Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor women’s basketball opened practice Monday to prepare for the 2018-19 season.
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, who underwent spinal fusion surgery in August, was cleared to participate in practices just in time for the Lady Bears to prepare for the season. Mulkey said that, while she feels better, she needs to be cautious with her physical workload this season.
“I’ve got to be smart,” Mulkey said. “I’ve got a long season ahead and a lot of work to do with a very talented and young team. I feel a lot better than I did prior to surgery.”
The Lady Bears return six players from last season with four departing from the 2018 Big 12 Championship squad. Baylor lost point guard Kristy Wallace and forward Dekeiya Cohen to graduation while guard Natalie Chou elected to transfer to UCLA and point guard Alexis Morris was dismissed from the team on Sept. 11.
Mulkey said the coaching staff is focusing on bringing up the young players and teaching them how to be leaders on the court.
“Last year, when you have someone like Kristy Wallace coaching them on the floor, you can just kind of roll the ball out there because you’ve taught her what to do,” Mulkey said. “Now we’ve got a young group and we’ve got to make sure that we’re patient with them. We’ve got to make sure we don’t get frustrated with them because they are very talented.”
Baylor brings in five freshmen: Forward NaLyssa Smith, guard Honesty Scott-Grayson, forward Aquira DeCosta, center Queen Egbo and forward Caitlin Bickle. Mulkey said she is still trying to figure out how these freshmen fit in with the team.
“I’ve got to figure out who our best offensive players are, because I don’t know other than what we have returning,” Mulkey said. “And then a defensive stopper. And then let those kids separate themselves. We may not know in a month.”
The Lady Bears took advantage of a nine-day tour of Italy this summer in which they defeated the Bosnia/Herzegovina national team, TK Hannover of Germany and Muggia Select. Senior center Kalani Brown said she is excited about the upcoming year and said the team was able to bond over the summer trip.
“I feel really great about this year,” Brown said. “We got to work on things that we need to work on, and team chemistry is most important, and I feel like we all get along and we’re all together on this, so I feel really good about this year.”
Mulkey said the young players learned some of the Baylor offense during the Italy trip, so now they are focusing on defense.
“We introduced them to some things this summer,” Mulkey said. “The majority of what [we did today] was spent on defense. They all come from different programs. Some play zone in high school and some play man. We’ve just got to keep teaching them what we want them to do.”
In addition to the freshman class, the Lady Bears added graduate transfer Chloe Jackson to the team this offseason. Jackson was an All-SEC performer at guard last year for LSU. Mulkey said Jackson, Scott-Grayson and junior guard Juicy Landrum will handle the point guard responsibilities this season.
“There’s no substitute for the experience that she’s had,” Mulkey said. “That certainly is something we’re counting on. She’s a great mid-range shooter. She’s not played much point guard in her career, so we’re asking her to move from an off-guard spot just as we are with Juicy to play some point guard. Honesty being a freshman, it’s a learning curve for her. Those three will handle the majority of the point guard position for us as we start.”
Baylor will lean on preseason All-Americans Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown for offensive production. Cox, a junior forward, averaged 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year for the Lady Bears. Brown, a senior center, anchored the team with 20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in 2017-18.
Mulkey said Cox serves as a vocal leader while Brown lets her game do the talking.
“Cox is your coach on the floor more than anybody,” Mulkey said. “She’s not afraid to open her mouth. Kalani needs to focus on [being motivated] … If you’re going to be a potentially three-time All-American, you need to demand the ball every time down the floor. And when you get it, you need to do something with it … You got two bigs inside. The way I look at it is, whatever inexperience we have on the outside, it’s not too difficult to teach perimeter players to throw the ball into a 6-7 and a 6-5 kid inside.”
The Lady Bears open the season against Nicholls State at 6 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Ferrell Center.