June 3, 2023 

Ashley Owusu heads to Penn State. Can she help turn the Nittany Lions around?

The guard joins the Nittany Lions, her third program in as many seasons

Ashley Owusu’s sophomore season at Maryland was nothing short of phenomenal: 17.9 points, 5.9 assists, 5.6 rebounds per game.

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She ranked seventh in the nation in win shares (4.6), 10th in assists per 40 minutes (7.6), and was the leading scorer on a team that featured Diamond Miller and Angel Reese. The team also reached the Sweet Sixteen.

In just more than two years, Owusu’s now a Penn State Nittany Lion, and on her third team in as many seasons.

She departed Maryland for Virginia Tech after 2021-22, part of a mass exodus that also saw Reese head to LSU and Mimi Collins leave for NC State.

“It was a locker room that was ‘me’ centered versus ‘we’ centered,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said of her 2021-22 team this past March.

For Owusu, landing at Virginia Tech provided a fresh start after an injury-plagued 2021-22 season. But things didn’t go as planned.

She didn’t play more than eight minutes in a game in February and didn’t see the floor in any of the Hokies’ eight games in March in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

When asked by The Next on March 3 after Virginia Tech’s ACC tournament quarterfinal win over Miami if she was healthy enough to play – she broke her pinky in December – she said she was.

“I’m good to go,” she replied.

Less than a month later, Owusu entered the transfer portal and now returns to the Big Ten. So that begs the question: who is Penn State getting? The Owusu who starred for one of the top programs in the sport during her first two seasons of college basketball? Or, the Owusu who struggled to find playing time even when healthy?

Before this past season, Owusu’s former Hokie teammate Georgia Amoore spoke glowingly of what the Virginia native brought to the team.

“Ashley is incredible,” Amoore said. “She just does some things and you just have to go, ‘Oooh,’ like, it’s embarrassing for the defense, really. Even guarding her sometimes, I’ll play the best defense I can and she’ll still find a way to score on me. It’s a good thing to have on your team and a bad thing to play against. She’s a really big threat.”

If Penn State just landed a guard who will have you go, ‘Oooh,’ the Nittany Lions could contend for their first NCAA tournament since 2014 when Coquese Washington was the head coach. And there’s ample reason to think this could happen.

Contrary to Maryland or Virginia Tech, Owusu should have more freedom to take the reins than she did at either of her two previous stops. With last year’s leading scorer Makenna Marisa returning for a fifth year, head coach Carolyn Kieger has a chance to build the roster around Marisa, Owusu and some of her younger players who showed promise last season.

Shay Ciezki shot nearly 42% from 3-point range and was only a freshman; Leilani Kapinus, a redshirt sophomore, led the team in rebounding (6.7 per game), steals (3.1 per game) and blocks (1.0 per game), while also averaging double figures (11.2) as the team’s third-leading scorer.

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Surely, Penn State will need more than Marisa, Ciezki, Kapinus and the 2020-21 version of Owusu to contend in the Big Ten, but it’s not unthinkable to see how Owusu could thrive being a go-to scorer and distributor for a relatively young program hoping to take that next leap forward.

“We are thrilled to add Ashley to our Penn State family,” Kieger said in a statement. “She is a game-changing player who has excelled at the highest level, especially in the Big Ten Conference. Her skillset is the perfect complement to our roster and style of play. The way she navigates ball screens is the best in the country. She is a no-doubt pro and will have an immediate impact on our team. I am excited both for her, and our entire basketball community.”

It’s been a lean last decade or so for the Nittany Lions, but the addition of Owusu to the mix only increases the odds that this rebuild is closer to the end than to the beginning.

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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