NORMAL — In a way, freshman Paige Saylor has taken the job of junior Katrina Beck on the Illinois State women’s basketball team.
Beck couldn’t be happier.
The addition of Saylor means Beck will spend much less time at point guard in the coming season, the first under new coach Kristen Gillespie.
“I definitely don’t mind,” said Beck, ISU’s top returning scorer at 8.7 points per game. “Being able to be on the wing, I can be a little more versatile this year.”
Gillespie, whose team will face Eureka College in a 7 p.m. exhibition Wednesday at Redbird Arena, has installed Saylor as the team’s starting point guard with Beck shifting to a shooting guard role.
“On the perimeter, Katrina will be our go-to scorer,” Gillespie said. “She is really excited she is being moved off the point. We’re fortunate the way we found Paige and the way she’s coming along.”
A 5-foot-5 native of Martinsville, Ind., Saylor originally signed with Lafayette but was given her release after a coaching change.
“You think about the intangibles you want in a point guard and she has that,” said Gillespie. “She’s probably our best vocal leader. She hates to lose. She does have some deficiencies in her offensive game, but you won’t see a better on-ball defender on our team.”
Saylor believes preseason drills have prepared her well to see significant playing time as a freshman.
“We did a ton of skill work. That helped a lot,” she said. “I feel like such a better ballhandler than I used to be. I’m ready. I’m excited.”
The Redbirds attempted 18.9 3-pointers a game last season while posting an 8-23 record in Barb Smith’s last season as coach, but connected on just 26 percent from beyond the arc. Under Gillespie, expect the long range shooting to decrease.
“I am really honest about shot selection. We will take threes, but we want to make that extra pass,” Gillespie said. “We want to pass up a good shot to get someone a great shot.”
Gillespie also wants to lean on what she considers a promising inside game with Hannah Green, Megan Talbot, Millie Stevens and junior college transfer Simone Goods.
“Simone is a force to be reckoned with around the basket. She is a true back to the basket post player. She wants the ball,” said Gillespie. “Megan is the most improved player since our staff got the job. I think she’s going to have a real breakout year.”
Talbot believes the Redbirds are “a lot closer than we were initially. We’re all working harder. We just want to put a better product on the floor than we did before.”
Gillespie will limit the practice time of Green, who has a sore back.
“We’re dabbling with a big lineup,” the first-year coach said. “We may move Hannah to the three (small forward). She is a potential nightmare matchup because she has a guard skill set, but she can post.”
ISU will start Talbot, Goods, Saylor, Frannie Corrigan and Viria Livingston in Wednesday’s exhibition.
Beck will sit out the game as a precaution after recently turning an ankle with the hope she will be 100 percent for the Nov. 11 regular-season opener at Oakland.
Sophomore Deja Turner also will be held out because of a concussion, while sophomore Morgan VanHyfte may be sidelined as well because of an injury. Another sophomore, Amaria Allen, will play on a limited basis. She is coming off major offseason hip surgery.
“It’s an opportunity for our players to showcase, an audition,” said Gillespie. “We hope there will be a lot of teachable moments so we can be better Nov. 11.”