It’s been a while since the Kansas State women’s basketball team expected to play in front of large crowds at Bramlage Coliseum.
But it has happened before. Between 2001 and 2009, when K-State consistently won 20 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats routinely played in front of thousands.
The hope that he could one day restore that fan passion was among the main reasons why new basketball coach Jeff Mittie sought the job in the offseason.
“I wanted to go to a place that had shown in the past that women’s basketball was important,” Mittie said. “The fan base, you would go out there and have 9,000 fans, I just thought that this was a unique place for women’s basketball in that regard.”
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Mittie has considerable work ahead of him before he will coach a home game in front of 9,000 fans. K-State, which parted ways with former coach Deb Patterson after 18 seasons, hasn’t challenged for a conference championship or been nationally relevant since 2009. Coming off an 11-19 season and back-to-back dismal 5-13 Big 12 campaigns, Mittie is now at the center of a rebuilding project.
K-State was picked to finish ninth in the Big 12’s preseason poll, edging out last-place Texas Tech by a slim margin. TCU, the team Mittie left to come to K-State, was picked seventh.
With a young, mostly unproven roster, exceeding initial expectations won’t be easy. But Mittie is up for the challenge. No matter how long it takes.
“You want to move as quickly as possible, but you also want to do it the right way,” Mittie said. “It does take time. The process takes time. The Big 12 is a league that you can’t skip many steps. You aren’t going to be able to skip any steps. If you think you can, you are probably going to end up hurting yourself in the long run.
“I haven’t put a timetable to it. I wouldn’t sell this team short. I just think we have got to incrementally get better every year in every practice.”
So far, it doesn’t sound like the Wildcats are making progress at warp speed. During his preseason news conference, Mittie said many returning players have been slow to adapt to his coaching demands. If he were a NASCAR driver, he would be spending more time in the pits than on the track. He wants his players to loosen up and start playing without fear of making mistakes. He also urges them to help each other.
Right now, that isn’t happening.
But the message seems to be sinking in.
“It’s different, but different is good,” Kindred Wesemann said. “Change is good. I love it. I love playing for this coach. I loved playing for Coach Patterson, too, but this whole coaching staff is all about you and improving you individually, which helps you improve as a team. One of our big things this year is helping your teammates. That is what we go by.”
Mittie has embraced the challenges of this job since arriving on campus, choosing to live in his office in order to spend the most possible time at work until his family moved to Manhattan late in the summer.
So far, the job has been everything he hoped it would. But it won’t be a dream come true until he coaches in front of big home crowds.
“I don’t want to be one of those programs where the senior year is the best year you have and you are in sixth,” Mittie said. “Then you lose five seniors and the next year you are dropping back down. We need to build this with a foundation that puts us in position to climb in the Big 12 and stay there. We haven’t been there in a while, finishing ninth twice, so we have some work to do.”
WILDCAT WOMEN’S ROSTER
Benton Harbor, Mich.
(State Fair CC)
Riley (Riley County)
Overland Park (BVNW)
Plains (SW Heights)
Tulsa (Palm Beach CC)
Pleasant Hill, Mo.
WILDCAT WOMEN’S SCHEDULE
All times p.m. unless noted
at Wichita St.
at Iowa St.
at Oklahoma St.
at West Virginia
at Texas Tech
y-Big 12 Tournament
x-at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico