The NCAA transfer portal has decimated Lindsay Whalens Gopher’s women’s basketball list, leaving only three returning and four newcomers in the pipeline for the 2022-23 season. But Whalen is not alone.
“It’s not just a Minnesota thing,” the U-coach said Wednesday. “It is not.”
Maryland, for example, who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to top-seeded Stanford, have had five players in on the portal, leaving coach Brenda Frese with only one returning, starting more than 10 games this season.
Kentucky, which beat eventual national champion South Carolina to win the SEC tournament and was a No. 6 seed in this year’s tournament, has only two players on its expected list for next season, one of them a new rookie.
So Whalen is not the only coach searching through the NCAA portal looking for players who can make an impact next season.
“That’s what everyone does, every coach I’ve talked to,” Whalen said. “I’ve gotten phone calls and text messages from a lot of coaches who’m in the same boat. That’s all someone does, it’s kind of what it’s become now.”
Not that she’s happy about it. Three of the seven players who have entered the portal this spring were starters – point guard Jasmine Powell, combo guard Sara Scalia and forward Kadi Sissoko – who would have played big roles next season as Whalen matriculates a highly ranked recruiting class.
And it’s not like the Whale is not assessing where it could have gone wrong. But she goes further with a recently signed, three-year contract extension and the trust of her boss, Gopher’s athletics director Mark Coyle.
The two were in New Orleans for the men’s Final Four last weekend, Coyle for her job – he was on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee this season – and Whalen because she was announced there as part of the next group to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“So we met,” Whalen said. “I have his full support, our program has his full support.… The timing worked in a way for (us) to talk about how we move forward.”
In Whalen’s fourth season of coaching on her alma mater, Gophers finished under 0.500 for the second year in a row, 15-18 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten. Since the season ended with a loss to South Dakota State in the second round of the WNIT, her list has been declining in dribs and kills. Scalia and pointguard Alexia Smith announced their departures late last week when Whalen traveled to New Orleans.
Scalia led the team in scoring as a junior, and her 111 scored 3-pointers in third place nationally. Sissoko averaged 17.4 points in Gophers’ last six games, and Powell led the team in second-place scoring last season and in assists (5.6) this season. Whalen and her staff are now charged with replacing them with veteran players who have also entered the portal.
The goal is to add about five players before the team begins preseason training in June. The good news is that there are many players available. According to the recruitment site for women’s basketball wbbblog.com, there were 978 players on the portal on Wednesday, up from 843 last Thursday. Last year, more than 1,100 female basketball players entered the portal.
That abundance of players is the result of two major NCAA changes. First, players are now allowed to switch to another Division I program, for whatever reason, and play without being out for a year. Second, the NCAA has given an extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes who played in the 2020-21 season that was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, for example, juniors like Powell and Scalia have two years left of eligibility.
Gophers had three graduate transfers last season, two of which, guard Deja Winters and forward Laura Bagwell Katlinich, became starters. Portal players are already committing to next season – Powell committed to Tennessee last week – and Whalen said she and her staff have searched the portal almost full-time.
“That’s pretty much all we’ve been doing since our season ended and when we started talking to players on our team and they’ve expressed what they want to do,” she said.
The three players still on the list – point guard Katie Borowicz, post Rose Michaeux and wing Maggie Czinano – started their spring training this week. “I told them yesterday, ‘Next season starts now,'” Whalen said.
Whalen said her incoming class is solid and that everyone will start summer school in June. This class, ranked as high as No. 10 nationally by ESPN, includes No. 28 overall views of Wayzata point guard Maura Braun, as well as Hopkins guard Amaya Battle, 6-1 forward Mallory Heyer of Chaska and Eden Prairie forward Niamya Holloway.
The goal is to have a full list to join the seven already committed in time for the June exercises.
“If (student-athletes) want to try something new, if they think somewhere else will be better for them, then we support them,” Whalen said. “We are not happy with the players who have gone, but at the same time we are navigating what so many schools are right now.”
Seven players on Gophers’ 2021-22 women’s basketball list have entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, which has 939 players on Sunday. They are:
Jasmine Powell: The junior point guard averaged 12.4 points and 5.6 assists before leaving the team on January 28th. She’s committed to Tennessee.
Klarke Sconiers: 6-foot-2 junior forward played in 11 games and averaged 1 point and 1.5 rebounds.
Erin Hedman: 6-3 second striker game in eight games.
Caroline Strande: 5-11 off guard played in 11 matches, averaging 1.4 points.
Kadi Sissoko: 6-2 junior striker led teams in rebounding (5.7 a game) and averaged 10.4 points while starting 27 of 33 games.
Sara Scalia: Juniorgarden led the team in scoring (18 ppg.) And finished second in rebounding (4.3). Her 111 made 3-pointers placed in third place nationally.
Alexia Smith: Sophomore point guard played in all 33 matches with one start. On average, 3.4 points and 1.6 assists a match.