MORGANTOWN — Mike Carey is a basketball coach caught in the middle of what he would like to be and what he actually sees on the floor.
As the West Virginia women’s team prepares for the 2018-’19 season, he isn’t exactly sure what to expect, either, as his team heads into today’s season opener against Coppin State at the WVU Coliseum.
“My style of offense will be different,” Carey said. “I’ve always been a power type of team. It’s going to be a little bit different and it’s going to be because of our personnel.”
Carey built his previous West Virginia teams on size, rebounding and defense.
His offenses were calculated and methodical, built to wear opponents down by making defenders constantly move on defense.
Through recruiting and injuries, that is not the type of team the Mountaineers are this season.
Outside of senior 6-foot-6 center Theresa Ekhelar, the Mountaineers have very little size to speak of, because highly-recruited freshman center Rochelle Norris tore her ACL during preseason practice and will redshirt this season.
What the Mountaineers have are a stockade of guards led by the return of junior Tynice Martin, who missed all of last season — that ended in the WNIT semifinals with a 25-12 record — with a fractured foot.
When last we saw Martin healthy, she was named the MVP of the 2017 Big 12 tournament. She injured the foot a few months later, while auditioning for the U.S. national team.
She scored 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting in the team’s exhibition victory against West Liberty, but admits she has ways to go before getting back to 100 percent.
“I’m just happy to be back, honestly,” she said. “At this time last year, I was just devastated. It feels good to be relevant again.
“I’m concerned with how I can last throughout the whole game. It’s a process. I’m getting back to it.”
The Mountaineers will rely on a four-guard attack that will see Naomi Davenport — she averaged 16 points per game last season — move to power forward.
That makes room for Michigan transfer Kysre Gondrezick to take over at point guard. She was an all-Big Ten freshman in 2017 after averaging 14.9 points per game in her first season with the Wolverines. She sat out last season to comply with NCAA transfer rules.
Katrina Pardee, who averaged 12.3 points last season and has 922 points in her career, returns for her senior season at shooting guard.
“Our style is completely different from before,” Davenport said. “We have so many more scorers. We can spread teams out more.
“We’ve got to learn to work together more, but you see how Golden State plays. We could play like that if we all get on the same page.”
This is where Carey hesitates. He does not want to damper the Mountaineers’ offensive potential, but players have to play within the right system.
“The problem is we have a lot of people who can score and some people who may not get a shot a couple of times down the floor, then they’re going to get their shot the next time,” Carey said. “You can’t play that way, because that quick shot or that bad shot will lead to a fast break on the other end.
“One night, someone is going to get a lot of shots, depending on who they leave open. The next night, someone else may get a lot of shots, but we can’t get concerned with how many shots everyone is getting each game.”
Carey’s other concern is defense.
“If we can become the type of defensive team that coach Carey is pushing us to be, we have a chance to be special,” Martin said. “We’re still working to get there.”
Carey believes the Mountaineers have a long way to go before becoming a good defensive team.
“It’s all going to come down to our defense and talking and communicating,” Carey said. “My issue with our defense is we’re playing four guards. How are we not a good defensive team? How are we not up the lanes and creating turnovers?
“The reason is energy. It’s amazing how I don’t see energy on the defensive end, and then when they get the ball, they’re quick and they have all of this amazing energy and they’re ready to go. We can score, but we have to keep them from scoring and we have to rebound the ball.”
Two talented freshmen will help in 6-foot-1 forward Kari Niblack and point guard Madisen Smith.
They combined for 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists off the bench in the exhibition game.
“I thought the two freshmen did a good job for this being their first game,” Carey said. “I was happy with what they did on the floor.”
West Virginia will also be able to add North Carolina State transfer Lucky Rudd into the guard rotation after the completion of the fall semester.
Rudd, a junior, averaged 6.5 points per game with the Wolfpack last season before transferring to the Mountaineers in mid-season.
The final addition could be 6-foot-2 forward De’Janae Boykin, a former McDonald’s All-American, who transferred from Penn State and began her career at Connecticut.
West Virginia is working through a waiver process with the NCAA on getting the junior cleared to play this season, but the NCAA has yet to rule on Boykin’s eligibility.
She had already sat out one season when she transferred from UConn to Penn State, due to NCAA transfer rules. Boykin averaged 5.8 points and 7.6 rebounds with the Nittany Lions last season.
“She could bring a lot of rebounding and talent to our inside game,” Carey said of Boykin. “She gives us size, which we need. She would be a big addition if she gets cleared.”