Despite making the NCAA Tournament 10 of the past 11 years, Florida State’s women’s basketball program has signed only four McDonald’s All-Americans out of high school – and two of them are on the current roster.
Those two top prospects are Kai James, a 6-5 sophomore center from West Palm Beach Dwyer, and 5-11 freshman forward Shakayla Thomas, who averaged 33.1 points and 12.8 rebounds last season in Alabama.
A third former McDonald’s All-American is 6-3 post Natasha Howard, whose eligibility ran out last season after she led FSU in scoring (20.5) and rebounding (9.3). Howard, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, started 15 games for the Indiana Fever as a rookie and will be nearly impossible to replace.
James will start the season behind 6-4 junior Adut Bulgak, a Canadian who was named the National Junior College Player of the Year in 2014, averaging 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds.
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Ama Degbeon, a 6-2 freshman from Germany, is the third center on the roster, a group that pleases coach Sue Semrau.
“Adut is more of an outside-shooting threat than Natasha was,” Semrau said. “Kai’s been great. She’s really trimmed down and taken care of her body. She will be hard to handle because of her strength and the space she demands.”
In addition to Howard, the Seminoles also lost starting point guard Yashira Delgado, who led the team in assists (6.5).
Replacing Delgado will be fifth-year senior Maegan Conwright, who sat out last season after starting 20 games at Kentucky. She beat out 5-4 junior Shaken Richardson, who sat out last season after starting 12 games at Rutgers, and 5-8 freshman Chania Ray.
“Maegan has a lot of experience,” Semrau said. “She played three years in the SEC.”
Three starters return: 5-8 sophomore guard Brittany Brown (9.0 points, 2.3 steals, tops among ACC returners), 6-2 junior guard Morgan Jones (11.9 points) and 6-1 sophomore power forward Ivey Slaughter (8.2 points, 7.7 rebounds).
Guard depth will be led by 5-7 junior guard Emiah Bingley, who made her FSU debut last season after transferring from Iowa State. She is a hustle player who averaged 5.6 points last season.
Forward depth will be led by Lauren Coleman, who made 27 three-pointers and led the team with a 33.8 percentage from deep. Coleman, who made five starts last season, is a second cousin of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen.
FSU has been picked to finish fifth in the ACC. The four schools listed ahead are Notre Dame, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina. FSU went 0-5 against them last season.
If the Seminoles don’t get past that foursome this season, perhaps it will happen in 2015-2016, when 5-8 sophomore guard Leticia Romero of Spain is eligible.
Romero averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists last season at Kansas State, earning unanimous All-Freshman honors in the Big 12. She is sitting this season out as a transfer.
“She’s been tremendous in practice,” Semrau said. “We’d love to have her this season, but we’re just glad she’s part of our program.”
FSU women’s basketball
Coach: Sue Semrau.
Last season: 21-12, 7-9 ACC, NCAA Tournament second round.
Top players: Morgan Jones (6-2 Jr. SG); Brittany Brown (5-8 So. SG); Ivey Slaughter (6-1, So. F).
Noteworthy: This is Semrau’s 18th season at FSU, and she is the winningest coach in program history.