MANHATTAN — The first official practice for women’s college basketball teams was Tuesday, but there was a slightly different feel at Kansas State.
The Wildcats had the benefit of 10 practices and four exhibition games on a European tour last summer, so they had a head start.
“It did feel different,” senior forward Kaylee Page said at K-State’s media day Wednesday. “We were able to have 10 practices this summer and we got a lot of the teaching out of the way so it was like we started a lot further ahead than we normally would have with this young of a team.
“It helped so much to build chemistry not only on the court but off the court. We spent so much time together touring, but we also learned a lot about each other’s game and tendencies on the court.”
Still, Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie had that same old opening-day feeling Tuesday.
“It still felt like the first day for me,” Mittie said. “I think I’d probably be disappointed as a coach if it didn’t. I saw some people tweet out in the coaching profession, ‘We’ve had practices since June so it’s not the first day.’ I thought, ‘Glad you’re not on my staff.’ If you’re not excited to get going when it gets going for real, you probably ought to find a different profession, but that’s just me.
“To me, those 40-minute things we do in the summer drive me crazy because it’s not long enough to really get into the teeth of things. I can barely get mad enough in practice to yell at them in 40 minutes. My players wouldn’t agree with that.”
The Wildcats are coming off 23-win season that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. They must replace two All-Big 12 players, center Breanna Lewis and guard Kindred Wesemann, but return a solid nucleus with seniors Page, Shaelyn Martin and Karyla Middlebrook, junior Kayla Goth and sophomores Peyton Williams and Eternati Willock.
That group is bolstered by a highly-regarded recruiting class featuring five freshmen and one junior college transfer.
“It’s a new group and that’s been both challenging and fun to see how the pieces fit together,” said Mittie, who enters his fourth season with a 61-38 record at K-State.
“This team is stronger physically, more athletic physically than previous teams. They are not basketball savvy enough. They do not have an understanding of what it takes to win as a team, nor should they playing together for three months, but that’s our job as coaches to get them to that level.”
WAITING ON WILLIAMS — Williams is limited in practice while playing on the Wildcat volleyball team, where she is a starting middle blocker. The 6-foot-4 forward from Topeka is a sophomore in basketball but a freshman in volleyball after redshirting last season.
“We don’t get a lot of time but we sat down for three meetings just to make sure how we allow Peyton to be successful at both (sports) and keep her fresh but also give her enough skill time,” Mittie said. “I get her about eight to 10 times in the next month. We still have to stay within the rules of 20 hours a week and a day off so that has been something both coaching staffs have had to communicate about.
“I don’t know that there is another basketball-volleyball combo at this level. She came in Tuesday and had a great workout, and I know she’s playing very well for volleyball so it’s very special what she’s doing.”
RECOVERY PROCESS — Middlebrook didn’t play on the European tour due to an injury that continues to sideline the senior point guard.
“She has had a few setbacks in coming back. I don’t have a timeline,” Mittie said.
SERVING SUSPENSION — Willock is still facing disciplinary measures for her arrest last April on charges of criminal trespass and liquor purchase by a minor.
“Coming off the spring, she was suspended indefinitely,” Mittie said. “She did complete the things necessary to get back into practice in July. She did participate in Europe. She has made good strides, however, to finish up from her suspension she will not play in the first regular season game, nor will she play in the exhibition games.”
REDSHIRT PLAN — Junior college transfer Anastasia Tsybaeva, a 6-foot-6 center East Los Angeles College who was a late signee on Sept. 7, will redshirt this season.
“That was the plan bringing her in,” Mittie said.
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.