Basketball Preview

November 28th, 2016 Posted in The Rockets
Toledo Men Expected to Compete for MAC Title

Since taking the reins at Toledo in 2010, Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk’s objective for the men’s program hasn’t wavered. He expects his teams to compete for the Mid-American Conference Championship every season and the 2016-17 campaign isn’t being viewed any differently.

“Our goal each year is to win the conference title and that will never change,” said Kowalczyk, who has guided UT to the second-most wins (64) in the MAC over the last three years. “We captured the regular-season title in 2014 and then came up just a little bit short in 2015. Last year was a season of transition for our program. We lost three really good all-league players from the previous year, brought in six new players, had one senior on our roster and we knew we would have some growing pains. I thought for 80 percent of our season, we were a team that had some really good moments.”

Toledo appeared ready to make some noise in conference play after opening February with back-to-back road wins over Kent State and eventual MAC Tournament champion Buffalo sandwiched by convincing home triumphs over Western Michigan and Miami. The Rockets entered their stretch run tied for first place in the MAC’s West Division but ended up dropping six of their last seven contests with each defeat being decided in the last four minutes.

“We showed we could compete with any team in the league last season,” Kowalczyk said. “We were extremely disappointed in how we finished the year, and we really struggled in close games down the stretch. We were in a lot of games with chances to win, but we didn’t get the job done.”

The Rockets’ seventh-year head coach is eager to get the upcoming season underway with a squad that he believes can be strong at both ends of the court.

“We’re a very skilled program, and I think one of our strengths will be our ability to shoot the basketball,” said Kowalczyk following three straight seasons of being one of the top two scoring squads in the MAC. “I think we can be good defensively as well, if we defend the three better. That was the one area we really struggled with last year, but the rest of our defense was pretty darn good.”

Kowalczyk also feels that the Rockets’ rebounding can improve thanks to a deeper, more athletic squad. UT paced the MAC in defensive rebound percentage (.757) but ranked ninth on the offensive end (.279).

“We were a very good defensive rebounding team last year, but we weren’t great on the offensive boards,” Kowalczyk said. “I think this year’s team can be really good on the offensive glass and an exceptional defensive rebounding team as well with the additions we’ve made to our roster.”

FRONTCOURT

Replacing first-team All-MAC center Nathan Boothe will be a tough task for Toledo. The Gurnee, IL native provided the Rockets with a prolific inside-outside threat, topping the conference with 19.3 points per game and ranking third with 9.0 rebounds per game. He also ranked second on the team with 3.4 assists per game and notched a 37.5 three-point field-goal percentage (33-of-88).

Kowalczyk believes he has some very good options, though, to fill the void left by a four-year starter who finished his Rocket career tied for 10th in points (1,494) and rebounds (777). “We’re obviously losing a great player in Nathan, but I think one of our strengths this season will again be our interior play,” Kowalczyk said. “We had two really talented post players – senior Steve Taylor Jr. (6-9, 240) and redshirt freshman Luke Knapke (6-11, 235) – sitting out, and they will join senior Zach Garber (6-10, 245), who had his best season for us last year.”

steve-taylor-jr-41Taylor joined the Rockets’ program in the spring of 2015 following three seasons at Marquette. He averaged 5.9 ppg and 5.0 rpg in his final campaign, including a career-best 20-point, seven-board effort at No. 20 Ohio State. He also grabbed a career-best 17 rebounds vs. St. John’s (March 4), the most by a Marquette player in Big East play in six seasons. “Steve is an unbelievably physical player who has a great feel for the game,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s much more of a perimeter player than he is a post guy even with his size. He’s really good at making basketball plays and basketball decisions. We’re going to move him all over the floor. We’re going to put him in some pick and rolls, we’re going to post him up and we’re going to isolate him on the perimeter. There’s a lot of ways he can be effective for us.”

Knapke, who gained nearly 25 pounds since setting foot on UT’s campus last summer, is expected to provide the Rockets another inside-outside threat in the frontcourt. During his prep career, Knapke earned Ohio Hoops Division IV second-team all-state honors as a senior at Marion Local High School.

“Luke had a great year in the weight room and is a lot bigger and stronger now,” Kowalczyk said. “His confidence and overall game is growing by leaps and bounds every day. Luke can step out on the perimeter or play in the post, and he certainly has an extremely bright future for us.”

