Wendell adjusts quickly at Drake

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Kids in really large families sometimes look for ways to build their individual identities. But rarely do they look to the laundry room to establish such a distinction.

But Drake sophomore forward Lizzy Wendell, one of the nation's top scorers this season, was once as a teenager the voluntary head laundry washer for her family, which includes her parents and eight siblings.

"She took over the laundry for about eight months," said her father, Mike Wendell. "We have a washer and dryer upstairs and downstairs. She just wanted to do it; she's pretty organized."

Lizzy explained it this way: "My oldest sister, when she came back home from college, started paying me to do her laundry for her. And I said, 'Oh, this is easy,' and I did it for everyone for a while."

Eventually, "Busy Lizzy," as her family calls her, decided to give up the chore.

"But we all liked it while it lasted," Mike said, grinning. "That's a lot of laundry."

Nowadays, Wendell focuses on taking opposing defenses to the cleaners. Her 22.6 points per game leads the Missouri Valley Conference and is tied for eighth in Division I.

Her high this season is 43 points, which she scored in a 100-98 loss to Iowa in December. She had 33 points in a victory against another Big Ten foe, Wisconsin, in November. And she's the current Missouri Valley player of the week after scoring a combined 53 points in wins at Indiana State and Evansville last weekend.

For Drake, Wendell's expanded scoring repertoire has helped to fill a huge hole. The Bulldogs lost the 2014 MVC player of the year, senior guard Kyndal Clark, to a knee injury just one game into this season. With Clark, who averaged 19.3 points last year, having to redshirt, Drake needed its youngsters to do more.

That has happened. The Bulldogs took some time to adjust to the sudden loss of Clark, starting out 0-3. But after finishing 5-6 in nonconference play, things really began to click. Since that oh-so-close loss to Iowa -- which currently is ranked 20th and is second in the Big Ten -- the Bulldogs have won seven consecutive games.

That will be tested, though, during a big upcoming weekend at Drake's Knapp Center. The Bulldogs face Missouri State on Friday (ESPN3, 8:05 p.m. ET) and Wichita State on Sunday. The Shockers and Bulldogs are tied atop the MVC at 7-0. Wichita State, the preseason MVC favorite, is 16-3 overall and has beaten Ohio State, Kansas State and Clemson, and nearly upset coach Jody Adams' alma mater, Tennessee, in Knoxville.

Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk doesn't want Wendell to put extra pressure on herself this weekend, though, or any other time. She would prefer that Wendell -- who was the MVC co-freshman of the year last season when she averaged 16.8 PPG -- just continue the improvement she has made already at Drake.

The 6-footer -- who is averaging 4.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals -- is turning herself into a multi-dimensional scoring threat. Wendell is shooting 50 percent from the field (153 of 306) and is closing in on 1,000 points thus far in her young career (942). "Lizzy came in as a catch-and-shoot player; she didn't post up," Baranczyk said. "Now she's added that to her game. She just worked at it a lot in the summer.

"She is also much more confident this year, which I think is a normal thing for a sophomore. She takes responsibility for things, and she's not afraid to speak up. She has the kind of personality that everybody likes her; she's great with people."

Of course, when you have eight siblings -- seven sisters and one brother -- you'd better know how to get along. Her two oldest sisters -- Tara, 28, and Megan, 27 -- are married with kids of their own. Then there's Kristen (25), Jennifer (22), Lizzy (20), Maria (18), Joe (16), Abby (13) and Grace (9).

"I have a really good relationship with all of them," Wendell said. "Being in the middle, I am close enough age-wise to relate to everybody.

"There are a lot of different personalities with a big family, same as with a team. It helped me learn to read those and see what people need from you due to their personality. We have some people on the team who need time to be alone, but I don't mind having a lot of people around. It's what I've always had."

"There are a lot of different personalities with a big family, same as with a team. It helped me learn to read those and see what people need from you due to their personality." Drake's Lizzy Wendell, who has eight siblings

Grace is like Lizzy's "mini-me," having just started playing basketball as a fourth grader. Grace also races to be the first to answer the phone, which is what Lizzy did when she was still at home in Blue Springs, Missouri.

Most of the Wendell kids played or are currently playing sports. Mike Wendell played high school basketball in Garden Plain, Kansas, a small town 20 miles outside of Wichita. There, his late father, George, was a principal and basketball coach who specialized in shot mechanics.

"For years, he taught most of west Wichita how to shoot," Mike said. "Lizzy seems to have inherited some of that."

Mike and his wife, Gina, both grew up in Garden Plain and then relocated to Blue Springs, in suburban Kansas City, where Lizzy was born. Lizzy was one of the top high school players in the KC area when she graduated from Blue Springs High in 2013 and drew interest from Big 12 schools, including Kansas and Oklahoma State.

But Drake, about three hours north in Des Moines, seemed the right fit for her. The Bulldogs had a first-year head coach in 2012-13 in Baranczyk, a Des Moines native who had played for Iowa. It was a new era for Drake basketball, and Wendell wanted to be a part of it.

So did another suburban KC player, Becca Jonas from Truman High in Independence, Missouri. Jonas, a freshman post player, is Drake's second-leading scorer (13.2 PPG) and top rebounder (8.2 RPG). Two other underclass players, freshman Maddy Dean of Jordan, Minnesota, and sophomore Caitlin Ingle of Runnels, Iowa, also average in double figures in scoring.

It's a young group that will be seasoned when Clark returns to action next fall. Before then, though, Drake would love to snare its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007.

There's quite a ways to go before that, but so far Drake is headed in the right direction. And Wendell, who is used to pretty fierce competition at home when it comes to board games or card games, seems quite capable of leading the charge for the Bulldogs.

By the way, who usually wins those family contests?

"Me," Wendell said, and then being naturally modest, immediately backtracks. "Well, actually, it depends on whoever's lucky, but ... I'm pretty good. But so is Grace, actually. And so are my mom and dad. So, you know, it could be anybody ..."

It's OK to say it, Lizzy. There are still several things to work on, as is the case with any sophomore basketball player. But Wendell is pretty good at everything she tries, from laundry to layups.