HUNTINGTON — Marshall University women’s basketball coach Tony Kemper has been excited about the newcomers within his program since he saw them back in the summer.
On Tuesday, Kemper gets to see what they do under the lights as the Thundering Herd opens the 2019-20 season against Kentucky Christian in a 6 p.m. contest at Cam Henderson Center.
“Tuesday begins that process for real when the lights are on,” Kemper said. “We’ll see who holds up when the lights are on. It’s a chance to mesh our team together.”
Marshall’s women’s team opted to play two closed scrimmages instead of exhibition matchups, a legal alternative under NCAA rules. Those contests came against Georgetown and Radford in the last two weeks. While Kemper got plenty of feedback from those matchups, he added that he’s excited to see how players perform once there is a crowd in attendance and the stakes are raised a bit.
Kemper added that the scrimmages showed plenty to be optimistic about for his team, which has to replace two key scoring options in Shayna Gore and Taylor Porter.
“I think the biggest thing is that we saw (in the scrimmages) that we can be a pretty good team with consistency,” Kemper said. “We can hold longer through the good times and bounce up quicker through the bad.”
One of the keys to that mental consistency is the leadership provided by senior forward Khadaijia Brooks, who has seen plenty of game experience since her freshman year. Brooks is going to be leaned on heavily to keep the ship steady with a group of newcomers that includes incoming guards Savannah Wheeler and junior college transfer Dazha Congleton — each of whom will have a key role on the team.
“She’s a heck of a player and she plays calm,” Kemper said of Brooks. “The big picture for the game of basketball is pretty easy to her. She understands spacing and timing and that stuff is easy for her. When you have someone like that who has been in as many games as she has, it’s big. She’s a fifth-year senior and she’s been in a ton of big games and hit big shots for us. She understands it and she’s tough, so having her leadership is helpful.”
Kemper said part of the charge early in the season is to find the right mix of combinations that work best on the floor.
“That’s something that even I’m learning,” Kemper said. “I think we have more people that can perform well, so it’s more learning roles and when they should be in. Sometimes, you think it fits together one way and you learn five games in that it fits better another way. That’s just part of building a team.
In addition to Brooks, Marshall returns guard Kristen Mayo, forward Taylor Pearson and center Ashley Saintigene to the mix, along with guard Kia Sivils, who gained valuable experience last season.
“We have experience back, which is something I like. They know what it’s supposed to look like if you want to be good. Some roles are going to change, but they all know what it takes.”
Tuesday’s home matchup against Kentucky Christian is the first of two games at the Cam Henderson Center this week for the Herd, which also hosts Norfolk State at 1 p.m. on Saturday.