Eastern Kentucky University’s three seniors — Bria Bass, Jayla Johnson and I’Liyah Green — could have left the program after coach Sam Williams stepped down unexpectedly in April.
Given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they all declined an opportunity to transfer without having to sit out a season.
They wanted to stay together.
“After last year, I had some unfinished business because the season really didn’t go the way I wanted it to go,” Bass said. “And these are my girls.”
Bass is back for her fifth — and final — season as a Colonel and is set to play for her third different coaching staff.
EKU graduate Greg Todd took over the program in early May after leaving Morehead State after seven seasons.
The Colonels had eight players transfer, but have seven players returning — including those three seniors — from a team which went 9-15 last season.
“Those three (seniors) make a big difference,” Todd said. “Bria is coming into her own. She’s doing a great job. We are thrilled to have them back.”
The EKU roster has seen a significant amount of change in the past eight months.
The Colonels added four transfers — Arina Khlopkova (UTEP), Ally Collett (Western Kentucky), Ariel Kirkwood (Morehead State) and Brigid Fox (Detroit) — and four freshmen — Kayra Freeman (Elizabethtown High School), Brie Crittendon (Ryle High School), Ebony Simionovich (Israel) and Kalissa Lacy (Charleston, W.Va.).
“Since May 11, it’s been a whirlwind getting everything going, but it’s been some of the best days of my coaching career,” Todd said. “I am extremely grateful to be here and having a chance to be success here.”
In addition to the three seniors, EKU also brings back two other starters. Freshman guard Alice Recanati averaging 8.8 points and had 90 assists last season, while sophomore Emma Hacker appeared in 23 games.
Sophomore Anysa Jordan averaged 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds last season and redshirt freshman Georgia Baldwin played in six games.
“We have a crazy amount of minutes returning, much more than the 200 minutes which are in a game,” Todd said.
Bass, a 5-foot-11, guard/forward graduate student has played almost 3,300 minutes during her career at EKU. The Ellenwood, Ga. native eclipsed the 1,000-point mark last season and also has more than 600 career rebounds.
“With this being my official last year, I want to make it a great, positive season,” Bass said.
Johnson transferred from Texas State and was granted immediate eligibility. The Dallas, Texas, native averaged 13.5 points a game, had 86 rebounds and was named Second-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference.
“I wasn’t even supposed to play last year. I decided to come back because this is a whole different family than I am used to — and I like this family,” Johnson said.
Green didn’t get to play at all last year.
The Louisville native transferred from the University of Cincinnati, but suffered a knee injury in the preseason.
“It was tough coming back at first, but by teammates and coaches helped me get through it,” Green said.
The grad student was expected to be back in the rotation when the Colonels opened the 2021-2022 season on Thursday at home against Transylvania.
EKU is set to begin its first-ever season in the ASUN after more than seven decades in the OVC.
The Colonels were picked 10th — out of 12 teams — in the league’s preseason poll, receiving only 45 votes.
“We are ready for whatever comes our way,” Johnson said.
EKU has had just three winning records in the past 16 years — and none since 2015-16.
Todd, who is beginning his 30th season as a head coach (Berea Community, Lexington Catholic, Transy and Morehead State), understands the challenge he faces — and he has realistic expectations.
“My first goal is to have a winning season. I’m not big on making lofty goals, but in time, we want to be playing in the postseason,” Todd said.