Bonnie Ball

Don't dismiss the KU women's team, now or in the future.

Haven't been out to Allen Fieldhouse yet to check out Bonnie Henrickson's Kansas women's basketball team? Did non-conference home foes such as Texas-Arlington, Sacred Heart, UMKC, Denver, Washburn, Western Illinois and Dartmouth not tickle your fancy enough to draw you out to a game? Is the Jayhawks' record not as glitzy as you'd hoped for just yet?

Those are reasons why some may not have been out to the Fieldhouse to see the women play, but there's something fans should know. Bonnie is making plenty of progress — and fast.

When she took over at Kansas on March 29, 2004, she acknowledged the fact that resurrecting Marian Washington's once-dominant program wouldn't be an overnight job. Sure enough, it hasn't been a quick-fix.

"We are realistic about the growth that is needed for us to compete at the highest level in (the Big 12), which certainly is the best women's basketball conference in the country," Henrickson said when she was hired.

Bonnie made a few promises on that March afternoon, though, and she has stood by them. She promised her Jayhawks would play hard, play fast and play as a team. They have done all three thus far, and the results have been admirable given the surrounding circumstances.

Kansas has played up-tempo on offense and has played tight, aggressive defense. Plus, there has never been a lack of hustle. Sure, there have been a couple of disappointing losses, but one must keep in mind the Jayhawks are playing with a roster that's thinner than Calista Flockhart. KU underwent a Survivor-esque departure of players following Washington's retirement. Only 10 players adorn this year's roster, so depth has been a major problem.

In addition to the improved style of play, there are two more key areas that Bonnie has improved during her short time in Lawrence: player development and recruiting.

Junior forward Crystal Kemp made her presence felt from the first time she stepped on the court at KU, but the 6-foot-2 Topeka High product is coming into her own under Bonnie. Kemp has averaged about 17 points and eight rebounds per game under the new boss and is making a strong case for All-Big 12 honors.

Junior point guard Erica Hallman was regarded as a perimeter threat when she arrived at Kansas, but has been dazzling this season as she has averaged about 11 points, six assists and three rebounds per game this year.

Then there is the re-emergence of Kaylee Brown as a dangerous outside shooter. Senior Aquanita Burras also has maintained her steady play, giving KU four legitimate scoring threats for the first time in five years. Freshman Taylor McIntosh also has shown Kansas fans that there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future.

Plus, Bonnie has been busy building the Jayhawks for the future. Already she has landed four talented commitments for next season. Still, where does all this leave the Jayhawks right now? Well, with Big 12 Conference play now underway, the shorthanded ‘Hawks likely will take their lumps in league play. That is to be expected, considering the Big 12 coaches picked KU to finish 11th this year. Texas, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas Tech will be as tough as ever.

That said, this group of Jayhawks WILL upset at least one of those top-tier teams this year, and I predict they will finish eighth or ninth in the league instead of 11th. This team is capable, it plays hard and has shown it is has the talent to beat the odds.

So promise yourself this much: that you will pay attention to the articles and box scores in the newspapers about the KU women. Don't dismiss this team. Commit to keeping an eye on Bonnie Ball and when the Jayhawks turn the corner this season. Bonnie and the Jayhawks have taken great strides already, and the day KU women's basketball returns to its rightful place in the Top 25 is getting closer. The signs are everywhere.

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Originally published in the February issue of Jayhawk Illustrated magazine.


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