BYU women’s basketball team will be young and inexperienced in 2018-19, but will have an international bent with 6 foreign-born players

Coach Jeff Judkins' roster includes six players who were born outside the United States, including three from New Zealand, two from Brazil and one from Sweden

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Six-foot-7 center Sara Hamson is one of the few returning starters for BYU's women's basketball team, but won't play until December due to an ACL injury she sustained last summer.

Provo • BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins has a rebuilding project on his hands in the 2018-19 season because three key players graduated from a team that went just 16-14 last year and tied for third in the West Coast Conference race.

Sounds like the coach entering his 18th season in Provo also has some chemistry and bonding issues to work through as well.

One of the few returning players with Division I college basketball experience, center Shalae Salmon, said Monday at the program’s media and photo day that team unity went lacking last season and has been a major focus in the offseason.

“One of the main things we need is [better] off-court chemistry,” said Salmon, a 6-foot-3 junior from Porirua, New Zealand. “It was really toxic last year. Even though I loved the team last year, it really didn’t help with our game having little certain groups and not being able to be close as a team off the court as well. I thought it really affected our on-court chemistry.”

Judkins said a recently completed trip to Europe, allowed every four years by the NCAA, “was a real blessing” because the players were able to bond better than they have in the past. The Cougars will have 12 underclassmen on their roster, including six players from countries other than the United States.

“The nice thing is there is not a lot of age difference. They are all young,” Judkins said. “The last two years we have had a lot of older seniors and young kids, and for whatever reason it is a difficult deal. They just don’t see eye-to-eye on things. They don’t like the same music. They don’t like a lot of things. So it was really hard. This team is a lot closer that way, because of that.”

The only seniors are 6-2 forward Jasmine Moody, who missed all of last season with an injury, and Caitlyn Alldredge, who is joining the team after playing for BYU’s softball team the past four years. Moody might apply for a medical hardship to get her missed season of eligibility back.

The only returning starters are guard Brenna Chase and center Sara Hamson, a two-sport star who tore an ACL last summer and was forced to miss the current volleyball season with the Cougars. Judkins said Hamson is ahead of schedule in her recovery and hopes to be back by Dec. 1.

“She has worked really hard to get back, but we are not going to rush it,” Judkins said. “I would just as soon keep her out and make sure she’s ready for conference.”

Chase, 5-9, will likely lead the team in scoring, considering the junior from Thornton, Colo., averaged 13.5 points last year. No other returner averaged more than 5.6 ppg.

“I think we have a team expectation of winning a WCC championship and hopefully getting into the NCAA Tournament,” Chase said.

With such a young and inexperienced roster, that will be difficult. The WCC coaches preseason poll will be released Wednesday.

Judkins said he has much better depth this year than last, but will miss the leadership and scoring of Cassie Devashrayee, Amanda Wayment and Malia Nawahine.

“I can play a lot of players,” he said. “Last year, it seemed like the injury bug hit us. Now I have a lot of depth. These freshmen that came in this year are very good. They are very talented. They will push the seasoned players a lot.”

The freshman Judkins is most excited about is Shaylee Gonzales, a 5-9 guard from Gilbert, Ariz.

“She’s going to be a really, really good player,” he said.

Other new faces include Abby Mangum, the sister of BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, who redshirted last year, Kaylee Smiler of Hamilton, New Zealand; Babalu Ugwu of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tahlia White of Orem and Signe Glantz, a 6-1 forward from Ostersund, Sweden.

Along with Salmon, Smiler, Ugwu and Glantz, the other two international players are guards Maria Albiero of Brazil and Khaedin Taito of New Zealand.

“We are not afraid to [bring in international players],” Judkins said. “BYU is not afraid to let us go and find the best players we can, and it is getting more that way because it is so hard to get good [U.S.] kids now with the Power Five conferences getting them. It is harder.”

BYU Women’s Basketball in 2018-19

Returning starters: G Brenna Chase, C Sara Hamson

Other key returners: F Jasmine Moody, C Shalae Salmon, G Paisley Johnson

Key newcomers: G Shaylee Gonzales, G Caitlyn Alldredge, G Tahlia White, F Signe Glantz, F Babalu Ugwu