The NCAA made an unprecedented decision by granting Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr eligibility to play with the Gonzaga women’s basketball team this season.
Normally a player has to sit out a year after transferring.
Not a bad way to kick off the first day of practice.
“The NCAA made the right decision in this case,” Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves said Thursday afternoon following the first practice since the loss to Stanford in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in March. “She’s as happy as she can be. It helps us. I have a feeling she’s the kind of player that when the lights go on, we’re going to see her best. A gamer.
“She’s a proven player in a great conference. To average 10 points and five rebounds at her size in the Big 12 says something.”
Karr, a 5-foot-8 guard, started 59 out of 64 games in two seasons and averaged 9.8 and 10.3 points. She was asked to leave by coach Deb Patterson despite Karr’s solid contributions to an NCAA tournament team that went 12-11 and tied for third in the powerful Big 12 Conference. Karr, an all-state guard from Paola, Kan., did not want to leave, which was the basis for the NCAA ruling.
“It’s a case precedent for the NCAA,” Graves said. “Unless there’s a family reason or an emergency reason to come back home, then they typically don’t grant a waiver. … They told us it would still be case-by-case, so I don’t know if it opened a can of worms. There is a precedent now.”
“When I finally got the scoop, I was jumping out of my seat screaming,” Karr said. “I had no idea it was coming, to be honest. … I was going to sit out this year … become a better player and learn from everyone in the program now.”
What transpired at KSU is difficult to explain, Karr said.
“It really is a tough situation, because I don’t want to throw them under the bus,” she said. “It was one of those things we thought it was best to part ways. We had success … but I think the coaches wanted to go in a different direction. I’m not going to hold any grudges. I’m just going to move forward. I’m grateful to have this opportunity at Gonzaga. They’re successful and a great program.”
Karr figures to be in the mix to replace All-America point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who made NCAA history as she led the Bulldogs to their best season.
“You don’t win with one person, you do it as a whole,” said Graves, who has a 228-119 record in his 11 years at Gonzaga after last year’s 31-5 season. “We definitely have the players that are capable of stepping up and filling that role the best they can. We’ve all got to realize Courtney’s gone and we’ll never see another like her. That doesn’t mean we can’t be just as effective, in a different way, with different people.”
Jazmine Redmon was the backup as a freshman last year and had a 2-1 assists-to-turnover ratio. Maiki Viela, a 5-6 freshman from Hawaii, is a point guard. Freshman Danielle Walter, who redshirted last year with a back problem, and sophomore Haiden Palmer, who sat out last year after transferring from Oregon State, can handle the ball.
“I think our expectations are just as high as with Courtney here,” senior wing Katelan Redmon said. “She was a great player, we’re going to miss her, but everybody is going to have to step up their game and we can go just as far.
“We’ve got a lot of strong guard play. We have a lot of young kids that are very talented.”
Redmon and senior Kayla Standish were both All-West Coast Conference last year, averaging 16.8 and 17.1 points, respectively, as the Bulldogs won their seventh consecutive WCC title. Senior Kelly Bowen is the other returning starter.
“I think we’ve got senior leadership all the way through,” Graves said. “I think Kelly and Shannon Reader have tremendous leadership capabilities. They may not have the creditability of production on the floor like Katelan and Kayla. Those two are going to be leaders definitely by example.”
The Zags also got bigger with 6-5 Shelby Cheslek from Pullman and 6-4 Sonja Greinacher from Germany.
“I will say this, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a deeper team, or a more talented team, one through whatever,” Graves said. “We’ve got experience, we’ve got marquee, go-to players and we obviously have a culture of winning. Honestly, I think this is as good of team as I’ve ever coached.
“The difference is we have some questions. … I believe we have the players that can answer the questions.”