Garber emerged as a key contributor for the Rockets last year when he joined UT’s starting lineup in mid-December. He finished the season with career highs in points (6.0), rebounds (4.8) and minutes (18.3) per game and paced the Rockets with a 62.1 field-goal percentage (59-of-95). “Zach took a big step last year when we put him in the starting lineup,” Kowalczyk said. “It was good to see him take advantage of that opportunity. Zach’s a smart player who provides intangibles that help teams win.”

Another candidate for playing time in the post is sophomore forward Taylor Adway (6-9, 215), who averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per contest.

“We’re extremely high on Taylor,” Kowalczyk said. “When I look back at last season, my biggest regret is I should have played Taylor more. Taylor has had a great off-season and did a lot of workouts both on the perimeter and in the post.”

Providing a perimeter presence in the frontcourt will be sophomore forward Nate Navigato (6-8, 215), one of the MAC’s top returning perimeter shooters. He averaged 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 22.8 minutes per game and paced UT in 3PTFG% (38.4) and FT% (83.3). He also ranked second in three-point field goals made (61) and three-point field-goal attempts (159). “Nate is a great shooter and a big key for him is to get stronger,” Kowalczyk said. “He needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room and that will make a huge difference in terms of his rebounding and defense.”

Freshman James Gordon IV (6-5, 215) is expected to give the Rockets additional depth after spending his senior year at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, IL. The Shelbyville, KY native averaged 13.1 points with the Wolverines after tallying 12.6 points per game and earning all-region honors as a junior at Shelby County High School. “James provides us athleticism and size at the wing position,” Kowalczyk said. “He gained a lot of experience this past year playing for one of the top high-school programs in the country. It was a great opportunity for him to test himself against some outstanding competition.”

BACKCOURT

jonathan-williams-vs-oakland-12-12-2015z The Rockets will feature a quicker, deeper backcourt this year with senior Jonathan Williams (6-3, 200) expected to lead the way. Williams will be joined by a pair of veterans – senior Jordan Lauf (6-5, 200) and sophomore Jaelan Sanford (6-4, 195) – as well as two newcomers – junior Lucas Antunez (6-3, 175) and freshman Justin Roberts (5-10, 170).

A Southfield, MI native, Williams earned third-team All-MAC honors after ranking third in the MAC with 17.6 points per game. He also topped the Rockets with 70 treys, registered 13, 20-point outings and tallied 14 or more points in all but three games.

“Jon-Jon took a huge step on the court with his maturity level last year,” Kowalczyk said. “I think he has to take an additional step in his development this season to be a first-team all-league player. Jon-Jon has to become better defensively, and cut down on his turnovers. Those are two areas that we’re really trying to impress upon him, and he’ll be better in both areas. If he can just take out one turnover a game, it would really help our program.”

Lauf has served as one of the Rockets’ key bench contributors over the past three years and averaged a career-best 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in a career-high 24.2 minutes per contest in 2015-16. “Jordan needs to continue to shoot the ball consistently and keep making all his tough, hustle-type plays,” Kowalczyk said. “He can guard multiple positions defensively and his leadership provides a lot of value to our program.”

Sanford started all 32 games and averaged 8.2 points per game in his rookie campaign. He registered a 35.0 three-point field-goal percentage and ranked third on the team with 48 three-point field goals and an 81.4 free-throw percentage. “Jaelan possesses great basketball instincts and was hands down our best perimeter defender in conference play last year,” Kowalczyk said. “He just needs to be more aggressive. When he was aggressive last season, he did what comes natural to him and made basketball plays.”

A Madrid, Spain native, Antunez played at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, ID and helped the Cardinals to a 31-2 win-loss mark in 2015-16 en route to a Scenic West Athletic Conference title and a No. 3 ranking in the final NJCAA poll. He earned second-team all-region accolades last season after averaging 8.4 points, 3.8 assists, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals with a 45.1 FG%, 31.3 three-point FG% and 87.8 FT% in 23.5 minutes per game. “Lucas is a bigger point guard who’s a pass-first guy,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s a system player, and a guy that I think will really flourish in our system.”

