Schneider provides offseason updates, outlines additional transfer needs

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider smiles as his team defeated Baylor Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Updated 11:42 a.m. Tuesday:

Minutes after guard Zakiyah Franklin rattled in a 3-pointer from the left wing to force overtime and help Kansas rally to beat Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Brandon Schneider said it “may be one of the bigger plays in Kansas women’s basketball history.”

A month removed, though, on the season finale of his “Hawk Talk” radio show Monday night, Schneider took a moment to highlight the decision that set up the improbable shot in the first place — a decision made by freshman guard S’Mya Nichols.

“Give (Franklin) all the credit in the world for making the shot,” Schneider said, “but I don’t know that we’ve talked about the individual that made the decision who passed on the first option who wasn’t really that open (Wyvette Mayberry) and then passed on the second option who happens to be the all-time leading 3-point maker in Kansas women’s basketball history (Holly Kersgieter), because she wasn’t quite wide open, and then found the wide-open man.”

Schneider praised the “poise and composure” Nichols displayed in that moment, and noted that the team’s overall execution represented a dramatic improvement from when they were “awful” in late-game situations back in the Cayman Islands Classic in November.

The sort of decision-making acumen Nichols demonstrated then was key to KU’s victory and will be key to its future, with three longtime starters in Franklin, Kersgieter and Taiyanna Jackson having exhausted their eligibility, and the Jayhawks now building around Nichols (and fellow returnee Mayberry).

“I’m in recruit mode, right, here in the spring,” Schneider said, “and I was telling a young woman and her parents the other day: When we moved S’Mya Nichols to kind of our primary decision-maker, we won 10 out of 13 games.”

Schneider and his staff are now charged with constructing a team for her to lead.

Offseason recruiting

Schneider took some time on “Hawk Talk” to comment on the arrivals of his two previous transfer signees, Kansas natives Sania Copeland (formerly of Wisconsin) and Brittany Harshaw (Creighton).

“I’ve just always believed that young people from the state, there’s just a little something extra they give when they’ve got the opportunity to have ‘Kansas’ across their chest,” Schneider said.

Both, he said, will compete for minutes right away and help KU become a deeper team.

Of Copeland, he said: “Quicker, but can really get after you. I know Wisconsin, as we watch film – and there’s some obviously great players in the Big Ten – they would put her on, oftentimes, the opponent’s best guard. Lefty, really good shooter.”

And of Harshaw: “Has three years of eligibility left and we just see a ton of potential. We recruited her out of high school. 6-1, long, athlete.”

The primary areas the team is trying to bolster in the offseason, he said, are depth, perimeter length and 3-point shooting.

Those criteria would all be addressed in part by North Dakota State transfer Elle Evans, a 6-foot-3 guard who made 45.7% of her 3s last season, who committed Tuesday and “fits perfectly,” as Schneider put it.

The coaching staff also has another visit coming from “a big perimeter player,” but is working on trying to fill its center spot, which Schneider said assistant Brock McGinnis compares to trying to find a highly coveted quarterback or a left tackle in football.

Schneider also touched on the transfer-portal departures of Paris Gaines to Georgia Southern, Skyler Gill to Florida Gulf Coast and Zsófia Telegdy to Western Kentucky: “All good fits and opportunities for those young women.”

On the whole, Schneider said, KU plans to sign eight players after losing seven in the offseason. With six spots filled after Evans’ commitment (three freshmen and three transfers), that means two more remain.

Twin’s selection

Schneider used a segment of his show to discuss the center Jackson’s recent selection by the Connecticut Sun in the second round of the WNBA Draft.

“We were obviously super excited for her, and I think as we really looked at the 12 teams, selfishly, we were hopeful that she would go to an organization that should she make the team, there would be some veterans on the roster that could really mentor her and help lift her up as she starts her career,” he said. “We couldn’t have been happier with the selection of the Sun.”

She will find it challenging to earn that coveted place on Connecticut’s roster, as all WNBA rookies do, as she fights for one of a maximum 12 spots among the 18-woman group that began training camp on Monday. (The Sun’s first preseason game is on May 9.)

“It may be the hardest professional sports league to earn a roster spot, but Twin started camp and we know she’s going to give it her best effort,” Schneider said. “I think that she serves a really specific need that Connecticut was looking for. Just hopeful that as this week progresses, she gets comfortable in training camp and gives herself a chance to make the team.”

He said that at the highest level of pro basketball Jackson may not be an offensive focal point, but that she can demonstrate her value running the floor, defending ball screens and protecting the paint.

“So many veterans dominate the sport because it’s hard to supplant them and get them off the roster,” Schneider said. “As they should, they’re going to fight to keep those jobs and keep those spots as long as they can.”

Franklin, he added, has hired an agent and is looking to play overseas.


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