April 2, 2021 

ACC notes: Yes, 10 players are leaving Syracuse

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Plus, a few are returning for ACC *super senior* seasons

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Kiara Lewis plays against Louisville in the ACC tournament on March 6, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

It was generally and widely assumed that there would be a lot of movement this offseason in women’s college basketball via the transfer portal because of the NCAA’s COVID-era ruling that essentially grants a free year of playing time. This past season did not count toward any player’s eligibility clock.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who expected 10 players to bolt from one team, especially if that was a squad that made the semifinals of its conference tournament and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, only to run into a Paige Bueckers-powered buzzsaw.

Well, there are now nine Syracuse players in the transfer portal. There were 10, but Emily Engstler has since signed with Louisville, the first of the Syracuse transfers to find a new home this offseason.

Even in 2021 — TEN — that’s an alarming figure.

Other than Engstler, the players leaving the Orange are: Kiara Lewis, Digna Strautmane, Amaya Finklea-Guity, Taleah Washington, Lauren Fitzmaurice, Faith Blackstone, Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, Maud Huijbens, and Khamya McNeal.

The Next attempted to reach out to several of these players, but only Engstler — the ACC Sixth Player of the Year — offered a brief response saying she just wanted “to move on peacefully and smoothly without any stress.” Six other players did not immediately respond.

At Syracuse, Engstler averaged 10.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.8 steals per game for the Orange this past season while shooting 41.7% from the floor and 37.1% from the three-point range. She did a whole lot of everything for head coach Quentin Hillsman’s side and was also fourth in the ACC in defensive win shares with 1.3, per Her Hoop Stats. Engstler is the only transfer Hillsman has publicly commented about, saying on Twitter, “Oil & Water – we are good over here. Wishing her the best!!!”

Strautmane is another starter leaving the program. She previously indicated she might return for an extra year, but never hinted that it might be somewhere other than Syracuse. The 6’2 forward from Latvia started 120 games in a Syracuse uniform.

Lewis is a former All-ACC First Team selection and averaged 14 points-per-game this past season. Fitzmaurice opted out of the 2020-21 season.

According to Syracuse.com, McNeal, Washington, Blackstone, and Fisher were all suspended from the Orange’s ACC and NCAA tournament runs due to a violation of team rules. Blackstone was an ESPN Top 100 recruit in 2020.

A Syracuse spokesperson told The Next, “per policy regarding the transfer portal, (Hillsman) is unable to comment or confirm if a player is in, or plans to enter, the NCAA transfer portal this off-season.”

Syracuse went 15-9 this past season, falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament to UConn. Just five players remain from that roster, but Syracuse is bringing in a top 15 recruiting class headlined by Canadians Latasha Lattimore and Shayeann Day-Wilson. Additionally, USC transfer Shalexxus Aaron has committed to the Orange. She battled injuries at USC, but when healthy is a 41.1% three-point shooter.

The glass-half-full look at Syracuse’s situation is this: Lewis, Strautmane, Finklea-Guity, and Djaldi-Tabdi were seniors anyway. So, in a non-COVID year, they would have exhausted their eligibility. Besides, playing one season elsewhere as a grad transfer is hardly an uncommon thing. And Fitzmaurice was a walk-on, whose loss won’t be felt in terms of the on-floor product.

But the glass-half-empty perspective brings more questions. What did the four young players do to get suspended and why are they leaving? And why did Engstler — who most certainly would’ve been a focal point of the offense next season — decide to jump ship after a breakout season?

At some point, between now and the start of next season, Hillsman will likely speak to reporters. These questions will certainly be raised.

Exiting The Portal

  • A source close to the situation confirmed to The Next that New Mexico transfer Corina Carter has committed to Virginia. The 5’6 sophomore guard from San Antonio, Texas averaged 6.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game this past season across 19 contests for the Lobos. A four-star recruit in 2019, she also had offers from Kentucky, Boston College, and Wichita State. She joins Penn’s Eleah Parker and Brown’s McKenna Dale as newcomers to Tina Thompson’s side.

  • One of Duke’s five transfers has found a new home, but it’s not too far away. Clinton, North Carolina native Mikayla Boykin has signed with UNC-Charlotte. Boykin came to Duke in 2017 as a five-star prospect, the 21st best player in her class per ESPN, and one of North Carolina’s most decorated high school talents. But injuries hampered her throughout her career at Duke. Since her high school playing days, she’s had four knee surgeries. But, when Boykin has been healthy, she’s been solid. Over 37 games played at Duke, she averaged 6.8 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game. Over 17 games in the 2019-20 season, she shot 40.5% from the three-point range and 45% from the floor. If healthy, Boykin could be a big boost for the 49ers.

  • Former Pitt guard Gabbie Green has committed to Louisiana Tech. Green, a native of Texas, will be a graduate transfer for the Lady Techsters. She averaged 5.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game this past season for Pitt, often providing Lance White’s side with a veteran presence and an offensive spark.

  • Xavier announced the addition of Virginia Tech transfer Shelby Calhoun on Friday. Calhoun played in just four games for the Hokies this past season. She is a former three-star recruit from Kentucky and has four years of eligibility remaining.

Returning For An Extra Season

Delicia Washington, Clemson

While Clemson saw six players enter the transfer portal since the season’s end, one key player is sticking with the Tigers for an extra year. Delicia Washington, an All-ACC Second Team selection, announced Wednesday that she was returning for an extra season. Washington led the Tigers in scoring with 16.4 points-per-game this past year, which is the highest scoring average by a Tiger since the 2003-04 season. She also averaged 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and made the WNIT’s All-Regional team for Charlotte.

Lorela Cubaj and Kierra Fletcher, Georgia Tech

The return of these two starters for the Yellow Jackets makes them a contender for the ACC crown next season. Cubaj was the co-ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was a standout in three NCAA tournament games for Nell Fortner’s side, averaging 16.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game en route to the Yellow Jackets’ first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012. ESPN had Cubaj projected as the 12th overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft.

“I decided to stay here at Georgia Tech to keep improving my game and help Georgia Tech women’s basketball stay at the top of the ACC,” Cubaj said in a statement.

Fletcher has been a consistent presence for the Yellow Jackets across her four seasons in the Flats, logging more than 3,500 minutes in a Georgia Tech uniform. She passed the 1,000-point total for them this season. Through the ACC and NCAA tournaments, she notched double-digit points and at least seven rebounds and three assists in each contest.

Aisha Sheppard, Virginia Tech

With Sheppard’s return, the Hokies will bring back their entire starting five from this past season, one that led them to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Sheppard was one of the top players in the ACC this past season, making the conference’s First Team and being named as an honorable mention All-American. She was third in the league in scoring with 17.7 points-per-game and led the ACC in three-pointers made with 87, a 3.5 per-game clip. ESPN had Sheppard projected as the 16th overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft.

“I’m just not ready. I feel like there’s a lot of things I need to work on. So, why not stay another year and try to move forward and trend upward,” Sheppard told the ACC Network. “I want to be back (in the NCAA tournament). It was really fun, it was satisfying, but not to the point where I feel like we’re done… We want to get to the next level.”

ACC extras

  • Miami has promoted assistant coach Fitzroy Anthony to assistant head coach. He has been on Miami’s staff under Katie Meier for six seasons. His primary responsibilities include working with guards and devising the Canes’ defensive strategies.

  • N.C. State sophomore Jada Boyd was named to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Mercado Region All-Tournament Team. In three tourney games, Boyd averaged 18 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 64.7% from the floor.

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