Wichita State’s Rangie Bessard scores in the lane and is working on her three-point shot. Where she can really pile up points is at the foul line, where she made 79.8 percent of her attempts last season.
As officials limit how physically defenses can play, scorers can profit by driving and scoring or drawing fouls. Bessard, last season’s Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year, made 87 of 109 foul shots. While that’s a good rate drawing fouls, her attempts ranked 10th among the Valley’s top 10 scorers last season.
How do you practice getting to the line? Blood drills at Wichita State, where drivers drive and defenders try to stop them.
“We have to go at each other — we call them blood drills,” she said. “We’re going at each other 24-7. I’m really looking to attack the basket this year.”
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Bessard, a 6-foot-1 junior forward, is also working to expand her scoring to the three-point line. She made 12 of 45 threes last season. In WSU’s new offense, more players are called upon to spread the floor with outside shooting and passing.
“Her versatility is something we are very, very excited about,” WSU coach Jody Adams-Birch said. “We can have a big guard on the (perimeter) and they see a lot more. Rangie is a very unselfish player, probably to a certain extent that I don’t want her to be that unselfish, where she could get to the free-throw line for us or take that shot. I love the fact she is all about team.”
Bessard sat out summer workouts due to a foot injury. She is practicing without limits this fall, although coaches monitor her workload. In the spring and summer, she watched film to work on footwork and shooting form.
“It was tough sitting out,” she said. “But I think I’m adjusting very well to it, especially getting the touches in our offense. I just make sure I stay fresh and ready to go for the season.”
Still No. 1 — WSU’s team is picked first in the MVC, despite losing five seniors. With all the uncertainty, coach Gregg Marshall credits past teams with turning out the votes for 2016-17.
“It’s more a testament to guys like Toure Murry and Garrett Stutz, Carl Hall and Ben Smith and Joe Ragland and now Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel,” Marshall said. “They’re basically betting on what they think we can do based on what we’ve been doing. I hope that that’s the case.”
The current Shockers know that respect comes with conditions.
“This group hasn’t done anything,” Marshall said. “That’s the urgency with which we try to practice. I’ve told these guys, probably more than they want to hear it, that they haven’t done anything.”
The Shockers aren’t quite the overwhelming favorite of past years. In 2013-14, no other MVC team received a first-place vote. The past two seasons, one other team (Illinois State and Loyola) received first-place votes — Loyola’s from its student newspaper.
On Tuesday, Illinois State got four first-place votes and Northern Iowa one.
Redbirds coach Dan Muller — as he did in 2014-15 — voted for his team. This season, he wasn’t the only one. His vote depends on how the Redbirds are practicing.
“I vote as I think we’ll finish,” he said. “At the time I voted, I thought we would finish No. 1. I told the team yesterday, I would not vote that way.”
The NBA way — Baker (Knicks) and VanVleet (Raptors) made NBA rosters over the weekend.
“It’s almost like the feeling of a new father,” Marshall said. “It’s a feeling of great pride and happiness for them. We saw what they were when they walked in. We saw how they worked, how committed they were.”
Running the Panthers — WSU isn’t the only team replacing a do-everything force at point guard. Northern Iowa is without Wes Washpun, who led the Panthers in points (14.2) and assists (5.2) and grabbed 4.1 rebounds.
Freshman guard Juwan McCloud will step into the rotation, thanks to his advanced physical skills and maturity. The Panthers aren’t putting their system solely in his hands, however.
“Juwan’s a litlte bit ahead in terms of his feel,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “He works hard every day. He hasn’t a day when he’s sat back at practice, and you don’t get that all the time from freshmen.”
UNI also has Hunter Rhodes, a junior transfer from Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College, where he averaged 12.6 points and won an NJCAA Division II title.
“He’s been impressive, late shot-clock, he’s been impressive in terms of making tough threes,” Jacobson said. “We’re going into it with a freshman point guard we think is going to have a great career and help us a lot this year. We’re going into it with a junior-college point guard that’s tough and has won a national championship.”
Before Washpun, Deon Mitchell ran things at UNI and contributed as a freshman. McCloud reminds senior Jeremy Morgan of both players.
“He’s always going 100 percent,” Morgan said. “He’s going to help us out a lot.”
Transaction updates — Illinois State forward Deontae Hawkins is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, after he was arrested and charged for alcohol-related offenses, according to the Pantagraph, over the weekend.
Hawkins, who signed with WSU in 2011 before going to prep school and landing at Illinois State, averaged 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds last season.
According to the Pantagraph, he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal transportation of alcohol and driving with a suspended license. He has a pretriail hearing on Nov. 17.
“We’re still gathering information,” Muller said. “The only thing I’ll say about that is that I’m disappointed, of course.”
Illinois State senior Tony Wills is recovering from sports hernia surgery in September. While he can run, he may not return to action until mid-November.
▪ Southern Illinois guard Mike Rodriguez is out at least three more weeks with a stress fracture in his knee, an injury that earlier sidelined him for six weeks.
Rodriguez averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 assists last season.
▪ Missouri State freshman guard Greg Williams will redshirt, coach Paul Lusk said.
Williams, from Houston, Texas, was ranked the No. 92 recruit nationally by ESPN.com after his junior season. Serious health and injury issues set him back since. Most recently, hernia surgery last spring turned into an infection that kept him hospitalized him for three months. Lusk said Williams dropped under 130 pounds during the ordeal.
“We hope he can start practicing in about a month,” Lusk said. “He’s been through some tough things. He’s on a very extensive and thorough rehab program.”