A first-team Kansas Basketball Coaches Association (KBCA) all-state selection this past year, Roberts was tabbed the Lawrence Journal-World All-Area Player of Year after averaging 19.9 points, 3.1 assists and 3.0 steals per game as a senior for Lawrence High School. Roberts finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,549 points and led the Lions to Class 6A Final Four appearances as a junior and senior. “Justin is a coach’s son, who is tough-minded, understands the game, possesses great leadership qualities and a great floor presence,” Kowalczyk said. “The biggest key for him is being able to defend at the collegiate level. He’s very athletic and very capable.”

Toledo Women Will Feature Depth, Quickness and Athleticism in 2016-17

The Toledo women’s basketball roster will feature increased depth, improved quickness and athleticism at all spots in 2016-17.

UT will field a roster this year that includes two seniors, four juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen. As far as numbers go, the Rockets welcome back 63.9 percent of their scoring, 71.1 percent of their rebounding, 51.5 percent of their assists and 73.3 percent of their steals for this season.

“We will be quicker, more athletic and deeper than we’ve been in previous years,” ninth-year head coach Tricia Cullop said. “Our quickness and athleticism should help us improve on the defensive end and allow us to become quicker in transition offensively.”

A year ago, the Midnight Blue & Gold finished with a 17-13 overall record and a 12-6 ledger in the Mid-American Conference. UT placed third in the MAC West Division standings and earned a first-round bye in the league tournament. Toledo overcame a slow start to the year by winning 17 of its final 24 games. Along the way, they rattled off nine victories in a 10-game stretch, including two wins at the Arizona State University Classic to capture the tourney title.

“Last season, we challenged our team with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in program history,” Cullop said. “At one time it was considered the 15th-most difficult in the nation. Although we started out of the gate in a tough stretch, I thought it made us better. When we went to the Arizona State tournament, I believe everything came together and winning that tournament provided us the confidence we needed to finish the season strong.”

Despite last season’s solid finish, Toledo was not picked to participate in postseason play, marking only the third time in eight seasons the team did not make the postseason. Coach Cullop hopes the returnees use the sour taste left in their mouths as a bit of motivation for the 2016-17 campaign.

“We narrowly missed the Postseason WNIT field last season, as their contact confirmed we were on the board until the end,” Cullop said. “It was frustrating to finish the season with an RPI of 117 and see teams with RPI’s ranging from 140-160 make the field. While we can’t control what a committee decides, we can only control our resume. Our goal has always been to make the post-season with the NCAA Tournament as the main target. We also have to remind everyone that we finished fourth in the MAC last year and earned a bye in the league tournament with a young team. We only graduated two players. I’m very excited about the potential of this year’s team, especially because our returnees are hungry for more and will serve as great mentors for our newcomers.”

With 14 players on the roster, Cullop expects the Rockets to maintain their efficient offense and improve their defensive efforts.

“Last season, we were very productive on the offensive end (fourth in scoring, second in overall field-goal percentage and third in three-point field-goal percentage) in MAC games,” Cullop said. “This year, our focus will be to improve our defense and rebounding. We are bringing in a strong recruiting class that should help us in these two areas, and we will be stressing both with our team.”

Added Cullop, “We also want to run more this season. I thought we improved greatly in that area last year, but we can still be better. I would also like to be more aggressive on the defensive end and use a full-court press more.”

FRONTCOURT

NCAA BASKETBALL:  Women's - Toledo at Bowling GreenJanice Monakana (London, England), a 6-foot-0 forward, may be as versatile as any player on the Rockets’ roster. Monakana possesses the ability to drive to the basket, post up and shoot from beyond the arc.

Overall in 2015-16, Monakana averaged 11.1 points, a team-high 5.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.2 blocks and 0.9 steals in 26.4 minutes per game, en route to earning honorable mention All-MAC recognition. She started 28 of 30 contests and was tied for third in the MAC in free throw percentage (.833, 85-of-102), 13th in defensive caroms (4.3 rpg), 18th in overall rebounding and 21st in scoring.

The three-year letterwinner scored in double figures on 17 occasions last season, the third-highest total on the squad, including a career-high 28 points at Bowling Green (Feb. 17).

