The Nebraska women’s basketball team had a problematic situation last spring when it came to the post position on its roster.
Allie Havers had played her final season. Then leading scorer Jessica Shepard announced in March that she would transfer. Rachel Blackburn didn’t play at all last season after knee surgery. That left Darrien Washington.
But the Huskers got a late addition when 6-foot-5 center Kate Cain joined the program in late June. The first good news was that she wasn’t transferring to Nebraska, so she could play right away. Also a positive is that she was just finishing high school, so she had four years of eligibility remaining. And while she can’t be expected to come in and do all the scoring that Shepard did, Cain appeared to be a good player. Cain was ranked by ESPN as the No. 82 player in the 2017 recruiting class, and the No. 10 post player.
“She’s just a great fit for our culture, and great timing for her to come,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams. “It’s almost like it was meant to be.”
While Nebraska could have used the help of another inside player, Williams said the Huskers weren’t going to add a player late just to have one, be it from a junior college or graduate transfer or an uncommitted high school player. Williams is beginning her second season at Nebraska, and is trying to make sure the team gets better.
“We’re at that point right now where we’re going to add the right pieces, and the right pieces only,” Williams said. “We’re being very, very careful about the people that we are bringing into our family. It had to be the right person, and the right fit for us, and that’s kind of how we feel all the time. We won’t bring somebody just to bring somebody. But certainly (Cain) hits the mold in all aspects. Not only does she bring tools that we desperately needed in our program, but she’s a great student, and she’s a fantastic person.”
Cain had signed with Delaware last fall, but after a coaching change she had doubts about how she’d fit and got released from her letter of intent.
That set up an "insane" two months as she searched for a new school, all while finishing her last few months of high school. That included giving a speech at the graduation ceremony. Cain took 12 flights in just a few weeks as she searched for a new school. She picked Nebraska over Virginia, Minnesota and Dayton.
Williams was aware of Cain because she usually keeps track of the top 100 recruits, but she didn’t have a relationship with her until she began recruiting her this spring.
A foot injury set Cain back a few weeks recently, but Williams thinks Cain can be a really good player. She played only 11 minutes during a scrimmage last week against Iowa State, but it was productive, with eight rebounds, four blocked shots and three points.
“She’s just got fantastic hands,” Williams said. “You can throw it up to her and she can go catch it and keep the basketball high. She can finish outside her frame on her right-hand side, her left-hand side. When you’re 6-5 and you can do those kind of things, it becomes very difficult to defend.”
Cain has a good personality, Williams said.
“She’s a little quiet by nature in the beginning, but when you get to know her, she’s funny. So she kind of keeps us chuckling,” Williams said.
Nebraska's other new players include transfers Janay Morton and Bria Stallworth. They committed to the coaching staff before they’d coached a game at Nebraska, and sat out last season for NCAA transfer rules. How much Morton will be able to help is hard to say because she’s missed a lot of practice with a foot injury, but she was a three-year starter at Eastern Michigan. Nebraska also added freshman guard Taylor Kissinger.
The Huskers also appear to have gotten some favorable outcomes in recruiting in the past year, and will sign a four-player class this week that includes another top-100 recruit in forward Ashtyn Veerbeek from Sioux City, Iowa.
With not many wins so far, the staff tries to get players they're recruiting to believe in a plan.
“I think the big thing for them is we sell the vision that we have for the program, and to come here and be a part of the reason why we start that build and that process to a championship team,” Williams said.
Cain could have gone to a program that won more than Nebraska did last year, but she liked what she saw and heard from the coaches.
“I love the coaches, and when new coaches are coming in it’s not always expected for them to have the crazy-great first year because the system is changing, the attitude, everything is changing,” Cain said. “And I knew what they did at their old school (South Dakota). They were very successful there. I knew Taylor (Kissinger) was coming in and she was a top recruit, and then I heard more about the 2018 recruits and I knew they were all really well-known and talented. And then at the end of last year they started having some upsets, so I saw it was coming together, and they just needed some time.”
Cain, who is from Middleton, New York, is glad she came to Nebraska, and likes her new team.
“The chemistry is really good right now, and you never know what to expect walking into that locker room,” Cain said. “Like yesterday I walked in and we were all just blasting country music, and that never happens. You never know what to expect, except that you’re going to end up laughing.”