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Brenda Frese downplays Maryland women’s basketball transfers

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Brenda Frese says she wasn’t surprised by the massive roster shake-up that happened this offseason. Within a week, Maryland lost its top two scorers and a top reserve to the transfer portal. The Terrapins certainly weren’t the only women’s basketball program with significant losses to the portal, but the departures of standouts Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu were especially notable.

Since, Reese signed with LSU, Owusu signed with Virginia Tech and Mimi Collins will play at NC State next season.

None of this caught us off guard,” Frese said in an April interview. “We saw this coming through the season. We knew we were going to be portaling this offseason.

“Unfortunately nowadays you can’t make everyone happy. And I’ll say everybody has different individual reasons, right? One might want to be marketed better than the other or be the leading scorer or academically, Mimi wanted to get into grad school here and didn’t have the GPA to get in. So I think every kid has different reasons.”

Terps women lose starters Angel Reese, Ashley Owusu to transfer portal

The losses sent shock waves through women’s college basketball. Reese was the highest rated recruit — No. 2 in the country — that Maryland ever signed and she exited after just two seasons. She led the team in points and rebounds last season and was named a third-team AP all-American. Owusu was an honorable mention AP all-American after finishing second on the Terps in scoring and assists. She was Big Ten freshman of the year, two-time Big Ten tournament MVP and a third team all-American in 2021 during her career at Maryland..

Reese did not respond to an interview request and Owusu declined to comment, but in her Instagram post announcing her departure, she referenced “events that have transpired on and off the court.”

“I have never started anything that I haven’t finished, and finishing was the plan when I decided to come to College Park,” Owusu wrote. “My goal was to have a great career here and to win a national championship alongside an amazing team. I could picture my jersey hanging in the rafters at Xfinity Center.

“Unfortunately, events that have transpired on and off the court this year have led me to make the very difficult but necessary decision to continue my education and basketball career elsewhere.”

Reserves Taisiya Kozlova and Channise Lewis also left the program via the portal.

More than 1,200 women have transferred this offseason, according to the WBB Blog, which monitors the transfer portal. Frese said this is just life in college basketball in 2022. Coaches can expect to lose players every year and have to re-recruit their own rosters.

This transfer portal, they opened the Pandora’s box,” Frese said. “In one to two more years, everyone will understand this is the new normal. It’ll be what’s wrong if you don’t have someone leaving? This will be the new normal of what’s been created.”

Frese and her staff certainly work the portal themselves and have been particularly active this offseason. Two years ago, the Terrapins added Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby and became the No. 1 offense in college basketball with Benzan being the top three-point shooter in the nation. This time it’s 6-foot guard Abby Meyers (Princeton), 5-8 guard Elisa Pinzan (South Florida), 6-2 forward Allie Kubek (Towson) and 6-foot forward Brinae Alexander (Vanderbilt). Maryland also added 6-1 forward Lavender Briggs (Florida) during the season and signed incoming freshmen guards Gia Cooke and Brianna McDaniel a month ago. The 5-10 McDaniel is ranked the No. 42 overall recruit in the nation by ESPN and the 5-9 Cooke is ranked 52nd.

Meyers, a former All-Met from Walt Whitman, is the reigning Ivy League player of the year and was named an honorable mention AP all-American and Pinzan was the American Athletic Conference’s most improved player in 2021.

There are only four players remaining from the 2021-22 team on the roster and only three — Diamond Miller, Shyanne Sellers, Faith Masonius — played significant minutes.

“I chose to play my final year of college basketball at Maryland because not only am I from Maryland,” Meyers said in a statement, “but I grew up going to the women’s basketball games at the amazing Xfinity Center! I have tremendous respect for the program and all it has accomplished under Coach Frese’s leadership, and I want to help continue to build the winning legacy.”

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Alexander, who led Vanderbilt in scoring last season, added, “I’ve had Maryland in my sights for a while now. The winning culture and an opportunity to play in the Big Ten were both appealing to me. After speaking with Coach Frese and her staff, I really felt they wanted to bring me into their family. ”

The transfer portal and name, image and likeness rules have created a form of free agency for college sports. But even before the full effect of those changes were realized, Maryland lost talented players like Taylor Mikesell (Oregon, then Ohio State), Shakira Austin (Mississippi) and Olivia Owens (Kentucky).

It was a lot, it was a lot,” said Austin, who was the third overall pick in the WNBA draft by the Washington Mystics. “On the court, I felt like I had more to prove. I had more to give. Honestly, just needed, like, a mentor. I felt like it’s bigger than basketball. And for me, the things I was dealing with during that time, I really just needed someone who cared [about me] more than being an athlete.

“Off the court, I was really able to grow and mature as a player, and an athlete and, also, just as a teammate [at Ole Miss]. I was just able to really piece some stuff together.”

Frese dismissed the notion that deeper issues led to player departures. She points to the portal numbers and the fact that 262 Power Five teams had players transfer, according to WBB Blog. Maryland’s transfers get more attention because of the popularity and success of the program, Frese added.

“I appreciate that our fans are upset because it shows people are invested in our sport and in our program. That’s a great thing,” Frese said. “But having 20 years that I’ve been invested in this. … I think it’s disappointing because of the fact that you build these relationships and invest so much time and money in these players and their families. But at the same point, they’ve got to do what’s individually best for themselves.”

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Frese received a contract extension in April and the two-time national coach of the year is set to be in College Park through the 2028-29 season. The team has lost 12 games in the past two seasons combined and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the past two NCAA tournaments. The Terps have only missed the NCAA tournament twice under Frese, with the last coming in 2010.

Two years ago when we were hit with the graduations and the transfer portal, we were able to go in and get Chloe and Katie,” Frese said. “And the next year, we led the nation in scoring. I was fortunate enough to be named coach of the year and nobody left. But nobody talked about that. Everybody was happy.

“Then you go into this year and egos can change. Different things that you want as you evolve as a player changes. Those are the individual things that they have to address. From our end, I know who we are as a program. … I think that’s the one thing when players have left, they’ve found, it’s a heck of a risk. The grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. So we wish them all the best.”

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