The Ohio State women’s basketball team begins practice this week with a considerably different look.
Gone is four-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender, a 6-4 center who set the school record for career scoring and broke the conference record for career rebounds, and there is no one quite like her ready to step into her role as there was when Lavender replaced three-time conference P.O.Y. Jessica Davenport four years ago.
Head coach Jim Foster says that creates an opportunity for the Buckeyes to change the way they play.
"We'll probably be taking some quick shots,” Foster said Thursday. “When you have a Jantel or a Jess, you'd be a fool not to wait for them to get where they needed to get to be successful, but with the talent we have and the kinds of players we have this year, it would probably be a mistake to not take some very good looks at the basket from an earlier point in time."
With Lavender gone, the spotlight shifts to dynamic guards Samantha Prahalis and Taylor Hill.
Prahalis, the team’s only senior, said she will miss Lavender but is looking forward to returning to playing more of the open floor game that made her famous as a high schooler at Commack, N.Y.
“I'm super excited,” she said. “Our offense just looks fast. On defense, we look fast. We're just moving. It's really exciting. All three years I loved playing with Jantel, I really really did, but it's just a little bit different now. Now we're at a fresh start. We're a different form of team."
Among the tasks to be taken care of in preseason as the Buckeyes prepare for their season opener at home against Tennessee State on Nov. 13 are finding a replacement for Lavender as well as a new backcourt running mate for Hill and Prahalis in the three-guard offense.
Gone is Brittany Johnson, the Big Ten’s top three-point shooter last season as a senior, but there are multiple options for Foster to replace her.
The top might be junior Amber Stokes, an athletic 5-10 combo guard, but redshirt freshman Amy Scullion and true freshman Raven Ferguson could force their way into the conversation as well.
As for filling Lavender’s minutes, a host of candidates are available.
Some of the scoring and rebounding figures to shift to sophomore Ashley Adams, who started the last 16 games at center last season after recovering from a preseason knee injury. She knows she has big shoes to fill even though she will not be alone.
“There's nobody like her here,” Adams said of Lavender. “We have to step up.”
A gifted passer, Adams figures to help facilitate the offense and improve on her averages of 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.
Players looking to join her as the new starting power forward are junior Emilee Harmon, sophomores Martina Ellerbe and Sasha Dobranic and freshman Kalpana Beach.
The Buckeyes could trot out a four-guard lineup at times as well.
"It is just going to be different without Jan,” Adams said. “There are going to be four of us that should be able to fill up what she was doing. Hopefully between the four of us we can all together make up for those stats she had."