FAIRBORN — Kari Hoffman will make her coaching debut in Division I when the Wright State women’s basketball team plays at Bradley at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
For someone who has spent her entire career at D-II Cedarville, that’s a major step. And her assistants either came with her from the Yellow Jackets or worked at an NAIA school, so it’ll be a new experience for them, too.
But Hoffman doesn’t know why there should be any fuss about her moving to a higher level. If the transition is supposed to be a little daunting, she’s not feeling it.
“I don’t think it’s too big of a deal because I feel like our coaches have been in big games already,” she said. “Being in the NCAA tournament in Division II, that felt really big. We played Penn State in an exhibition game a couple years ago and beat them. That was big.
“Even suiting up against Bowling Green the other day for a scrimmage, it felt pretty normal to me. I don’t think I’m going to overexaggerate D-I versus anywhere else we’ve been. Basketball is basketball, and putting together a team is the same no matter where you are.”
If anything is making Hoffman feel uneasy, it’s the depleted roster she inherited. The Raiders have just 11 scholarship players, and two are injured, which makes scrimmaging in practice a little tricky.
“When you’ve got two injured, you’ve got a coach playing a lot,” Hoffman said. “I’ve gotten out there and played more this season than I have in 15 years. It’s been fun, though. We’ve all enjoyed it, and none of us have injured themselves.”
Hoffman is Cedarville’s all-time 3-point leader, but she said with a smile: “My shot is gone. I have other coaches who can put it to them better than I can.”
For the rebuilding Raiders to be anything more than just competitive this year would be an achievement. The entire roster made only a combined 55 starts last season, and the highest returning average is Jada Robinson’s 6.9.
The Raiders have three more road trips — to Toledo, Milwaukee and Green Bay — before their home opener against Xavier on Nov. 24. And Hoffman will need the early games just to figure out a starting lineup.
“I’m still waiting for a couple players to distance themselves (from others). This team has a small roster, and everybody needs to be ready to play,” she said.
But while they may not have the credentials, the players have shown plenty of fight.
The holdovers contributed to a Horizon League regular-season and tournament title last season along with the program’s first NCAA tourney victory.
“This group expects to win. That’s one of the things that has impressed me most. There is a culture of winning. I love that,” Hoffman said.
“I think we need to continue to work on our habits to make that happen. That’s something we’ve been preaching all along. You can’t just expect it, you have to earn it. We’re getting there.”
Athletic director Bob Grant plucked Hoffman from a host of candidates to replace Katrina Merriweather, who left for Memphis.
He’s made far more hits than misses in coaching hires, and he’s confident Hoffman will land in the former category.
“I’m really excited for what Kari is going to build here,” he said. “It’ll be a rebuilding job initially, but she’s got a great staff, and I have really high hopes for them.
“She is personality-plus. She has a ton of charisma. She’s the kind of person you want to be around. I use the term ‘she’s a fountain, not a drain.’ People gravitate toward her. We certainly did during the interview process. She’s really terrific.”