The Kansas women’s basketball team was on a scavenger hunt in Paris, and all McKenzie Calvert could think about was her team’s next game.
Though the week-and-a-half August trip was supposed to feature both sightseeing and basketball, Calvert found herself distracted while on tours. After sitting out a year following a transfer from Southern California, she was so eager for the first game that she Googled “AMW All-Stars” in an attempt to scout opposing players for the exhibition matches.
“I didn’t find a single person,” she said, laughing.
Calvert instead watched extra film of her own team’s plays, making sure she would be prepared.
KU went 4-0 in its games, with coaches seeing glimpses of the extra talent they will have this season with the additions of Calvert and North Carolina transfer Jessica Washington.
“For us to have the kind of turnaround that we aspire to, those two are going to have to be some of our better scorers, there’s no question,” KU coach Brandon Schneider said.
The high expectations are warranted. Washington was 14th in ESPN HoopGurlz’s recruiting rankings out of high school and is the second McDonald’s All-American in program history. Calvert, meanwhile, was ranked 15th and considered Maryland, Texas Tech and Florida after deciding to leave Southern Cal.
Both players took a leap of faith with KU. Washington knew of Schneider when he was the coach at Stephen F. Austin, as he was around often while Washington was playing AAU ball under her father, Travis, while in Tulsa, Okla.
When she announced her transfer from North Carolina, she came in contact with Schneider again.
“It was still the same genuine coach Brandon,” Washington said. “Nothing had changed. No matter what school he was at, he still wanted to develop me into the best player I could become in order to go onto the next level and win games here.”
Calvert, meanwhile, became familiar with Schneider when one of her AAU teammates committed to Stephen F. Austin. She remembered seeing Schneider on the baseline at most of their games – an impression that factored into her decision to choose KU as her transfer school.
“Just knowing and trusting in coach Brandon that he knew what he was doing, and knew that we could bring this program up,” Calvert said. “Because it’s odd how good the boys are, and I know good we can be. I just thought, ‘What a great opportunity to be able to build something and bring it back.’ ”
KU certainly will welcome the two players’ offensive skills this season. The Jayhawks were last in the Big 12 in scoring last year at 54 points per game, which was nine points lower than the next-worst team.
Like in Europe, Calvert has struggled to keep herself calm with the season approaching. She has posted a countdown of days until the season in the KU locker room, and she became so worked up during the team’s summer trip that she pulled out her coloring book to ease her nerves before games.
“I can’t really listen to fast music, or I’ll go out there and get four fouls right away,” she said.
Calvert and Washington potentially could have far-reaching impacts even beyond their play. Their commitments to KU signaled a buy-in from elite-level players to the program, and Schneider built on some of that momentum when he brought in two top-10 players for official visits during Saturday’s Late Night in the Phog.
“This isn’t a place you should shy away from because you’re a top person,” Calvert said. “You don’t have to go to the UConns. You don’t have to go to the Tennessees. You could build a UConn or a Tennessee here.
“I think that’s what attracts people is like, ‘Dang, they weren’t scared to be the first ones to go.’ ’’