A few weeks ago, Illini softball pitcher Taylor Edwards announced that she was coming back for a fifth year… to play basketball. It’s certainly an unusual move, but it’s difficult to judge it until put into action. Edwards was an excellent basketball player in high school at Arcola where she set the school’s scoring record and was on the all-conference team all four years, but if that basketball dominance can happen after a four-year competitive hiatus remains to be seen.
Getting a player from another sport altogether is an unorthodox strategy, but after only two conference wins in her first two seasons, Coach Nancy Fahey should be looking at all possible ways to improve her team. If Taylor Edwards makes significant contributions, Fahey may go back to the well and find pieces at other Illini women’s teams to build a successful basketball team. So here’s a scouting report on the best basketball player from every women’s athletics program (outside of softball and basketball) based on what they did in that sport this past season.
Golf - Bing Singhsumalee
Golf doesn’t translate to basketball very well at all, but at least they share some vocabulary. I’ll go with the person who took the most shots this past season in hopes that they developed a sweet stroke. Congratulations to Bing Singhsumalee for taking home that exceptionally lukewarm honor this past year (the point of golf is to take the least amount of strokes, but more strokes means you were good enough to be in the rotation for more tournaments, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.) Honestly, the women’s golf team finished the highest out of the spring sports at Country Club U, and it’s hard to pun your way into finding the best basketball player based on golf stats. Let’s head over to other programs and find some stronger puns at least.
Swimming and Diving – Ling Kuhn
Every great basketball team has that hustle person that goes after loose balls and draws fouls by flopping, which is basically a dive with no effort. Ling Kuhn was the first ever Illini diver to make the NCAA Championships, so she’s more than qualified to fill that role. Sure, jumping into a scrum in the pike position probably won’t be successful, but everyone will applaud her grit, and every opposing fan will hate it when she draws a charge with a backflip and one and a half twists.
Gymnastics – Kylie Noonan
Most basketball coaches would agree that a good offense is built around ball movement and crisply run plays. What is a basketball play but a gymnastics floor routine with less flips and less panache? Enter Kylie Noonan, the best Illini gymnast on floor this past season, averaging 9.855 points at the position. Put five Kylie Noonans (Kylies Noonan?) on the court and the offense will with the precision of the German train system.
Track and Field/Cross Country – Ololade Ayoola
As much as I want to do some truly terrible wordplay about throwing the hammer down and putting up a shot, high jumpers probably have the most useful translatable skill from track to basketball. Ayoola had four of the five highest jumps for the Fighting Illini this past outdoor season, so she can sky the highest for rebounds or blocks and at least win the tip.
Tennis – Mia Rabinowitz
Finally, a sport I watched regularly this past year, so I can get much more subjective instead of relying on a pun-based stat. The best way to describe Rabinowitz’s style of tennis is “cruel.” She isn’t the most imposing figure, and she doesn’t beat the cover off the ball. Instead, she makes her opponent beat herself, relying on spin, angles, and quickness. When she’s successful, it’s like her opponent is in a torture chamber. It’s fascinating to watch. Basketball-wise, I’m thinking she’d be a scrappy guard who plays some lockdown defense on one end of the court and racks up assists with pinpoint passes on the other. Somehow she’d always be a step ahead of the play.
Soccer – Makena Silber
With Illini soccer, I considered three other players before landing on Silber. Goalkeeper Jaelynn Cunningham came to mind first, mostly because basketball is primarily played using the hands, and goalkeepers use their hands more often than other soccer players. Plucking out an opponent’s cross is somewhat like pulling down a rebound, so she could probably adapt fairly easily.
But that seemed too easy, so I moved slightly up the pitch the backline. The three Illini starting defenders were stalwart this past season, with Alicia Barker in the middle and Patricia George and Ashley Cathro usually flanking her. Barker and Cathro in particular had some wildly, blatantly physical battles with opposing forwards last season, so I figure they could at least contribute five hard fouls every game. I mean hard, crunching fouls that hopefully aren’t flagrant.
But Silber would have them all beat on the court. She’s a physical presence at forward in soccer, and I think she’d be best suited to forward in basketball too. She’s a fairly well-rounded striker, but her best skill might be taking a ball out of the air with a defender on her back and then distributing. Positioning is half the battle with rebounding, and Silber is exceptional at that. She’d be one of the shorter players on the basketball team, but put her on the court, and she will get boards.
Volleyball – Ali Bastianelli
Finally, the athlete on this list that should probably do this.
One major issue with the Illini women’s basketball team this past season was lack of size, which will be particularly exacerbated this next season with the graduations of Alex Wittinger and Sarah Shewan. Volleyball is always loaded with tall, athletic women, so if another Illini besides Edwards switches sports, volleyball to basketball makes the most sense.
The athlete that could switch and make the most beneficial/least detrimental for both programs is Bastianelli. She’s used up her four years of eligibility with volleyball, so Chris Tamas can’t play her anyway. If she were to join Fahey’s squad this upcoming season, she’d be the tallest player on the team, tied with Mackenzie Blazek and Nancy Panagiotopoulou-Andritsopoulou (who I am personally rooting for just to hear PA announcers regularly do verbal gymnastics) at 6-foot-3. Bastianelli is the Illini’s all-time career blocks leader in volleyball, and those skills would make her a defensive force under the basket. I mean, she is excellent at moving laterally and going straight up, which is exactly what you want from any defender, particularly in the post. Granted, her skills on offense may not be up to snuff, but her defensive presence should outweigh any sort of deficiencies on the other end of the court.
Seriously, get Bastianelli into Ubben now. It makes too much sense.