With only 31 wins to show for three seasons, Wisconsin women’s basketball head coach Bobbie Kelsey went to go find a program changer.
And that’s exactly what freshman Cayla McMorris is here to do; to turn the tide of a program that has struggled under Kelsey over the course of her tenure in Madison.
McMorris most definitely has the game and track record to back her “program changer” label up.
“I’m used to being a program changer, I guess,” McMorris said. “Because in high school, we weren’t really that good, and then my senior year we ended up winning state. I’m used to being at schools like that.”
The allure of changing the culture is a challenge McMorris relishes, and a primary reason why she chose Kelsey’s Badgers over other schools like Iowa, Illinois and Colorado.
“I really believe in going to a school and trying to change it,” McMorris said. “And not being like a lot of other girls and going to top schools with a lot of good players and winning programs.”
The Brooklyn, Minnesota, native was a standout recruit coming out of high school, ranked 84th in the country by ESPN, and as high as 48th by Prospect Nation.
McMorris was the first top-100 recruit signed by Kelsey, and the latest top-100 recruit to sign with Wisconsin since Taylor Wurtz did so six years ago.
Bringing in a recruit of that caliber makes UW a more attractive destination for future recruits, according to coach and player, and is just one of many steps in transforming the program.
“If they see that freshmen are playing, that means that gives them an opportunity,” McMorris said. “That’s something a lot of recruits want to do as a freshman, so … I really think that helps them in coming to school [here].”
Kelsey said “people want to play with her,” but only time will tell whether or not that changes recruiting.
On the court, McMorris said it’s her versatility that makes her a threat. Whether it’s being able to take a defender off the bounce, step back and drain a three, or post up a smaller player, she can do it all.
The foundation is there for McMorris. But she and the coaching staff know that only one player isn’t going to change everything overnight.
This season, she averages 20.1 minutes per game as the eighth player in the rotation, and averages 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per outing. Not necessarily program-changing numbers, to say the least.
“Cayla’s still finding her way,” Kelsey said. “She’s still trying to transition from high school to the college game. Everything is a little faster.”
Regardless, McMorris has shown glimpses of that high-powered scoring potential. In two games this year, in wins against Marquette and Oral Roberts, she scored 17 points in each.
For McMorris, the most difficult thing about transitioning to college ball has been the height and strength adjustment. McMorris said she has already gained 15 pounds of muscle. At 5-foot-10, she was almost always one of the tallest on the court in high school. Now, she’s on the shorter side, which means she can’t always use her speed to get to the basket for layups without getting her shot blocked.
“She’s gotta develop that mid-range game,” Kelsey said. “She’s probably had her shots blocked this season more than she’s had them blocked in her entire career.”
Kelsey mentioned that junior guard Dakota Whyte suffered from the same problem when she was young, but has become a consistent and reliable jump-shooter.
Despite the increased competition against ranked, conference opponents like Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers, she has been able to maintain a confident demeanor.
McMorris quickly realized that playing collegiate basketball levels the playing field; nearly all of the players were once the best individuals on their high school teams.
During situation drills in practice, McMorris will stop and ask questions.
“I’m a freshman and still learning,” she said. “But I’m getting better.”
During those same drills, Kelsey told her that she could get away with not going to the ball in high school, but that won’t cut it at this level.
“From day one when she started recruiting me, she’s been real,” McMorris said. “And that’s exactly how she was throughout the whole recruiting process and when I got here. She’s still the same. Nothing changed.
“She expects a lot out of me.”
That’s just one of the many examples the program leader is trying to make sure her program changer has the tools to do so.
“By this time next year, she’ll be way better,” Kelsey said.