In the 2017-18 season, IU forward Kym Royster was one of the most improved players in, if not the country, then at least the Big Ten conference.
Royster started all 37 games, averaged 10.2 points per game, an even six rebounds per game and was a key cog in IU winning the WNIT averaging just over 28 minutes per game. Her points per game more than doubled from her sophomore season and her rebounding nearly tripled. You could combine her first two seasons and it wouldn’t have matched her averages in her junior season.
But when looking at her numbers to start the 2018-19 season, there has been a regression, of sorts. She is hitting shots at a near 60 percent clip, but nearly every other statistic is down from last season.
After three more games in three days for Royster and the Hoosiers, it was a similar script for the senior out of Newark, Ohio. In IU’s win over Loyola Marymount, Royster played just 16 minutes, accounting for two points and one rebound. In IU’s loss to Grambling State Thursday, Royster played 18 minutes scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds. But Friday in the win vs. South Dakota, she had a solid 11 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
She has only scored in double figures three so far this season and hasn’t played more than 28 minutes. While added frontcourt depth may be a factor in her potential regression, it isn’t the same Royster we saw last season.
“We need Kym to play better,” IU coach Teri Moren said. “Kym’s been steady. She had a quiet double-double vs. Missouri State, but we’re looking for Kym to be more of a threat on the low block.”
What Indiana has to be looking for is what she did last season when she had 21 double figure scoring games, including scoring in double figures in eight of the first 10 games. Those first eight games included two of her three double-doubles for the season. But a big reason for her improvement last season was her work with assistant coach Rhet Wierzba.
“That’s what you expect from your seniors.”
Kym Royster played a big part in IU getting an opening night win over Milwaukee, contributing seven points. #iuwbb pic.twitter.com/lFOwU9NEJg
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) November 8, 2018
Wierzba, now in his fifth year with the program, works a lot with the frontcourt players for the Hoosiers. Most days in practice, that’s whom he is working with. He had a big influence on Royster a season ago and her boost in production. Wierzba said comfort and confidence was a big factor in Royster’s big junior season.
“One of Kym’s biggest faults is when she makes a mistake, she puts her head down,” Wierzba said on our podcast. “We really focused on, ‘you’re not going to make all of your shots, you’re going to mess up a defensive assignment and when it happens, keep that head up and try to make something on the other end because we can’t let one mistake turn into two mistakes.’ She was able to get some extended minutes and when she does, she has really, really good post moves.”
And for Royster and Wierzba, it’s been a long relationship for the duo, dating back to when Royster first considered coming to Indiana. Because of that good coach-player relationship, it helped tremendously in Royster’s breakout junior season.
"From my freshman season to now...it was nice to see all of our hard work pay off" #iuwbb ⚪️?
In Her Words: Kym Royster pic.twitter.com/8aAfS0DFD3
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) July 17, 2018
“He’s the one who recruited me, so he’s been here from day one,” Royster said. “Coming in here, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and he’s been the one to help build my confidence and I think that is what attributes to my last year’s play.”
With the addition of freshman Aleksa Gulbe, Brenna Wise being eligible after the transfer and Linsey Marchese being a year older, there may not be as much of a burden on Royster’s shoulders as there may have been a season ago.
And while she is averaging 6.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game and just over 20 minutes per game through December 20, her offensive rebounding percentage is up about seven percent, something that Moren has noted.
“She has really done a great job on focusing on rebounding the ball, both defensively and offensively,” Moren said. “She’s the anchor for us on the inside, but what I’d like to see from Kym is she hasn’t been as productive as she’s needed to be on the low block. She needs to be able to catch it and go up.”
Keeping it simple and instilling confidence in Royster seems to be a common trend. Moving forward, keeping it simple could be a big point in getting her back on track, or at least becoming more productive than she has been in 2018 so far.
If Royster can back to where she was at times in 2018, the Hoosiers will greatly benefit. She is the lone senior starter and has one more go at things this season.
Yet for Royster, it’s just about simplifying things.
“I think sometimes Kym’s a victim of overthinking – trying to make multiple moves when the easiest move is to catch it and go up,” Moren said. “So we’ve tried to watch film with her and encourage her to keep the game simple.”