The Spokane area has in recent years produced several Division 1-caliber women’s basketball players who didn’t receive more than a passing interest from what has become “The Program” in these parts: No. 24 Gonzaga.
Coach Kelly Graves said he loves to recruit “long wings.” Graves craves taller players who can handle the ball, sometimes play inside, but most important find scoring opportunities for others.
While it sounds close to blasphemy, Graves admits that his leading scorer, Haiden Palmer, doesn’t quite fit that mold.
“Haiden is terrific. But Haiden and I sometimes butt heads,” Graves said of his 5-foot-8 senior guard, who is averaging a team-leading 14.8 points a game. “She’s not the style of player we have had in the past. She’s unique. Sometimes she gets frustrated because she is trying to fit the way we want her to play.”
After Saturday’s 70-62 victory over Washington State with another area star, Tia Presley, Graves talked about a conversation he had with Palmer about playing within his system. Palmer led the team with a “quiet” 20 points.
Her points “were very efficient,” Graves said after the game. “From time to time, she tries to do too much. But today, she played under control. I’m really proud of her.”
Palmer squared off against Presley, a 5-9, junior guard, who is WSU’s only player from eastern Washington. Presley, who starred at Gonzaga Prep, scored 19 points for the Cougars mostly by creating space with her dribble and then hitting jump shots or driving into the lane.
Presley noted after the game that “Gonzaga didn’t really recruit me.” Graves agreed, comparing Presley to Palmer.
“Sometimes with Haiden, when she gets the ball in her hands, things stop because she’s trying to make a play. She’s a premier player, but sometimes it feels like a square peg in a round hole,” Graves said. “Tia is a bit like that. She has free reign to take the shots she wants.”
Graves pointed to the stat sheet. In the first half, June Daugherty’s squad scored 28 points but only had one assist as a team.
“We have always been a team that scores off assists,” Graves said. “It may be a negative for (Presley) to play for us. I’m not putting her down, it’s just different philosophies.”
Presley also faced a “numbers game” in recruiting. She graduated at a time Gonzaga had guards Jazmine Redmon, Palmer and recruited backup point guard Danielle Walter. Another guard “wasn’t a priority for us in that class,” Graves said.
But Kelsey Moos, a freshman starter for Arizona State, at least on paper looks more like a player that Graves craves.
The 6-foot forward from Edwall, Wash., played for Reardan High School. She is now averaging 8.5 points and a team-leading six rebounds a game for the Sun Devils. Moos’ father, Rich Moos, is the cousin of WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos.
Moos’ coach “played for me in junior college,” Graves said. “We didn’t recruit her for the same reason. One year ahead of her would be Chelsea Waters. That was … a good system decision. She’s better in their system than she would be in ours. I’m happy for her, she’s a good kid.”
Graves echoed the same sentiments for Korina Baker, a 5-7 guard from Freeman, who won a national championship at North Idaho College before transferring to play as a junior last year for Southern Methodist University.
As a senior this season, Baker is averaging 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds a game for SMU, which came to Cheney on Nov. 16 and beat Eastern Washington 75-70. In that game, Baker scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds.
“I remember her in high school,” Graves said of Baker. “She was the same class as Haiden and Danielle and we also had Taelor Karr, who was a player of the year.”
Another local player playing elsewhere is Carli Rosenthal, a 6-3 junior forward who starts for West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary’s. Rosenthal starred at Coeur d’Alene High School before taking her skills to Moraga.
She’s averaging 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds for the 10-1 Gaels, who host GU at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“She doesn’t fit our mold,” Graves said of Rosenthal. “She’s a good player, but we like our post players to be a little more athletic, skilled and versatile. Sometimes good players just are not a fit for how we play.”