After winning the Big West title this past season, UCSB women’s basketball will look to repeat this feat and claim a second crown with the help of three new recruits next season.
“I think they’re great program kids,” Head Coach Carlene Mitchell said. “They have a great balance of the academic side of things and also my personality, so they’re going to be kids that get better over their four years.”
As a first-year head coach, the recruiting process was extremely different given that Mitchell wasn’t announced as the new coach until last May.
“It was unique because I’d only had one week to work out with our current team,” Mitchell said. “We went on the road in July and we tried to get a top 10 or 12 list just by watching kids play 10 or 12 games with their AAU programs. After that first set of evaluations, we had things narrowed down and we got on the phone and started recruiting these kids like we’d been recruiting them since they were in eighth or ninth grade.”
The three new recruits will have to help fill the shoes of two outstanding seniors, guard Emilie Johnson and forward Kelsey Adrian. Johnson led the team in scoring at 9.5 points per game, assisted with 2.8 per game and stole with .9 this season. Adrian averaged 6.5 points per game and served as the Gauchos’ three-point threat, leading the team in three-point percentage at 35.8.
“They gave all they could to the program,” Mitchell said. “Like with all seniors, you respect them, but you move on to the next group.”
When looking for players, Mitchell had one very key characteristic in mind: versatility.
“They’re very versatile players,” Mitchell said. “After seeing our team play this year, people know that unless you’re 6’5’’, to me our two, three and four positions are interchangeable. They give us some height on the wings because we were extremely small at times this year and it affected us on the defensive side.”
5-foot-10 guard Ware comes to UCSB from Sacramento High. Named the 86th-best guard in the nation by ESPN, Ware averaged 14.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 2.0 assists per game last season.
“I think a lot of coaches probably know they missed one with Jasmine,” Mitchell said. “She’s a defensive stopper. I watched her guard a 6’2’’ kid in a high school game and control the entire game with her defensive mentality.”
Ware led her team to a 27-7 overall record and a 14-0 mark in league.
“[Ware] knows how to win and she’s also going to bring the energy that maybe the personality of our kids didn’t have this year,” Mitchell said. “We need to continue to grow with that aspect and know it’s okay to play with a lot of emotion. Jasmine’s going to be one of those that refuses to lose.”
While Ware is known for her offensive ability, Mitchell looks to take advantage of Ware’s defensive versatility, claiming she could guard positions one through four. “She’s legit 5’10’’, but she plays a lot bigger,” Mitchell said. “She’s extremely long and athletic and just lightning quick from end to end. She’ll be able to help us at times because we struggled to guard bigger, more physical guards.”
At first look, Morrison seems very similar to Adrian. Both are versatile players, listed at over six feet tall, but play on the wing and shoot well from behind the arc with Morrison shooting at 33 percent. “Probably the biggest difference, and Kelsey did this later in the season for us to have a chance to win, is that Kendra is really physical,” Mitchell said. “She’s going to want to post at times, so [while] Kelsey came in having the reputation as a shooter, Kendra’s going to be a scorer because she’ll post up and find a way to get to the free throw line.” Last season, Morrison averaged 16.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game at Eastlake High in Sammamish, Wash. With a height of 6’1”, Morrison is known as a rebounding guard who can also handle the ball extremely well.
“We’ll have [sophomore Nicole Nesbit] running the point 90 percent of the time and [sophomore Melissa Zornig] will probably see some time backing her up, but I would never hesitate [to play Kendra],” Mitchell said. “Kendra’s one of those that if you ask her to play one, two, three and four, she has that ability. [She’s] just a blue- collar, ‘I’m going to find a way to win’ [player] and she’s willing to do all the team things.”
After averaging 12.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals last season, MaxPreps named Pino the 73rd-best player in California.
“It was funny because she was the first kid on campus when I took the job and her dad was her high school coach and he said she could play the one, two or three,” Mitchell said. “And we went and saw her play and watched some film and I said, ‘She’ll be a dominating four player before she’s done here because of her size.’”
This 6-foot-3 forward from Chaparral High in Temecula brings height to a UCSB team that was undersized all of last season. Pino also played volleyball, and as a result is known for her athleticism and jumping ability. Mitchell expects her to also play some center.
“She’s a great passer from the high post area and we do a lot of high-low action,” Mitchell said. “She’s very comfortable shooting the 17-footer or three-pointers at times. She’ll bring that length that we didn’t have.”
Mitchell’s first recruiting class will join nine returners, including Big West Tournament MVP and junior center Kirsten Tilleman. Tilleman averaged 6.8 points and 8.4 rebounds (a team high), finding her offensive stride later in the season. In the championship, Tilleman tallied a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards.
Yet, according to Mitchell, Tilleman may not be the one to step up as the leader, or at least not vocally.
“I think the person who has taken a backseat her entire career that’s been a great leader for us right now is [junior guard] Angelei Aguirre,” Mitchell said. “Angelei is a little more vocal and where Tilleman is getting out of her comfort level a little more, she always leads by example.”
With the looks of her team, Mitchell has high hopes for her squad next season.
“They understand me and what this coach staff wants from them a bit more,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully we’ll get off to a better start next season. We have an extremely difficult, tough schedule, though, (which includes UNLV, BYU, USC and Washington), so we’ll be challenged early and we’ll see our resiliency and if that prepares us for Big West play.”