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Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

Ayoka Lee and Jeff Mittie discuss Lee’s return for a final season

Amid variables, Lee commits to return for one final season
Luke Lazarczyk
Head coach Jeff Mittie and center Ayoka Lee are joined by new team-dog Bram at a press conference. Lee and Mittie discussed Lee’s process to return to K-State for one more season.

After a wildly successful Sunday night women’s national championship, fans of Kansas State women’s basketball received even greater news. Soon after head coach Jeff Mittie posted his regular “Cats just got better!!” message on X, center Ayoka Lee was announced as returning for one more season.

“You know, [I] had to think of some life and adult things, as you do once you get to kind of your mid-20s,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of goals we didn’t accomplish this year that we wanted to, so just having the opportunity to come back and have another chance to do those was a big part of that decision.”

Throughout Lee and Mittie’s press conference — which featured Bram, a new team mascot Bernedoodle — the pair said Lee’s health, the team, basketball future, NIL and more contributed to her decision.

“I’m unique in that I have a lot of things outside of basketball that I’m passionate about that I have as options,” Lee said.

Lee graduates with a masters in couples and family therapy this spring after earning a bachelor’s in psychology in 2021. She plans to further her academics with a possible certificate and enjoy some fun classes next year. Lee said her clinic director asked if she wanted a PhD, to which her response was a quick no.

Outside of her future career plans, Lee’s relationships also influenced her return.

“I think my teammates are a big part of it,” Lee said. “You’re not going to go to every school and just have great relationships with all your teammates.”

Once Lee told Mittie her plans to return, she said the first people she texted were graduating seniors Gabby Gregory and Rebekah Dallinger.

“‘I loved our senior night so much, I just wanna have another,’” Lee said in her text to the pair. “And then [I texted] my teammates, I was just like, ‘I think we need to get a conference championship.’”

Lee said the increase in women’s basketball’s popularity and the work of K-State’s NIL Collective — Wildcat NIL — were added bonuses to her return.

If Lee were not to return, the WNBA, overseas basketball and a future professional career were all potential options. With her widespread interests, she is uncertain if basketball is in her future after K-State.

Playing at least one more year of basketball, a focus for Lee was her health, after suffering many injuries in her time in Manhattan.

“She’ll have some great opportunities professionally to work on this summer,” Mittie said. “She’ll [also] have some great opportunities basketball-wise — it’s crazy to say this but — I don’t think she’s had in three or four years, a summer where she wasn’t rehabbing to play basketball.”

After missing seven games this season, Mittie hopes his All-American won’t suffer any more ailments. To help prevent that, Mittie said load management during non-conference play is a possibility.

Mittie also plans to aid that goal by adding depth to the frontcourt. Mittie said Lee’s return will add clarity to their efforts in the transfer portal, but the Wildcats already landed someone before Lee’s announcement.

Mittie’s first “Cats just got better!!” post of the offseason came three days before Lee’s announcement. The next day, Kennedy Taylor, a 6-foot-3 forward from Missouri State, was announced as joining the Wildcats for the 2024-25 season. Starting 41 of 65 games in two years, Taylor averaged 11.5 points on 50.9% shooting with 7.8 rebounds per game. 

Mittie said adding another low-post player who can compete on the glass will help Lee stay 100% next season.

“We needed somebody we felt like could alleviate some of the minutes off of Yoki,” Mittie said. “We wanted a physical, strong rebounder. You look at Kennedy’s numbers, this is one of the better offensive rebounders, not just in her league, but in the country — averaged almost four a game.”

The Wildcats’ roster may continue to adjust as the offseason continues. With Lee returning to an experienced roster while standing at the helm, K-State nation can rejoice as its star regroups for one last shot to put on a show for Manhattan and the rest of the basketball world.

“This is an iconic time in women’s athletics … we’re coming off a year where there were more eyeballs on women’s sports than ever before,” Mittie said. “I think Yoki is one of those players going into next year that will have an opportunity to be the face of women’s basketball.”

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About the Contributor
Luke Lazarczyk
Luke Lazarczyk, sports writer
Sports editor for 2023-24. Previously sports editor for 2022-23 and writer for 2021-22.
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