The past is the past, and the Ohio State women’s basketball team is looking to put last season behind them and turn toward getting better before play resumes in the fall.
With the 2015-16 season ending with a 78-62 loss to the Tennessee Lady Vols in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes head into the offseason motivated to improve in all areas of the game, along with adding weapons to their arsenal.
The Buckeyes are losing two of their roster’s cornerstones in senior guards Ameryst Alston and Cait Craft, as well as redshirt junior forward Kalpana Beach, who had knee troubles throughout her collegiate career. With these three now out of the equation, the Buckeyes will have voices to fill, as they were the primary leaders for the squad.
“With Ameryst, Cait and Kalpana, we certainly lose leadership,” said OSU coach Kevin McGuff. “We couldn’t have moved the program forward without them jumping in and embracing what myself and my staff tried to do when we got the job.”
Alston saw action on the hardwood immediately and rose to be one of the most prolific scorers to ever put on a Buckeye uniform, surpassing the 2,000-point mark in her career.
Craft followed in the footsteps of her brother, Aaron Craft, gaining recognition for her relentless defense and selflessness on the offensive side of the court.
Beach only was able to play in a handful of games this season while recovering from her knee injury from last year, but she was still a motivational voice on the bench when she was unable to play.
Despite losing the trio of veterans, there are other stars on the Scarlet and Gray who are returning and cannot be forgotten.
Sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell has been the center of OSU’s offensive scheme for the past two years, and even with opponents knowing her scoring abilities, the first-team All-American still averaged 26.1 points per game, ranking No. 3 in the nation.
Junior forward Shayla Cooper will be returning for her senior campaign in the fall, and her scoring will be even more important than it was this year, especially with the loss of Alston. Cooper came off the bench this year in the majority of games, averaging 13.3 points and grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.
Sophomore forward Alexa Hart and sophomore guard Asia Doss are two returners who will also be back to help the Buckeyes make another run for some hardware.
“In general, everyone has to step up a little bit,” McGuff said. “It will be a much more competitive environment with more players and more talent. Hopefully that brings out the best in everybody.”
As McGuff’s program continues to gain national prominence year in and year out, naturally its recruiting will improve. Such is the case with OSU’s incoming freshman class, which ranks No. 8 nationally in ESPN’s rankings.
The group is made up of 6-foot-4 forward Tori McCoy, 5-foot-8 point guard Kiara Lewis and 6-foot-1 guard Jensen Caretti.
McCoy, the 10th overall prospect in the nation, is one of the most athletic interior players in the entire class of 2016. ESPN scouts gave McCoy an overall grade of 98 because of her unlimited potential and her ability to attack the rim with such a soft touch.
“She is really long and athletic,” McGuff said. “I think she has a lot of versatility and can score around the basket. I am really excited about her.”
In the backcourt, Lewis might have to take a backseat to Mitchell because she’s coming into the OSU program as a point guard. But with her explosiveness, the Chicago native has the ability to play two guard. Lewis works well in one-on-one situations, making her a fantastic sidekick to join Mitchell in the backcourt and filling the scoring void created by Alston’s departure.
“A really tough kid. I like her versatility at both of the guard spots,” McGuff said. “It will create a lot of competition there and a lot of depth.”
Caretti won’t be venturing too far from home for college. Although she is the lowest ranked player in the Buckeyes’ recruiting class, the Hannibal, Ohio, product has great length for the guard position and shows her versatility with her athletic play. Ohio’s Ms. Basketball can create mismatches for opponents, giving McGuff and the Buckeyes plenty of possibilities to work with.
“I think Caretti is going to be a really great fit in the system with pressing, running and tipping balls,” McGuff said. “She has a tremendous amount of upside.”
The offseason is where teams hone in on their physical abilities and fundamental skills, and OSU isn’t wasting any time beginning that process, even after the longer season this year.
Because of their run in the tournament, McGuff and his team are well aware that they don’t have that much time to prepare for next season.
“I will meet with each player individually to make sure that we are on the same page, recapping the previous season,” McGuff said. “We keep it more individually based in the spring. We start lifting in the weight room, and we are heavier on really trying to build strength in the offseason.”
In the summer, all the players stay in Columbus for workouts, but as the season gets closer, the workouts turn into more team-oriented sessions.
After the possibility for a special season crept into OSU’s mind during the season, the team went out with a fizzle. Still, McGuff said he believes next year is a fresh start and could present bigger and better things.
“This will be the deepest and most talented team that I have had the opportunity to coach since I have been here,” he said.