The 2016-17 team captain led the Rockets in rebounding on a squad-best 10 occasions, thefts nine times, scoring on seven occasions and blocked shots three times. In MAC contests, Monakana tallied 11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.2 bpg and 0.7 spg in 26.5 mpg. Monakana currently ranks 10th in school history in career free throw percentage (.772, 207-of-268).  “Janice is one of the highest basketball IQ players on our team,” Cullop said. “She understands the game, how to score and has matured every year that she’s been here. She’s been effective driving to the basket, posting up and shooting from three-point land. We’ve been working hard on her mid-range game. Even though she was one of our top rebounders, I believe she can excel even more in this area.”

NCAA BASKETBALL:  Women's - Ohio at ToledoOne of two seniors on the team, Sophie Reecher (Byron, IL), a 6-foot-3 center, will once again be one of the Rockets’ leaders in 2016-17. Reecher possesses a soft touch around the basket as well as 15-foot range. A three-year letterwinner, she has started 58 of 63 games over the last two seasons.

Overall in 2015-16, Reecher averaged 4.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.4 steals in 16.4 minutes. She ranked second on the team in overall field-goal percentage (.535, 54-of-101), tied for third in rejections (10) and games started (29) and fifth in overall rebounding.

The three-time team captain also scored in double figures on four occasions last season, the sixth-highest total on the team, including a season-high 14 points vs. Columbia in the first round of the ASU Classic. The 2015-16 Academic All-MAC honoree led the Rockets in blocked shots on seven occasions, thefts four times, rebounding on three occasions and scoring once.

“Sophie had a really strong off-season,” Cullop said. “I have been very impressed with her work ethic, attention to detail and competitiveness. Sophie really wants to be a go-to low block scorer for us and if she continues to work on this, I fully intend for her to be. In addition to her basketball ability, Sophie is a very strong team leader.”

Another veteran back in UT’s frontcourt in 2016-17 will be sophomore Kaayla McIntyre (Toledo, OH). A 6-foot-2 center, McIntyre possesses great footwork, can block shots and rebound, as well as score on the low block or from the high-post area.

A 6-foot-2 center, McIntyre stepped up her game against league competition in 2016, tallying 8.6 points, a team-high 5.7 caroms, 0.5 helpers, a squad-best 0.8 rejections and 0.4 thefts in 20.5 minutes. She led the league in overall field-goal percentage (.645, 71-of-110), as well as ranking tied for eighth in rejections, 15th in defensive caroms (4.2 rpg) and 20th in overall rebounding in league contests.

The 2015-16 MAC All-Freshman Team honoree also scored in double digits on six occasions in conference match-ups, including a season-high 18 points vs. MAC West Division champion Central Michigan. The Toledo native was credited with the game-winning offensive putback with 1.7 seconds left in regulation vs. the Chippewas.

Overall in 2015-16, McIntyre appeared in 27 games, averaging 6.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists, a team-high 0.6 blocks and 0.3 steals in 16.3 minutes. The 2015-16 MAC co-Sixth Player of the Year shot a single-season league-record 64.3 percent (81-of-126) from the floor. She led the Rockets in rejections nine times, rebounding on five occasions, thefts four times and scoring once.

“It still amazes me that Kaayla broke not only the UT overall field-goal percentage record, but the MAC record as well for a season,” Cullop said. “She has great touch around the basket and has proven herself as one of the most efficient low-block scorers in our league. Kaayla is working hard to improve her range, versatility and strength. We counted on her as a go-to scorer as a freshman, and all those minutes and experience should translate to more confidence this year.”

Junior Jada Woody (Canton, MI), junior Michaela Rasmussen (Chaska, MN) and sophomore Sarah St-Fort (Montreal, PQ) should also contend for playing minutes on the interior in 2016-17.

A 6-foot-1 wing, Woody has the ability to defend any player on the perimeter, as well as being a good passer in the open court. The two-year letterwinner was a solid contributor for Toledo in 2015-16, tallying 2.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.2 steals in 9.8 minutes per contest. The Canton, MI native totaled a career-high 11 points on two occasions last year against Arizona in the season opener and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in UT’s non-conference finale. Woody led the Rockets in rejections on eight occasions and thefts once.

“Jada really shot the ball well in off-season workouts,” Cullop said. “She saw key minutes last year backing up the power forward position. She’s quick enough to guard the two through four positions.”

