Projected list of scholarship players for the Colorado women’s basketball team next season:
C – Zoe Correal, 6-foot-4
G – Brecca Thomas, 5-5
C – Jaimie Curtis, 6-7*
G – Ariana Freeman, 5-9
G – Kennedy Leonard, 5-8
G – Alexis Robinson, 5-10
G – Quinessa Caylao-Do, 5-8
G/F – Mya Hollingshed, 6-4
F – Annika Jank, 6-3
G – Aubrey Knight, 6-1
* Junior college transfer
Three players are transferring from the Colorado women’s basketball team, including one who was a full-time starter last season.
CU head coach JR Payne told Buffzone.com on Monday that forwards Makenzie Ellis, Monica Burich and Eleanor Jones have decided to leave the program and pursue other opportunities.
Payne said Burich plans to transfer to Drake, while Ellis and Jones are still exploring options.
Combined with four graduating seniors, the Buffs (17-16, 5-13 Pac-12) are set to return just six of 13 players from last year’s roster.
While disappointed to lose players, Payne, who recently completed her first season at CU, doesn’t believe it’s a major concern for the program.
“For a new coaching staff that comes in, you really try and see if they fit your system,” Payne said, adding that all three transfers are leaving on good terms. “If they don’t fit your system or they’re not necessarily comfortable at the position you’re trying to play them in and they’re young enough to transfer, this is totally normal.
“I hope we don’t ever lose players, but it’s only fair as their coach to allow them to have an opportunity where they can play the position they’ve always dreamed of, be in a place where they can really fulfill their dreams from a basketball standpoint. We want all of our kids to be in a place where they can really, genuinely be happy: happy in their basketball life, happy in their academic life, happy in their social life.”
Ellis started all 33 games for the Buffs last season as a sophomore, averaging 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds while finishing fourth on the team with 40 steals.
With a lack of depth inside, Ellis often played in a power forward or center role last season, but wants to play on the perimeter. Payne also believes that Ellis wants to try to play with her sister, Savannah, who is a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Okla.
“They’re a very close family; she’s really close with her sister,” Payne said. “I think she feels like she could go somewhere and redshirt a year and have three years of college together.”
Like Ellis, Burich was a part of the Buffs’ 2015 recruiting class, signed by former coach Linda Lappe, but missed her first year with a torn ACL. She played all 33 games last season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Also like Ellis, Burich wanted to play small forward, but was often used in the post.
“We were honest with her and told her we don’t see her playing a (small forward) in our system,” Payne said.
At Drake, Burich will play for former CU assistant coach Jennie Baranczyk, who is going into her sixth season as the Bulldogs’ head coach. Burich was recruited by Drake out of high school.
Jones, from Salisbury, England, was a true freshman this past season. Plagued by injuries, she played just 75 minutes in 12 games. Payne believes Jones will wind up possibly transferring to a Division II school.
Losing Burich, Ellis and Jones leaves CU with just one returning frontcourt player (starting center Zoe Correal) and five guards.
At this point, the Buffs have signed four players to the 2017 class, including 6-foot-3 forward Annika Jank, from Edina, Minn., and 6-foot-7 center Jaimie Curtis, a transfer from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.
The Buffs have also signed 6-foot-4 wing Mya Hollingshed from Houston and 6-1 guard Aubrey Knight from Ventura, Calif.
Payne said the Buffs are not done adding to their roster.
“We’ll just continue to work to find the right fit and get all the pieces we need from a personnel standpoint and also personality and all that good stuff,” she said.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.