Team chemistry is important, but there are times when a senior needs to show real leadership and take over.
Like when it's time for the group to decide on a movie. There are lot of options, and it's not a bonding experience unless everybody is in the same theater sharing popcorn.
"I just go ahead and pick," guard Haleigh Lankster said. "The most recent was 'X-Men (First Class)'. We liked it a lot."
Regardless of the venue, this summer is all about bonding for the Wichita State women's basketball team. Coach Jody Adams, entering her fourth season, leads a big group of upperclassmen for the first time. Her roster of returnees includes four juniors and two seniors. She also has four newcomers — two juniors and two freshmen — and two redshirt freshmen coming off injury-shortened seasons.
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"You bring in people from all different kinds of backgrounds, and it's really important that we build trust," Adams said. "We have established leaders now. The most talented group, in writing, are now juniors. We just really haven't had that."
To get those two groups together, WSU will use 10 days of practice and games in Italy in August to get an early start. Out of that mix, WSU wants to continue the progress that started when it won six of its final eight games in 2011. The Shockers, who finished 17-15, lost in the first round of the WNIT at Kansas.
"We want to create some good chemistry, and I think the Italy trip will be great for that," Lankster said. "This team is very close-knit. We either go to the pool, hang out at the movies, we go to the mall a lot."
Practices and pickup games are an important part of that bonding. Adams spaced out her practice sessions to give the players a chance to get the most out of the informal games at Koch Arena. WSU practiced twice last week and is scheduled again on June 29. The rest are saved until late July and August. The coaches are preaching fundamentals, such as footwork, passing and shooting, and offensive and defensive basics so the players can incorporate the lessons into pickup games.
"Any detail that we can get more and more reps on, we want to show them how they can rep that by themselves," Adams said. "Then they can improve themselves, and when they play pickup, they can improve as a team. When we come back at the end of July, we really should see better footwork, better ball-handling, just little things that we've been able to identify."
Adams wants her team to sharpen its offensive execution this summer. The Shockers averaged 63.3 points, seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference, in 2011. They made 40.9 percent of their shots (fourth) and 30.5 percent of their three-point attempts (30.5).
"We have some great scorers, but we're not shot-ready, so there are some open shots we don't get," Adams said. "Footwork has to get better. We've got to be shot-ready. That's just part of getting our feet set."
The four newcomers are transfer guard Jasmine Jones, transfer forward Nicole Wells, freshmen guards Molly O'Brien and Alex Harden. Guard Krystle Henderson and forward Kelsey Jacobs are returning after injuries abbreviated their freshmen seasons.
"We want to get the newcomers familiar with our sets, our offense, our defensive philosophy," Lankster said. "It's good with these newcomers, because they fit just so well with the team. Their styles of play are similar to ours. They have strong mentalities."
WSU improved from 8-10 (sixth place) in the MVC in 2010 to 10-8 (fifth) in 2011. The trip to Italy is designed to push the Shockers closer to the top.
"We're working on team chemistry, to gel and getting started early, which is a big advantage," Henderson said. "Most teams don't get to go over and experience European trips like we do."