September 19, 2022 

Kansas State prepares for new look with Ayoka Lee injured

Head coach Jeff Mittie discusses what to expect from a Wildcats team missing Lee

A 6’6-sized gap will be felt in the Big 12 this year with Kansas State center Ayoka Lee undergoing knee surgery that will keep her out for the season.

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Kansas State announced the surgery on Aug. 25, along with Lee committing to returning to K-State for the 2023-2024 season.

It is hard to quantify the loss of Ayoka Lee. Lee has consistently got it done on both sides of the ball throughout her first three years at Kansas State.

Last season, Lee averaged 15.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3 blocks. This led to her being a top finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top center.

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After three seasons where the Wildcats ran completely through Lee on offense and used her as an anchor on defense, K-State will be forced to get creative. It’s a challenge that head coach Jeff Mittie tells The Next the Wildcats are up for.

“I mean, the obvious is that we have run our offense through Yoki,” he said, referring to Lee. “We don’t have another player that can replace her. But I think we’ve got some balance. We’ve got some players that gained a lot of experience a year ago. We’ve added some players that we believe can add to our scoring, but it’s gonna take a collective effort to replace a player like Yoki,” said Mittie.

Kansas State center Ayoka Lee shoots a contested jumper against Kansas at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. on Jan. 19, 2022. (Photo credit: Scott Weaver, K-State Athletics)

Without Lee available, those new faces and younger players on the roster have the potential to step up. Mittie told The Next who he is expecting to take that step.

Mittie highlighted, “[Senior guard] Gabby Gregory‘s healthy and we’ve seen what Gabby can do in the Big 12. She’s an aggressive player. She’s a three-level scorer and she’s healthy from a year ago. So it’s been good to get her into the mix.”

Gregory makes the move from Oklahoma, where she played minutes at positions all over the court for Sooner teams that frequently played small. The versatility she brings can allow the Wildcats to play several different styles as opposed to the one they deployed with Lee available.

“I think that the three freshmen that gained valuable experience in the Glenn twins [Jaelyn and Brylee] and Serena [Sundell] have all competed well this summer and improved,” said Mittie.

Mittie’s sophomore trio all logged valuable minutes and will find themselves thrusted into more of a focal role for Kansas State. All three were named the Big 12 Freshman of the Week at points throughout the season, with Sundell being a unanimous 2022 Big 12 All-Freshman Team selection.

Looking at the players mentioned by Mittie, they all take their fair share of three-point shots. With Lee in the lineup, the offense would work inside out. Now? Mittie will be looking to implement some new aspects to an offense featuring more shooting.

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“I think that we’ve got a variety of options, but because of changing some things right now, we are behind where you would expect us to be. We’re implementing some new things offensively, and that’s just gonna take some patience,” said Mittie.

Though they are behind, the Wildcats have had some time working without Lee over the summer.

“If you wanna look at that as a positive, we really didn’t have her in practice this summer, but we weren’t really working on offense as much as we were just getting to know each other. So I think there’s a familiarity with our players because they did get to know each other without Lee on the practice floor.” Mittie told The Next.

The first look at the Wildcats without Lee will take place when they match up with Central Arkansas on Nov. 7 and they await Lee’s return next season.

Written by Tyler DeLuca

Tyler DeLuca has been contributing to The Next team since May 2022. Tyler currently is the Big 12 beat writer for The Next. Tyler's work is also featured on Twitter with The Committee, hosting the "Art of the Paint" podcast and on Gameday U Hoops throughout the college season.

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