A few days after his team’s first preseason scrimmage, Ohio State women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff offered a dose of measured positivity.
The Buckeyes are making progress, he said, but they still have a long way to go to recognize their potential. That’s expected when the task at hand involves introducing two-thirds of a roster to an offensive system that hums on speed and ball movement.
“Just so many new people trying to get what we’re trying to do,” McGuff said. “We’re making progress, but sometimes it feels like a war of attrition.”
He recognizes in his 2018-19 roster, though, a group that signed up for battle.
That team includes three freshmen — Dorka Juhasz, Janai Crooms and Aaliyah Patty — who will see significant playing time, returners Makayla Waterman and Jensen Caretti looking to play bigger roles, and four healthy graduate transfers eager for the challenge of a higher level of competition.
Everyone is motivated by something, and that’s what Ohio State hopes will lead to greater buy-in to team principles.
The trait is one the coaching staff hopes will make up for some of the talent drain experienced at the end of last year.
Four-time All-American Kelsey Mitchell, all-Big Ten players Linnae Harper and Stephanie Mavunga, and rotation regulars Asia Doss and Alexa Hart graduated, and Sierra Calhoun transferred to Rutgers, meaning that just about every role and minute is up for grabs.
“That’s a stark difference from things in the past,” McGuff said. “We could kind of get out of what we were doing in the past and kind of save ourselves with really great players who could make those plays.”
With this group, he added, “it’s got to be more about execution and discipline and sticking to what we do.”
Learning exactly what it is Ohio State does — traditionally under McGuff, that has been push the pace on offense to put defenses under pressure and find weaknesses — requires time and patience from a group of individuals still getting acquainted on the court.
The four healthy graduate transfers have hundreds of college games among them but none in the Big Ten. It’s a step they said they are eager to face, not one of which they are afraid.
“I am so excited because we’re playing top teams, and when you play top teams, you have a chance to be ranked and so forth, so the competition level is definitely higher,” said Adreana Miller, a graduate transfer from LaSalle. “Mentally I have to prepare because we’re going against some really great teams.”
Bowling Green transfer Carly Santoro led the Falcons with 12.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a junior last season. Now, she’ll likely be relied on as a key contributor on both ends against a much tougher slate of opponents.
“Everybody always wants the opportunity to play on the biggest stage, and I’m granted that opportunity,” Santoro said. “I want to take that opportunity, and I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Figuring out how the pieces fit — which lineups mesh best — will take time, trial and error for McGuff. The Buckeyes will also be tested early by a November schedule that includes a strong South Florida team and perennial contenders Stanford and Connecticut.
Newness could lead to early-season struggles for Ohio State, but the team’s optimism lies in its potential to improve from those mistakes by the time it reaches the thick of the Big Ten schedule.
“I do see progress. It’s great, because things are coming together,” said Carmen Grande, a graduate-transfer point guard from Ball State. “It’s slow because we don’t know each other as well as we’d like, but we’re getting there, so that’s good, and people are willing to take the steps to get there.”