A 6-foot-1 forward, Rasmussen runs the floor extremely well and can play inside or on the perimeter. She appeared in 22 games off the bench in 2015-16 and averaged 1.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.1 assists and 0.2 steals in 8.9 minutes.

The two-year letterwinner totaled a season-high six boards and one helper in a season-best 26 minutes vs. Harvard in the consolation round at the URI Tip-Off Classic.  “Michaela really impressed our staff in the off-season,” Cullop said. “She worked on her three-point consistency, a quicker release and her versatility.”

A 5-foot-9 wing, St-Fort is a talented on-ball defender, as well as an explosive driver who can hit a pull-up jumper. Overall in 2015-16, St-Fort contributed 1.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.1 assists and 0.3 steals in 6.8 minutes in 28 contests off the bench. She tallied a season-high six points, two boards and a season-tying best two thefts in only seven minutes vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff in UT’s non-league finale. “Sarah really emerged toward the end of last season,” Cullop said. “I believe she can become one of the best defenders in the MAC. She’s strong, quick and very athletic.”

Also expected to be factors in the frontcourt will be junior Mae Tshitenge (Nuechatel, Switzerland) and newcomer Tanaya Beacham (Youngstown, OH).

A 5-foot-10 forward, Tshitenge transferred from the Redlands Community College and will have two years of eligibility remaining. She is a solid rebounder and ball handler, to go along with being a good three-point shooter.

Tshitenge started all 29 games for the Cougars in 2015-16, averaging a team-high 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals, en route to collecting first-team all-conference and first-team NJCAA All-Region II accolades. She shot 53.3 percent (153-of-287) from the field, including 43.9 percent (29-of-66) from three-point range, and 81.9 percent (59-of-72) from the charity stripe. Tshitenge helped the team post a 23-8 overall record, including a 13-5 ledger in the division. She also poured in at least 10 points on 25 occasions throughout the year, including a season-high 22 points against Hill College.

“Mae can play inside or out,” Cullop said. “She’s a great rebounder and has the ability to shoot the three. She’s also a gifted defender.”

Beacham, a 6-foot-1 forward, is an unselfish player who provides plenty of energy. She is capable of playing multiple positions and possesses a soft shooting touch around the basket. Beacham tallied 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a senior team captain at nearby Toledo Rogers High School. She played a key role in helping the Rams successfully defend their City League title and reach the Division II regional final, en route to garnering third-team all-state, first-team all-district and first-team all-conference honors. She scored in double figures in 21 of 28 games, including a season-high 25 points against Notre Dame Academy. A three-star recruit, Beacham was listed as the No. 20 forward nationally by espn.com.

“Tanaya is a power forward who can really score and rebound,” Cullop said. “She’s a great athlete and a good scorer who I think will help us defensively and improve our rebounding efforts.”

BACKCOURT

j-a-bravo-harriott-vs-bowling-green-4The quarterback of UT’s backcourt in 2016-17 will be junior Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott (London, England). Bravo-Harriott, a 5-foot-10 guard, averaged 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and a team-high 1.3 steals in 30.9 minutes in 2015-16, en route to earning honorable mention All-MAC recognition. One of two Rockets to start all 30 games a year ago, the 2016-17 team captain ranked 14th in the MAC in helpers and three-point field-goal percentage (.341, 46-of-135), 15th in assist/turnover ratio (1.0, 92-93) and 23rd in scoring.

The London, England native scored in double figures on 18 occasions in 2015-16, the second-highest total on the team, including a season-high 24 points vs. Western Michigan (Jan. 9). In MAC contests, Bravo-Harriott tallied 12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.1 apg and a squad-best 1.3 spg in 31.6 mpg.

The 2015-16 Academic All-District 5 recipient led the Rockets in thefts on a squad-best 13 occasions, helpers seven times and scoring and rebounding on four occasions.

“Jay-Ann is a very intelligent player who has the best work ethic on our team,” Cullop said. “She’s pushed herself harder than anyone during off-season workouts and on her own to improve her ball-handling and the quickness of her shooting release. Even though everyone talks about her offense, I’m very excited about her defense. Last year, she was our team’s best defender, and I’m excited to see what this season brings.”

