With four starters back from its WNIT title squad that many believed belonged in the NCAA Tournament at season’s end, the KU women’s basketball team is entering the 2023-24 season with a fair amount of optimism.
But head coach Brandon Schneider is not interested in watching his team waltz into the season expecting the good vibes and fun run to continue. It’s a new season and a new team. And this bunch has much bigger goals than the WNIT.
“We’re at the point now with our program that we shouldn’t be handing out cookies for working hard,” Schneider recently told R1S1. “That’s gotta be the standard and the expectation, that when you come in here you’re going to work hard.”
Hard work leads to improvement. Improvement leads to better seasons. And better seasons put fans in the stands throughout the winter and end up in the NCAA Tournament.
This team is more than equipped to tackle those goals and handle the weight of them. And Schneider is excited about the returning experience, talent and tenacity his team possesses.
With that in mind, here’s a quick glance at what’s new with the KU women.
• The starting five is all but set. “I would be disappointed if it wasn’t,” Schneider said. “You know, we’ve got four returning starters and then S’Mya’s a player that we feel very confident can come in and compete for that kind of role immediately.”
None of the jobs will be handed out and each player is going to have to earn her spot. But Schneider knows what he’s got in veterans Taiyanna Jackson, Zakiyah Franklin, Holly Kersgieter and Wyvette Mayberry. And five-star freshman S’Mya Nichols could have picked any school in the country and may be the most talented freshman to ever come through KU.
• Coming and going… Two other players who started multiple games last season are no longer with the program. And both of them landed at another school in the Big 12. Ioanna Chatzeleonti and Chandler Prater will both be playing for Oklahoma State in Stillwater next season, and it seems likely that both will be starting at OSU when the season tips off. The conference schedule isn’t out yet, but you’d be wise to take note of the KU-OSU game at Allen Fieldhouse this season. It could be one of the better ones for a number of reasons. As for the new faces on KU’s roster, freshman guard Laia Conesa, of Barcelona, Spain, has the potential to be an impact player right away. She’s been playing high-level basketball at the international level since she was 12 years old and also, at 5-foot-10, has the size and skills to be plugged into a few different guard positions off the bench.
• Chemistry in place. Schneider said one of the biggest areas of emphasis this offseason has been on-court communication. They’ve stressed it in drills, at individual workouts, during camps and in team settings. And it sounds as if things are improving and going well in that department. Franklin and Kersgieter are a little quiet by nature. Jackson is not. But the challenge for all three, along with the rest of the roster, is to communicate in a way that most helps the team on game nights. Beyond that, the group is close and their run to the WNIT championship, which gained fans and attention by the win, helped take their bond to an even better place that it already was at. They played for each other. They played for their coaches. They played for their school and KU’s history and tradition. And all of that mattered as much or more than any of the individual things they accomplished along the way.
• Toughest schedule yet. We won’t know how the Big 12 Conference schedule stacks up for several weeks still, but there’s no doubt that it will be full of tough games, both at home and on the road. Beyond that, KU’s nonconference schedule will be one of the toughest it has seen in recent memory. Kansas will play host to Nebraska, travel to Texas A&M and Wichita State and could face some even tougher competition in the Cayman Islands Classic in November, where UConn, LSU, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech and others are waiting. The Jayhawks will play two games in paradise — likely against two of those opponents — and is hoping to use the experience gained in those matchups, win or lose, to help them in conference play and postseason play. Another element of the upcoming season that could come into play there, as well as with the chemistry component, is KU’s summer exhibition trip to Italy and Greece in August.
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