By Mark Janssen
This summer I improved the most on ...? My mentality as an athlete. I built on my mental toughness and discipline.
Kansas State women's basketball coach Deb Patterson is hoping there is truth in the preseason words of Jalana Childs.
During the preseason media day, Patterson said of her 6-foot-2 junior, "I think Jalana is close to a 180 (degree) from where she was a year ago. A year ago she was a player with good intentions mentally and physically, but she was not consistently able to back that up with her play. She did not have the confidence and the assertiveness that she brings to the floor now."
It's been two weeks since that comment, and for certain, Childs is bringing that assertiveness to the playing floor.
In the exhibition opener two weeks ago, Childs had a productive line of 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots in just 21 minutes of play in a 91-25 whipping of Fort Hays State.
When the `Cats dismantled Washburn, 91-47, it was Childs leading the way with 17 points, plus three rebounds and four assists in just 24 minutes of court time.
But that was exhibition play.
What would happen when the season really started?
What happened was Childs hit 8-of-9 from the field in a 16-point, 5-rebound effort in a 67-44 win over Grambling State, followed by a 10-point, 5-rebound game when the Wildcats defeated No. 14 St. John's for the tournament title, 64-53.
For her two-game effort, Childs earned Commerce Bank Classic MVP honors.
Instead of talking about her own individual effort, Childs said, "I'm surprised I won the MVP," and later talked only of the team win.
"This team can fight, and we fought. This is what we need to bring to the floor every day," said Childs of the tournament win. "We have love for each other, and that's awesome."
Childs, a native of Orlando, Fla., where she prepped at Timber Creek High School, averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds a year ago while starting 31 of KSU's 32 games in a 14-18 season.
It was in a postseason review of that season that Childs said the light finally came on.
"Coach P recapped the season, and that was motivation enough," said Childs, who will be in action tonight at 7 when K-State entertains Indiana State. "We had a disappointing year, and I finally realized why I came here, which was to win games, and it was time that I became a leader. I came here to do great things, but I realized that I hadn't done anything yet. It's my time to show the program what I can do."
Childs coasted through a 17-game mid-season stretch last year when she scored in twin figures just three times.
Patterson's take on that play was one of subconsciously just letting seniors like Ashley Sweat and Kari Kincaid carry the load.
"I think that's exactly what I did," said Childs. "I didn't intend to, but I always knew that Sweat was there to be the hero. I knew that I could score, but I certainly wasn't assertive."
"She might have thought that she wanted the ball, but she did not necessarily understand what it meant to demand it or work for the ball," said Patterson. "Now we're hoping that she will specifically demand the ball every trip up the floor.
"A year ago, a miss could throw her for a loop, and two misses could throw her out of the mix for the next 10 possessions. A year ago she was so serious that she was paralyzed in a lot of situations," the Wildcat coach continued. "Now she is competing with a greater confidence, maturity and toughness. If she misses a couple shots, she is not afraid to come back and compete on every possession."
Childs demonstrated glimpses of that ability late in the season last year when she closed out the year by scoring at least 10 points in five of the last seven games and shooting at a 50 percent clip during that stretch.
That finish, and through early-season drills, Patterson said, "She is just a more confident and more assertive Jalana."
WHITE HONORED: Kansas State sophomore guard Mariah White earned her first career Big 12 Player of the Week citation on Monday afternoon. This was the 22nd time that a Wildcat has earned the weekly Big 12 honor and she becomes the ninth player in school history to earn the distinction.
White, a 5-7 guard from Midwest City, Okla., was named to the Commerce Bank Wildcat Classic All-Tournament team after averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds and 10 assists in leading Kansas State to the championship.
She registered career-highs in points, rebounds and assists while tying her career-highs in steals and blocks during the two games. The sophomore guard tallied 17 points and nine rebounds in K-State's upset win over No. 14 St. John's in the title game. White made a career-best eight free throws against the Red Storm, all in the final five minutes. Her eight free throws in the two games equaled the total number of free throws she made in 31 games of her freshman campaign in 2009-10.
In the season-opener against Grambling State, White dished out a career-high six assists with no turnovers and added six rebounds and a blocked shot to her stat line.