Other key components in Toledo’s backcourt will be sophomore Mikaela Boyd (Hillside, IL) and sophomore Halee Printz (Tipp City, OH).

Boyd, a 5-foot-7 guard, provided a spark off the bench for Toledo in 2015-16. A fierce competitor, Boyd tallied 2.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.5 steals in 9.4 minutes in 27 games.

The third-year Rocket contributed at least seven points on four occasions last season, including a season-tying best nine points and a season-tying high two thefts in 24 minutes vs. Eastern Michigan (Feb. 24). She also totaled nine points against Arizona in the season opener. Boyd led the Rockets in scoring and steals on two occasions and rebounding, assists and blocked shots once.

“Mikaela has incredible quickness,” Cullop said. “She’s worked hard to improve her shot and ball-handling skills. Her competitiveness and drive are fun to watch.”

Printz, a 5-foot-11 guard, is a highly-skilled combo guard who can shoot, pass and handle the ball. She possesses the ability to get to the basket, score and draw fouls.  Printz provided quality minutes for Toledo in 2015-16, averaging 3.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.4 steals in 16.8 minutes per game. She ranked third on the team in three-point field-goal percentage (.371, 23-of-62), fourth in helpers (40) and three-point field-goals made (23), fifth in minutes played and free throw percentage (.654, 17-of-26) and tied for fifth in thefts (12).

The Tipp City, OH native scored at least seven points on four occasions during the year, including a season-best 13 points in 24 minutes vs. Dayton. Printz led the Rockets in thefts on three occasions, assists twice and scoring and blocked shots once. “Halee has great offensive instincts, vision and is one of the best passers on the team,” Cullop said.

Also joining the mix will be sophomore Olivia Cunningham (Horn Lake, MS), freshman Sara Rokkanen (Helsinki, Finland) and freshman Mariella Santucci (Bologna, Italy).

A 5-foot-7 guard, Cunningham transferred from Murray State University and sat out the 2015-16 season per NCAA rules.

Cunningham started 26 of 29 games for the Ohio Valley Conference-member Racers in 2014-15, contributing 8.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 0.4 steals. She shot 37.1 percent (93-of-251) from the field, including 20.9 percent (9-of-43) from beyond the arc, and 61.2 percent (63-of-103) from the charity stripe in 23.2 minutes. Cunningham also scored in double figures on 12 occasions during the year, including a season-high 24 points against Tennessee Tech.

“Olivia received a lot of experience and playing time as a freshman at Murray State,” Cullop said. “She is a combo guard who brings us speed, quickness, athleticism and is someone who can score in a variety of ways.”

A 5-foot-10 wing, Rokkanen contributed 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 13.5 minutes per game for Finland’s National Team during the qualifying round for next summer’s FIBA EuroBasket Championships. She shot 41.7 percent (5-of-12) from the field, including 33.3 percent (2-of-6) from three-point range, and 50.0 percent (1-of-2) from the charity stripe in two contests. Rokkanen poured in 13 points and two thefts in 20 minutes against Spain.

“Sara is an incredible three-point shooter who also has a mid-range game,” Cullop said. “It will be fun to play her opposite of Jay-Ann (Bravo-Harriott) as it will put opponents in a tough position.”

A 5-foot-6 guard, Santucci has a good IQ for the game and possesses solid ball-handling, passing and shooting skills. Most recently, she contributed 13.1 points, 3.9 boards and 1.7 dimes in 27.6 minutes per contest for the Italian Club team, Magika Castel San Pietro, in the 2016 A2 Italian Basketball League. She shot 42.9 percent (85-of-198) from the field, including 31.0 percent (39-of-126) from beyond the arc, and 61.4 percent (81-of-132) from the charity stripe in 28 games.

An experienced national team performer as well, Santucci averaged 7.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 steals in 22.1 minutes per game for the Italian National Team at the 2015 U-18 European Championship (Division A). She scored in double figures in three of nine contests, including a tourney-best 15 points and seven caroms in 32 minutes against Spain. Santucci ranked seventh in thefts and 12th in helpers at the championships. “Mariella is a point guard who could also play the off-guard position,” Cullop said. “She can handle the ball, pass and score. I love her instincts and IQ. She also has great experience having played for the Italian National team.”

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