, and senior-to-be guard Ivory Crawford might have shown the most improvement.
“She just does everything a little bit better,” Bollant said of Crawford. “She spent more time shooting in the gym than she has before, and that has paid dividends. The number of positive plays outweigh the negative, and she’s making less mistakes.”
The Illinois women’s team will find itself in the same predicament at the beginning of the 2015-16 season as the men’s team. With State Farm Center not available until Dec. 1, 2015, the Illini will need a temporary home for their early-season home games.
And it won’t be Huff Hall. While Huff’s seating capacity would be fine for the women’s team — an issue for men’s games — the new volleyball-specific floor isn’t as suitable for basketball as the old hardwood.
Finding a temporary home for those 2015 games, though, isn’t as pressing of an issue for the women’s team as it might be for the Illini men.
“We’re just now starting to work on our ’15-16 schedule,” Bollant said, comparing it to the Illinois football schedule that has dates planned out nearly a decade in advance. “There’s still a lot of basketball teams looking for games for this coming year, and our schedule is actually done.”
When the 2014-15 schedule might be announced, however, is not set. Illinois released its entire schedule for the 2013-14 season late last August when the Big Ten allowed the conference games to be announced.
Illinois released its 2014-15 men’s basketball nonconference games last Friday, and an earlier announcement for the nonconference women’s games might be possible. One home nonconference game for sure is Dec. 3 against Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
While most of the updates this week at Ubben Basketball Complex have come on the men’s side, with new graphics to match Illinois’ re-branding, the women’s half of the practice facility will get its turn. At the moment, the basketball floor and some new carpeting have been installed.
“I think it just continues to make it look like a Big Ten practice facility,” Bollant said. “It’s sharp when recruits walk in. They’re wowed with what it looks like.”
On the move
Illinois will have a pair of Division I transfer guards in its rotation for the 2014-15 season in Kyley Simmons (Missouri) and Brittany Carter (Ball State). The Illini aren’t alone. Four other Big Ten teams have D-I transfers eligible to join their rosters for the upcoming season.
Shayla Cooper — The 6-foot-2 forward will be eligible to play in December after transferring from Georgetown. Cooper, ESPN HoopGurlz No. 35 recruit in 2013, played just two games for the Hoyas and might be best known for throwing her shoe as a defensive tactic in a win against Richmond last November.
Kianna Holland — Compartment syndrome in her leg kept Holland from playing a single game at Duke, and she’ll have four seasons of eligibility once she becomes eligible in December. The 5-foot-9 guard was rated the eighth-best guard and No. 32 player in the nation by ESPN coming out of Seneca, S.C.
Shae Kelley — The former Old Dominion standout is eligible immediately for the 2014-15 season after earning her undergraduate degree this spring. Kelley led the Monarchs in scoring in 2013-14 (17.8 ppg) and 2012-13 (13.5 ppg) after spending one season at Northwest Florida State.
Sierra Moore — The 5-foot-11 guard sat out the 2013-14 season after transferring from Duke. Moore, who is originally from Hanover, Pa., played in 25 games as a freshman for the Blue Devils and averaged 2.5 points and 1.0 rebound per game.
Rosie Gambino — OK, this one’s a little bit of a stretch. The last team Gambino played for was Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., but the last school she attended was Iowa State. Gambino, a 6-foot-4 center who set the career blocks record at Kishwaukee (206 in 69 games), left Iowa State before playing a game and will be eligible in December.