It’s not often when a high school team can claim that it didn’t lose any seniors to graduation.
That rare luxury is afforded to Steve Cassity and his 2017-18 Truman girls basketball squad that returns the majority of its rotational players from last season.
That bodes well for a Patriots squad that went 20-6 last season and went undefeated in Suburban Big Six play to capture the conference title.
Cassity returns a team that is loaded with talent, and one that expects to make a deep playoff run this year.
“We are doing better as a team than we did last year,” senior guard Brodi Byrd said. “We all played on a good summer ball team and we all got a lot better. We have really good teamwork and good chemistry.”
Added Cassity: “We have a well-balanced team and have a lot of pieces.”
There is a good reason for those big expectations. Truman returns all five of its starters and has a handful of newcomers who Cassity expects to contribute right away.
Leading the charge for the returners are senior guard Erin Davis and Byrd, both players who specialize in knocking down the 3-point shot. Davis was second on the team last season with 12.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. She also shot 38 percent from 3-point range, sinking a team-best 54 treys. Byrd averaged 9.3 points, 1.6 steals and 3.2 rebounds per game, shot 73 percent on free throws and 36 percent from 3-point range.
This year, Byrd and Davis are looking to expand their game and push it beyond just shooting primarily 3-pointers.
“Me and Erin have been working a lot on driving to the basket more,” Byrd said. “We’re trying to stop being one-dimensional.
“As a team, we need to work on attacking the basket more.”
Rejoining them in the starting rotation is sophomore Deon Monroe, the speedy point guard who gave the team a huge boost as a freshman. She had a team-high 13.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. She also shot 46 percent from the field and was a workhorse on defense with 1.5 steals per game.
Cassity said Monroe is a similar player to Truman’s last all-state player – Kierra Collier (now at the University of Washington) – in terms of speed, the ability to score at will and rebounding. And she’s shown progress in expanding her game and being more aggressive over the summer.
“She’s a great athlete who can jump out of the gym,” Cassity said. “She’s much better than advertised. She’s a great driver and finisher and can shoot the 3 better than people realize. I see her as a Division I talent. It’s just a matter of her coming out and playing that way. Sometimes she defers to other people on the floor.”
While those three players will be a huge part of the offense, sophomore Jewel Hart figures to be a big contributor to the team’s rebounding and defense. The athletic 6-footer – the sister of former Truman All-American volleyball player Lexi Hart – led the team with 2 steals, 7.9 rebounds and one block per game as a freshman. Joining her in the frontcourt is another 6-foot forward, Rosie Braley, who also has the ability to score inside and shoot from behind the arc.
“A lot of teams don’t have the bigs that we do,” Cassity said. “We have two legitimate 6-footers.”
Off the bench, Cassity has Becca Gilpin and Kaylie Simonds are hard-nosed defenders who Cassity considers his high-energy players. Sarah Davis and 6-foot-senior Niya Golden King will be backup forwards and Stacy Briggs is a reserve guard who is a solid 3-point shooter.
“Becca would start for a lot of teams in the city,” Cassity said. “Fortunately she plays with kids like Brodi and Erin, so it’s hard for (Gilpin) to get noticed. She can really shoot the ball. We also have Sarah Davis and Kaylie Simonds, a couple of kids who get overlooked.
“I call them mix kids or blend kids. Man, they play hard, they scrap, get after loose balls, rebound and set screens. You need those kids. They change the intensity of the whole group. They make everybody play with more energy.”
For Truman, the goal is clear. Not only do the Patriots want to capture back-to-back conference titles, they want to capture their first district title since 2014.
“We want even more than that,” Davis said about winning districts. “We want to go to state.”
Added Cassity: “This team is good but needs to learn to be great. This team has all the piece to do that.”