When the Ohio State women’s basketball team faces Ashland University in an exhibition game on Sunday, fans will finally get to see the new wave of talent donning the Scarlet and Gray.
Gone are guards Cait Craft — who provided both defense and leadership — and Ameryst Alston, who was second on the 2015-16 team in scoring at 18.3 points per game. Forward Kalpana Beach and center Lisa Blair have departed the program as well.
But the Buckeyes will debut six new players this season, starting with freshmen guards Kiara Lewis and Jensen Caretti, and forward Tori McCoy, who all ranked within the top-31 in their class by ESPN.
“I think all three of our freshmen are going to really contribute this year,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. “They’ve got a lot of talent. They are going to be really great in our program.”
OSU will also welcome the additions of three transfers. Redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga (previously at North Carolina) and redshirt sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun (Duke) will jump right into the Buckeyes’ lineup. Redshirt junior guard Linnae Harper (Kentucky) will have to wait until the end of OSU’s fall semester before hitting the court.
All six players bring plenty of on-the-court talent to the Buckeyes, but Mavunga also believes that she has taken on an important vocal leadership role with the team.
“That’s one of the biggest things that drives a team to really be great,” Mavunga said. “If the team is really quiet out there, especially on defense, then you don’t really know what’s going on.”
With the additions of Mavunga and McCoy, OSU now boasts more size in the interior, something that hurt last year’s team. In the Buckeyes’ season-ending, 78-62 Sweet-16 loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, Volunteers’ center Mercedes Russell put up a game- and career-high 25 points.
“We’ve got a little bit more presence around the basket,” McGuff said. “We need to utilize people and get them the ball.”
New faces, new depth
With the talented additions, OSU is looking at one of its deepest rosters in recent memory. Throughout this offseason, Buckeyes’ coaches and players have been harping on the team’s new depth and what it could mean for the program.
“I think it put us in a little bit better position here early on, hopefully,” McGuff said.
OSU wasn’t in too great of a situation early on last year, dropping its first two regular season contests. The Buckeyes fell 88-80 to No. 2 South Carolina in the season opener on the road and followed it up with a 100-56 loss to No. 1 UConn in the home opener.
McGuff believes that the competitive nature of this year’s team, thanks to depth, will help the team get off to a better start this time around.
“Ultimately, that’s got to be what really drives this team — the competitive environment we have on a daily basis,” McGuff said.
Mitchell expanding her role
Associated Press preseason first-team All-American junior guard Kelsey Mitchell earns plenty of national praise, but there may be no one who speaks more highly of her than her coach.
“She’s, in my opinion, the best player in college basketball,” McGuff said. “She obviously scores a lot of points, but she also makes others around her better.”
The praise is warranted. Mitchell has accomplished quite a bit in her two seasons at OSU, including breaking her own single-season scoring record in her sophomore year after breaking the record the year before.
She is widely regarded as one of the better players in all of women’s college basketball, but she never lets the spotlight shine too bright.
“I just show up every day,” Mitchell said. “I just go to school, play basketball, go to school, play basketball. I don’t try to think ahead; I don’t try to think too far behind.”
Mitchell said that she is excited for this year’s Buckeye team and what some of the newcomers can bring to the program.
“I think the one thing that separates us from other teams is that we are down to try anything, whatever the team needs,” Mitchell said. “I think our new people will do that.”
Sunday’s preseason game against Ashland will tip off at 1 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center, preparing OSU for its regular-season opener against Duquesne on Friday, Nov. 11 at St. John Arena.