KU women’s basketball has no direct replacement for Jackson, but wide-ranging post possibilities

photo by: Chance Parker

Kansas sophomore Nadira Eltayeb grabs a loose ball during the Sunflower Showdown against Kansas State on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.

Head coach Brandon Schneider left no doubt on the matter in a recent interview with the Journal-World: The Kansas women’s basketball team certainly doesn’t have anyone similar to Taiyanna Jackson on this year’s roster.

Indeed, Jackson, the Jayhawks’ all-time blocks leader who averaged a double-double during her KU tenure and was a WNBA draft pick, isn’t walking into Allen Fieldhouse any time soon. But Schneider maintains that in her absence, KU has gotten deeper, with four principal options expected to play in the post during the 2024-25 campaign.

“I think with Nadira (Eltayeb) and with Danai (Papadopoulou), they bring a really strong, power-like game to our team,” Schneider said, “and then right now with Regan Williams and with Freddie (Wallace) coming in, we’re going to have more of perimeter-oriented 5s that can maybe stretch the floor for us a little bit, maybe allow us to play a little bit faster in some regards.”

In other words, whereas last season’s plan with Jackson off the floor was mostly to have Papadopoulou eat up as many minutes as possible (with freshman Paris Gaines, since transferred to Georgia Southern, entering in emergency situations), the Jayhawks now have several contingency plans. The question is who, if anyone, emerges as the primary option ahead of the season.

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World

Kansas center Danai Papadopoulou puts up a one-handed short range shot against Kansas State Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Allen Fieldhouse.

The power pair

Eltayeb and Papadopoulou are both 6-foot-4 and have each played three years and at least 50 games with the Jayhawks. Yet any discussion of the pair of centers relies on a fairly small sample size of career minutes: 366 for Eltayeb across two seasons before she missed 2023-24 due to a season-ending injury, and 406 for Papadopoulou.

Eltayeb, a Seattle native who played the COVID-altered 2020-21 season at Eastern Arizona College, averaged 1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in her first year with the Jayhawks. The following season, despite playing about a minute fewer per game, she averaged 1.3 points and 2.3 rebounds and her shooting percentage of 59.4% was a dramatic upgrade from the prior season.

That year saw Papadopoulou, from Thessaloniki, Greece, relegated to just three games.

As a freshman she had posted 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, boosted by seven points and five rebounds in her fourth career appearance against Saint Louis.

Later, as a junior last season, she surged into a greater role following Eltayeb’s injury, playing in all but one game and averaging eight minutes. She struggled on the offensive end, scoring just one point per game on 12-for-37 shooting, but did manage to grab 2.3 rebounds. She also dealt with foul trouble when she saw more extended action (often when Jackson herself was also in foul trouble), including fouling out of games against Virginia Tech, Texas (twice) and BYU.

Eltayeb has shown a bit more shot-blocking potential, with 17 blocks in her career to Papadopoulou’s nine.

In short, though, neither has had extensive or particularly demonstrative experience. Schneider did, however, speak highly of Eltayeb’s future prospects in January, when he said on his radio show that prior to her injury she had been on track to step in as the primary center after Jackson’s departure.

This offseason, Eltayeb has participated fully in KU’s skill-development workouts. Schneider said, “As we progress into the fall, she’ll be doing more contact, and we feel really good about the kind of role that she has the potential to have on our team.”

“It’s a very difficult challenge, and there’s highs and lows in a rehab process that is that extensive,” he added. “But I think Nadira’s handled it really well. She’s been ahead of schedule.”

photo by: Butler Community College Athletics

Butler sophomore forward Freddie Wallace shoots during a game against Cowley on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Arkansas City.

The perimeter pair

The ability to stretch the floor from the center spot will derive this season from a pair of newcomers, both slightly smaller at 6-foot-2 (Wallace) and 6-foot-3 (Williams) and both seeking to transfer their play styles to a higher level of competition.

Williams, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, played her senior year at well-regarded Link Academy after starting for three years at Park Hill South in Riverside. As a sophomore she averaged 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. Her film shows an ability to get down the court in transition — a good sign given that Schneider hopes to use stretch 5s to run the floor more quickly — and a smooth release when she shoots from the outside.

“Regan is a relentless competitor with an elite motor,” Schneider said in a press release when she signed. “She has the versatility to defend multiple positions and treats every rebound and loose ball as if they belong to her. Offensively, we expect her to make an immediate impact on our frontline.”

Wallace, the final piece added to the 2024-25 roster, comes from Butler Community College, where she is the all-time points leader. Needless to say, she scored quite well (17.8 points) and rebounded just as effectively (7.1 boards) over the course of her two seasons, both of which earned NJCAA All-American honors.

Outside shooting was not necessarily a central component of her game, or at least didn’t function effectively as one on a consistent basis. She opened her Butler career 0-for-14 from deep across her first 10 games. Contrastingly, the first 10 games of her second season in El Dorado saw her go 10-for-24 (41.7%). In both cases, results normalized somewhat, but left Wallace as just a career 22.6% 3-point shooter in 106 attempts.

That makes her certainly more of a threat on the outside than Eltayeb or Papadopoulou or Jackson, who were a combined 0-for-2 across the previous three seasons, but it might not be enough to command the respect of Big 12 Conference defenses unless she channels that form from early in her sophomore season. Of course, stretching the floor isn’t all about 3s, and indeed at Butler she showed a solid midrange game, particularly on jumpers from around the elbow, even if much of her record-breaking scoring came via strong finishes in the post.

It’s hard to glean much from defensive stats at lower levels, though it’s worth noting that Williams’ sophomore season included 1.2 blocks per game, and Wallace only averaged 0.8 across two seasons of junior college but added 1.6 steals.

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