Kristy Curry gave Kelsi Baker an ultimatum.
Get your conditioning up and weight down, or don’t bother putting those practice clothes on, the Texas Tech coach told her soon-to-be junior forward over the summer.
When fall practice arrived, so did a slimmer Baker, ready to fulfill the potential Curry and her staff saw out of the Mesquite native.
“I feel like she can be the most improved player in the Big 12 this year,” Curry said, “and it’s a credit to her hard work and her commitment and the choices that she’s making.”
Baker said she changed her eating habits, worked out more and put in the extra effort to meet her goal.
In a preseason exhibition, Baker showed exactly how much she’s improved over the offseason, Curry said.
Tech’s five senior guards have had much of the spotlight on them before the season — with good reason — but the post play could make or break the Lady Raiders this season.
Last week, Tech announced center Shauntal Nobles will be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder that causes weakness and numbness.
Prior to the announcement, Curry had lauded Nobles’ strides in the offseason.
Baker said she expected Nobles to average a double-double in each game this season, but the Lady Raiders will look elsewhere for their boards as they wish Nobles a speedy recovery.
Now, Baker is going to have to step up and be a leader for the Lady Raiders down low, needing to tangle with some of the best centers in the nation.
“You got to be physical and mentally tough,” Baker said. “You got to bang every night. It’s not going to be an easy night any night in the Big 12 regardless of position, but especially going against people like (Baylor’s) Brittney Griner and (Oklahoma State’s) Toni Young, so it’s a grind. You need to grind it out. You’re going to be sore, you’re going to be hurting, but it’s just a grind.”
Newcomer Jackie Patterson adds some much-needed versatility to the Lady Raiders, also adding some depth with the announcement of Nobles’ illness.
Patterson says she needs to add some strength to compete down low in the nation’s top women’s basketball conference, but her mid-range game makes her a deadly weapon for the Lady Raiders.
Patterson, a junior, transferred to Tech in the offseason after two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
“I need to get stronger,” Patterson said earlier this year. “Well, a lot stronger so I can move people, because right now I’m like a toothpick. So I think I just need to get a little stronger, so I’ll continue to work hard in the weight room.”
Monterey graduates and sisters Haley Schneider (a junior who needs to learn to rebound effectively, Curry says) and freshman Kellyn Schneider add depth to the rotation, but still need to refine their skills to get meaningful minutes. Guard Christine Hyde can step up in a pinch to run a four-guard set with Baker, Patterson or one of the Schneiders at center.
Curry added that Kellyn Schneider has some of the best speed she has seen for someone that tall (6-foot-5).
Kellyn Schneider knows she has a chance to get in the game, especially with Nobles out for at least the beginning of the season.
“I think that what’s unique about me is I can move well for my size,” Kellyn Schneider said. “Being 6-5, I can still keep up with the guards. ... And if I bust it as hard as I can, then I can always keep up with everyone else.”
The versatile Red Raiders aren’t going to win any jumping contests with the Brittney Griners of the world, but Baker and Patterson offer much more than a physical presence down low.
Baker said playing in the post is all about being smart and making the right read in the right situation.
“We focus on shooting the 3, being in penetration spots,” Baker said, “different things like that because we need to be versatile and we don’t want to be easily guarded.”
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