Sometime today the Big 12 Conference office will release its preseason women’s basketball poll, and it should be a bit different than the last five.
On this coaches’ ballot, Kansas University should be picked to finish somewhere in the first division.
That would be news because the Jayhawks have never fashioned a league record better than 6-10 during Bonnie Henrickson’s five-year stint as head coach.
Still riding on the euphoric cloud of that berth in the WNIT championship game last March, Henrickson isn’t talking about the first division, however. She was talking Big 12 title during Wednesday’s media day session.
Where Lawrence High product Tania Jackson fits in the Kansas University women’s basketball picture isn’t clear.
Jackson, who didn’t play for the Lions as a senior last winter because of a preseason knee injury, suffered a setback during summer rehab when she reinjured the knee slightly.
“I did it while I was running,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-2 forward. “I guess the knee wasn’t as strong as I thought it was.”
KU coach Bonnie Henrickson confirmed Jackson has been slowed in fall workouts.
“She has struggled a little bit,” Henrickson said. “She tweaked that knee, so she’s not 100 percent.”
With 15 scholarship players on her roster, Henrickson could conceivably red-shirt Jackson in order to assure her knee is sound for the 2010-11 season.
“We’re not at that point,” Henrickson said. “We just need to get her healthy.”
Jackson said the topic of red-shirting has been discussed, although not with Henrickson.
“Me and my dad talked about it,” Jackson said, “but right now I think I can bring a lot to this team.”
“Just sitting around talking with coaches in casual conversation,” Henrickson said, “I’ve been hearing we have a chance to win the league. And we should think that.”
From last year’s tie for seventh place to a league title — something KU hasn’t accomplished since the 1996-97 season — obviously would be a quantum leap.
One reason for the scuttlebutt is the fact the Big 12 has no clear-cut juggernauts.
“I think we have a lot of parity in the league this year,” Henrickson said. “But, of course, you have to stay healthy, and we have to stop turning the ball over and other basketball things.”
Certainly one reason the Jayhawks’ stock has risen was the late-season blossoming of Danielle McCray, the 5-foot-11 senior who has already been tapped as the league’s preseason player of the year.
During McCray’s first three seasons at KU, the Jayhawks’ league record has been a lackluster 14-34, yet she, too, isn’t predicting baby steps next winter.
“I don’t think it’s too much,” McCray said about the Jayhawks’ lofty expectations, “especially when you make that a goal and a priority when you come to Kansas.”
With four returning starters — Sade Morris, Krysten Boogaard and Nicollette Smith are the others — Henrickson can play the experience card.
Morris, who has basically bookended with McCray on the wing for the last three years, said she would be disappointed if today’s league coaches’ poll places the Jayhawks in the second division again.
“I’d feel upset a little bit,” Morris said, “but we still have to prove we should no longer be in the second division. We should never be there again.”
KU’s fifth starter may be reason enough for the optimism. Angel Goodrich was supposed to be the Jayhawks’ point guard last year, but she hurt a knee in the preseason and took a medical red-shirt year.
Now Goodrich has been pronounced fit, and is primed to display her true point-guard skills.
“That’s behind me,” Goodrich said of her knee injury. “I’m not going to let it stop me.”
And so the Jayhawks have their eyes on a prize that has eluded the program for 13 years.
“The bar is higher, much higher,” Henrickson said.
And if the Jayhawks do win the league title, how far, someone asked, could they go in the NCAA Tournament?
“The Big 12 championship is a pretty big chunk to chew on,” she said, “and I think we’ll leave it at that.”
The first game for the Jayhawks will be an exhibition against Pittsburg State on Nov. 1.