BOISE — There’s plenty of reasons why Boise State women’s basketball coach Gordy Presnell thinks this could be his best team in his 14 years with the program.
The addition of point guard Jayde Christopher might be the biggest.
Christopher is eligible after sitting out last season following a transfer from Kansas, where she started 21 games in two seasons in the Big 12.
“She will be something to see for our fans because she’s at a different level of quickness than we’ve ever had here before,” Presnell said. “She’s an incredible passer. If you’re not ready for a pass you will get hit right in the nose.”
The 5-foot-8 Christopher will jump right into the starting lineup to provide the Broncos with something they missed last season — a true point guard. Christopher appeared in 61 games for Kansas during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons and had a team-high 137 assists during that span.
“She’s definitely way faster than any of us here,” guard Braydey Hodgins said. “Her ability to find open people, sometimes it even confuses our own team with how good she is. She’s very aware on who to get the ball to.”
Christopher was ranked as the 59th best player in the 2015 recruiting class by ProspectNation when she signed with Kansas out of Cleveland High School in Seattle. She was ranked No. 67 overall by ESPN’s Hoopgurlz, and was classified as a four-star prospect.
She was the top-ranked player for a Kansas recruiting class that ranked No. 19 nationally in 2015, and ended up starting five games as a true freshman that year. She made 16 starts and played in all 30 games for the Jayhawks as a sophomore while averaging 19.4 minutes per game.
The one thing Christopher won’t provide is a ton of scoring. She averaged just 3.0 points per game as a sophomore and shot just 30.1 percent from the field. But that’s not her game. In fact, she probably won’t even shoot much for the Broncos.
Her role will be to play defense and facilitate the offense by getting into the lane and finding open shots for others. That became an issue later in the season for star 3-point shooter Riley Lupfer, who had to deal with double and triple teams after breaking the Mountain West 3-point record.
Christopher, who dished out a team-high 88 assists as a sophomore at Kansas, should help fix that problem for Lupfer and the other shooters on the Broncos.
“She’s really, really fast. I thought I was fast, but she’s super fast,” guard Marta Hermida said. “I’ve had to guard her, and it’s terrible. I can’t follow her. It’s amazing. She makes me better on defense. I considered myself a good defender but I realized ‘wow, I can improve a lot.’
“She’s an amazing player. Everyone will be real surprised with how good she is. She can run the floor and defend, and what people don’t know is how positive she is. All the good energy she brings, she just makes every single player want to follow her.”
Asked to describe her game, Christopher said “I love attacking and getting into the paint and looking for other people, me to Riley, me to Brady. I think that will be a really good thing because we’ve become a quicker team this year, so I think being able to attack and bring the defense in and kick it out will be really good.”
Christopher was one of three Kansas players to transfer in 2017 following an 8-22 year. In her two seasons with the Jayhawks, they went 14-47 and had just a 2-34 record in Big 12 play. She also was playing for a new coach after the one she signed with, Bonnie Henrickson, was fired before Christopher arrived on campus.
“KU is a great school but it just wasn’t a good fit,” Christopher said.
Christopher knew where she wanted to go right away. She knew three players on the Boise State roster in forward Joyce Harrell, center Marijke Vanderschaaf and guard Ellie Woerner. Christopher and Harrell played together at Cleveland High School, while the two of them, Woerner and Vanderschaaf, all played club ball for the Elite EYBL team Tree of Hope.
“Once I got my release from Kansas I talked to Joyce and she made sure to go right into the coaches offices after she talked with me,” Christopher said.
The rest is history. Christopher signed with the Broncos and made the transfer official last May, but was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Boise State attempted to get her eligible immediately due to circumstances that led to her transfer from Kansas, but the waiver was denied by the NCAA.
“It didn’t work out the way we had hoped, but now we get her for two more years which is great now,” Presnell said.
Christopher participated in practice last season but couldn’t play in games. Those close to the program said she would have probably started last season had she been eligible, which only adds to the excitement about the impact she is expected to make this year.
“I don’t even remember the last time I played a game, I lost count,” Christopher said. “It’s really exciting. Last year was kind of a bummer because I felt like ‘dang, I can’t get out there and help’, but I think from the sidelines I helped a lot and in practice. Now I’m just 10 times more excited to get out there.”
Boise State has made the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons and should be the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West this year. The Broncos welcome Final Four participant Louisville to Taco Bell Arena on Nov. 19 as part of a tough nonconference schedule that also features Idaho, Washington and Washington State.
Expectations are high for the Broncos, who say just getting to the Big Dance this year is not good enough. Their goal is to win the first NCAA Tournament game in school history.
And having a point guard like Christopher may be a good place to start.
“She really energizes everyone else and she’s one of the few kids that really, actually, does make everyone around her better,” Presnell said. “It will be fun for our fans to identify with someone that can run the floor and make it a full court game like she can. She’s just really good. She played at a real high level in the Big 12 and we’re looking forward to what she can do on the floor. She’s something else.”