The differences between high school and Division I basketball are vast.
University of Wyoming freshmen Paige Powell and McKinley Bradshaw found out all about those quickly. They were walloped with a whirlwind of information – the pace of the game, offensive and defensive schemes, technique and footwork – from the time they stepped foot on campus for preseason practice.
“It has been night and day,” said Powell, a 6-foot forward. “Everything is a lot faster, everybody’s a lot stronger and a lot smarter.
“The game has picked up a lot. There’s a lot of little things that I’ve had to learn. It’s definitely been a learning curve, but it has been really, really good.”
Powell was a standout for Cody High. She ended her senior season last year second in Class 4A in rebounding (11.0 rebounds per game) and blocked shots (3.5 blocks per game). Her 13.4 points per game mark was fifth.
But, as Powell has quickly learned, the statistics and other prep accolades she has garnered through the years mean next to nothing now that she is playing for the Cowgirls.
“Everybody is better than I am or is just as good as I am,” she said.
Powell learned to adjust on the fly. She made sure to pick up a new thing or two each day, but she also made sure she didn’t overwhelm herself. She has improved on making reads on both ends of the floor, being faster at recognizing open plays, footwork and screening angles.
“The first couple days were pretty rough,” said Powell, “but every day we’ve gotten a little bit better and gotten closer to that goal of cleaning things up and being a solid team.”
However, there are times when Powell finds herself stressed out with the tremendous workload that’s been shoved upon her. That’s when she takes a step back and reviews her work.
“If I come off of a rough practice where I feel like I couldn’t do a ton of things right, I sit down and study basketball afterward and try to get more comfortable with offensive, defensive (plays) and the little things we went over in practice,” she added.
As Powell continues to grow, learn and evolve, make no mistake, she has all the tools necessary to be an impact player for the Cowgirls.
“With Paige, what you have is you have a very talented athlete,” first-year Cowgirls coach Gerald Mattinson said. “She is just a gifted athlete. She goes and gets rebounds every day in practice that you just go, ‘Wow, where did that one come from? And can I get you to get about three more of those?’ And she will eventually; she’ll figure that out.”
Bradshaw has gone through a similar learning curve.
In fact, she told Mattinson during one preseason practice that she has worked harder now than at any point during her senior season at Lyman.
“Over the past few weeks, it’s been probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life, is to come and compete at this level,” Bradshaw said. “It’s been amazing for me, and I loved it, and I can’t wait to keep learning and growing as a basketball player.”
A 5-11 guard, Bradshaw helped Lyman to a 3A runner-up finish and a 22-6 mark as a senior last season. She led 3A in scoring (17.5 points per game) and steals (5.3 steals per game). She finished third in rebounding (7.8 rebounds per game).
Like her classmate Powell, Bradshaw has had to adjust her game. The biggest obstacle for her was switching from a zone defensive scheme, which she played in high school, to a man-to-man look.
“I never really had to guard a specific person,” she said. “Learning the defense and learning how to guard my man while still being off and able to help has been probably the biggest challenge for me. I’ve had to spend some time by myself mentally figuring out where I need to be and how fast I need to move and (where) I need to go.”
Mattinson, who took over following the retirement of 16-year coach Joe Legerski this past spring, covets Bradshaw’s ability to score.
“McKinley’s just that hard-nosed (player),” the coach said. “She has that unique ability, her knack to score in a variety of ways. She is showing she can put the ball on the floor. She can shoot the 3. We’ve just got to get her shooting that with a little bit more confidence. She is a very tough kid.”
UW returns just two starters from last season’s 25-win squad. With three spots up for grabs, both Powell and Bradshaw figure to be right in the mix this season.
“I’m hoping there’s a lot of people that contribute right away,” Mattinson said. “Right now, they’re playing hard in practice, and they’re trying to figure out the transition of playing at this level.
“Right now, they’re battling for positions and playing time like everybody else, including some of our returning sophomores. Basically, it’s going to be who figures it out first. But they’re in the big picture of things, and what they do with that is going to be up to them.”