MANHATTAN — More than two months have passed since Kansas State hired Jeff Mittie as its women’s basketball coach, but he feels like he is still getting started.
He meets new faces everywhere he goes and he learns something about his team with each passing day. Everything is new. The thought of walking onto the floor at Bramlage Coliseum for the first time feels too large to comprehend.
“I’m not there yet,” Mittie said. “I am excited to get on the court in June with them. They aren’t ready for games yet. I have only been inside the Bramlage locker room once. I have been so busy doing other things, but we were going through there the other day and that got me fired up.
“I love the floor for practice, but the locker room is a special place for teams. We aren’t there yet, but the time we spend this summer in practice will get us there. At some point, I know I am going to be excited for that first game.”
One important factor in that journey has already occurred. When K-State reversed course and released Leticia Romero from her scholarship on Tuesday, a cloud of negative attention that has loomed over the program evaporated.
Mittie, who came to K-State from TCU, hasn’t said much about the transfer saga, other than acknowledging it was a distraction. Could it have a lingering negative effect on the program? Perhaps, but Mittie doesn’t seem worried.
“Anytime you take over a program you know that everything is not going to go as smoothly as you would necessarily like,” Mittie said. “Transition is hard. It’s just hard. The thing I get back to is our team has been so good. Collectively, our team has been so good, coming in and working every day.”
Now the Wildcats may be able to sharpen their focus.
“Going forward we are getting in conversations with the right people about the future of Kansas State,” Mittie said. “We are getting the right people in here who fit, and I feel good about the group that we have and the players we have coming in.”
Mittie has found success on the recruiting trail. He has signed a pair of junior-college transfers, Deborah Meeks and Antoinette Taylor, on top of incoming freshmen Shaelyn Martin, of Salina, and Lauren Mertz, from Overland Park.
He has also secured an oral commitment from Wichita South’s Kendrian Elliott, who averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds last season, for the 2016 class. She was so eager to play for K-State that she committed before her junior year, pledging her loyalty midway through a recruiting pitch.
Mittie thinks he has laid the groundwork for future recruiting success, despite some difficult circumstances. His goal is to own the region within a four-hour drive of Manhattan.
“It is always difficult to recruit at this time of year in women’s basketball, because there are not many available players who can play at the Big 12 level,” Mittie said. “We were very fortunate to get in on players we thought could do that and we were very fortunate to sign them. They give us more guard depth and athleticism. They can get shots up at the end of the shot clock and that is an area where we thought we needed improvement.”
K-State players will be asked to exceed low expectations in Mittie’s first season. Ten players return from a squad that won 11 games last season, but they will have to adapt without Romero, who led the Wildcats in most statistical categories.
They have gotten off to a slow start in that area with four players battling injuries. But that missed practice time can be made up.
“I have really enjoyed the group,” Mittie said. “Our team has worked extremely hard. I have really enjoyed getting to know them. We had a lot of injuries at the end of last year. When it took the job we had Kelly Thomson, Jessica Sheble, Haley Texada and Bri Craig all not available to play. They were all hurt.
“That in itself was interesting. They weren’t able to get on the floor, but three weeks into it they were able to get out and that was good. Knowing the work they put in the last six weeks, I feel very good about their buy in. They have picked things up very quickly. We have an intelligent basketball team.”