Brenda Frese recently corrected the reporter who said he had seen nearly 350 women’s basketball players in the transfer portal.
“You’re behind,” the 18-year Maryland coach offered. “It’s already up to 550 and it’s growing. It’s the new reality.”
Maryland, coming off a 28-4 Big Ten championship season and a likely top seed in the canceled 2020 NCAA Tournament, lost three players to transfer this spring — All-Big Ten performers Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell, along with little-used 6-foot-4 Olivia Owens. And then Maryland quickly added two new players in this new basketball world with the Terps’ coaching staff hustling while sheltered in place by the pandemic.
Senior transfer Katie Benzan, a three-time first-team All-Ivy League combo guard from Harvard, will be immediately eligible, as will Tennessee transfer Mimi Collins, who sat out all last year but practiced with the team. Maryland must wait to see just when the other new addition, 6-foot-1 senior Chloe Bibby, an Australian sharpshooter by way of powerhouse Mississippi State, can play.
The NCAA Division I Council, comprised of various athletic directors and conference commissioners, plus two athletes, is expected to vote on a waiver May 20 that would grant immediate eligibility to first-time transfers from one four-year school to another.
“Every team in the Big Ten got hit this year so it’s about adapting,” Frese said of the growing number of basketball transfers. “We’ve been through it before and our culture is fine, so it’s just a matter of continuing to do what you do and find other players that fit Maryland.”
Frese found good fits this spring in Benzan and Bibby, veterans who know how to play and know how to win. The 5-foot-6 Benzan was All-Ivy in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and then sat out this past season. She averaged 13.7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds, playing 34 minutes per game during her three years.
The fiery Benzan actually visited Maryland on an official visit in the fall after she announced she was leaving Harvard. Texas and North Carolina were in the mix, as well, and Benzan had even announced she was leaving for the Longhorns, but stayed at Harvard, wrapping up her degree in psychology in May.
“We were able to spend a lot of time with her and her family through the recruiting process, and we knew what a winner she was,” Frese said. “The exciting thing is she’s a knockdown 3-point shooter and can play the one and the two [guard spots] so she’s going to be very versatile and allow us to have another great, greenlight shooter.”
Bibby is a bigger swing player at guard and forward. The Warracknabeal, Australia, native played 88 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 9.1 points and 4.8 rebounds the last two seasons. She was limited to 18 games in 2018-19 after tearing an ACL, but was part of two Final Four teams and Mississippi State’s 2019 Elite Eight squad.
“I remember watching her play at Mississippi State and when she came into that portal, we made contact early and hit it off with her and her family,” Frese said. “She’s so unselfish. She doesn’t care if she plays inside, outside, she just wants to win. She can shoot the three and can slide into a lot of positions.”
And that’s the direction Frese’s entire roster is headed, particularly with Baltimore gamebreaker Angel Reese coming in as a freshman.
“I’ve heard from a lot of the WNBA coaches and [general managers] how much that versatility matters,” Frese added. “And with how we built our defense this past year, it was very interchangeable one through five, and offensively that’s where we’re trying to get to as well. Next year I think we’ll have more of a four-guard lineup, just building on the roster we have.”
Big Ten Freshman of the Year and conference tournament MVP Ashley Owusu already redefined the entire scheme offensively, a locomotive-like power forward with point guard skills and ability to get to the basket at will.
Along with the 6-foot-3 Reese, the 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore Collins can also play inside and out. Reese, the consensus No. 2 recruit in the country out of St. Frances Academy, could have a similar impact to Owusu, who by the end of the year was dominating the Big Ten.
“Angel is just an incredible competitor, a strong alpha that if you’re not giving 100 percent, she’s going to challenge you on that,” Frese said. “She can score inside and out, take it the length of the court off a rebound or steal. She has characteristics like [WNBA All-Star] Alyssa [Thomas].”
Now plug in shooters like Benzan and Bibby, and the loss of Mikesell, who hasn’t landed at another school yet, doesn’t seem nearly as large. The 6-foot-5 Austin, ticketed to join former Maryland assistant Shay Robinson at Mississippi, was a naturally preeminent low post, but with a slightly smaller and more versatile front line, the Terrapins will still overmatch most opponents around the basket and could be more fluid offensively.
“I bet [Collins] will get 8-10 points in transition the way she runs the floor,” Frese said. “She can pick and pop, go inside and bang, and will be a dominant rebounder.”
The Terrapins also return a couple of pieces missing last year. Redshirt junior Channisse Lewis, who started 45 games the previous two years, missed all of last season with a knee injury, as did freshman Zoe Young, a top-30 recruit. They’ll join a much deeper backcourt with Owusu, Benzan and sophomore Diamond Miller, who was playing her best basketball as last season abruptly ended.
Another sophomore, 6-foot-1 swing Faith Masonius, can and did play anywhere from point guard to power forward. She’s one of four players who will be making that jump from freshman to sophomore this season, usually when players show their most improvement.
Frese didn’t rule out adding a summer transfer if she can find another fit. If not, well, she’s plenty pleased with what she has — a roster that includes four McDonald’s All-Americans in Reese, Owusu, Collins and Miller.
“The great thing about the players we have returning and with our small numbers is that they’re going to play a lot, get a ton of minutes and be extremely happy,” Frese said.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics