By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Baylor women’s basketball opened practice for the 2019-2020 season on Monday afternoon at the Ferrell Center where, according to head coach Kim Mulkey, the reigning national champions got off to a fast start, despite the fatigue that comes with the first practice of the year.
“It’s always good to get them back on the floor. It’s hard to believe that this season is already here,” Mulkey said. “Without a doubt, we are farther along today than we were this time a year ago. We had five freshmen last year and because I had them two days a week prior to today’s start we’re just moving fast. It definitely helps when you only have one freshman and two grad transfers. We move pretty quickly.”
The Lady Bears are coming off an epic championship season that saw them ranked No. 1 in the country and bring home not only their 19th and 20th combined Big 12 titles (10th regular season and 10th tournament title) but also their third national title. Baylor went 37-1 overall and 18-0 in conference and ended the year on a 29-game winning streak.
But this year is a new year, andd while the Lady Bears return nine of their players from that championship squad, Mulkey said this is a whole new team.
“Well we’re not the same team that won the national championship,” Mulkey said. We have a lot of the same parts but we have to get all on the same page. We have to take those new players and do with them what we did with Chloe Jackson and what you did with the freshmen last year. The talent is there. The returning players certainly are there. But we’re not the same team today that we were in the Final Four.”
After saying goodbye to All-American center Kalani Brown and grad transfer Chloe Jackson, two players who were essential to the victory in Tampa, Fla. last April, the team welcomed freshman guard Jordyn Oliver, South Carolina transfer Te’a Cooper and Texas Tech transfer Erin DeGrate to the roster.
A TABC 6A All-State selection, Oliver came to Baylor from Prosper High School where she averaged 20 points and nine rebounds as a senior and racked up more than 2,000 career-points. The freshman was aided the 2017 USA Women’s U16 National Team to a gold medal against Canada in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was invited to play for the 2018 USA Women’s U17 National Team.
With such a high basketball IQ, senior forward Lauren Cox said Oliver was catching up to Baylor’s style of play very quickly.
“I mean Jordyn catches on really quick. She’s really smart, has a high basketball IQ and I think we’re a lot further along than we were last year because of that. We were having to do just a lot of teaching just because we had so many freshmen,” Cox said. “And then Erin and Te’a, they’ve been through it. They’ve been at other schools, had the college experience so, we just got to teach them our ways.”
Cox and senior guard Juicy Landrum are beginning their last season as Lady Bears. The Flower Mound senior was named the 2019 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and comes into the year eight blocks away from taking the No. 2 spot on Baylor’s all-time career list with 242.
Landrum is ranked seventh all-time at Baylor with a .397 three-point field goal percentage and had career bests in every category during all of her starts as a junior. The Waco native said that starting their last first practice was a little bit harder than in years past.
“Me and [Lauren Cox] got to talk and were like ‘This is our last first practice.’ Kind of reminiscing all of the days we had first practices,” Landrum said. “I feel like this was the toughest. But definitely a good practice, bringing in new players, transfers, freshmen. It was great. We’ve been working in the off-season so things are coming natural to us now.”
The Lady Bears hit the hardwood for their first match of the season against Langston on Oct. 25. They will host the first seven matches of their schedule at the Ferrell Center before traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands to face Washington State, Indiana and South Carolina in the 2019 U.S. Virgin Island Paradise Jam.
Baylor will return on Dec. 4 to host three more non-conference games in Waco before heading up to Norman, Okla. for its first conference matchup against the Sooners. The Lady Bears will then take a brief break from Big 12 play in a match-up against Connecticut before resuming conference schedule at home against Oklahoma State on Jan. 12.
Despite the fact that they hold a national title for their hard work last year, Mulkey said the team has to stay focused if they want to return to the Final Four next March and possibly win another national title.
“Just, to play in front of that many people, to win a national championship and have it go down to the wire, will make them better players. It will make us a better team eventually, because they’ll have that memory,” Mulkey said. “But yet, they’re not entitled to anything. If they’re not hungry this year, we won’t have a very good year. If they’re hungry and they throw that national championship to the side and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to do this again this year. I’d like to go to New Orleans and stay hungry,’ they just might do it.”