March 30, 2023
Ranking the SEC’s 10 most impactful 2022-23 transfers
Which of the SEC's 45-plus transfers made the biggest impact?
Across the country, transfers took women’s college basketball by storm, with almost 1,300 athletes in the transfer portal between Aug. 1, 2021, and July 31, 2022. In the SEC, over 45 players transferred into or throughout the conference, making undeniable impacts on and off the court.
But each coach in the SEC has a different viewpoint on transfers. Although she was at first opposed, Mississippi head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin calls her program “Transfer U” and is known by her players as “the queen of the transfer portal.” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper argues that there is definitely “good and bad,” but it’s been very positive for Rocky Top.
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, who’s relied on transfers a little less than others this year, says, “we have to deal with it, and we will.” And fellow Final Four coach Kim Mulkey of LSU argues that transferring makes change happen a whole lot quicker but “also hurts teams.”
No matter where each coach stands on transfers, they’re happening. Every coach in the SEC used it last year, some exercising more caution than others. As the sun sets on the 2022-23 SEC season, here are the top 10 most impactful transfers.
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No. 1 Angel Reese – LSU (transfer from Maryland)
There is potentially no transfer in the entire country that is more impactful than Angel Reese. In Mulkey’s second year coaching in Baton Rouge, the Tigers await Virginia Tech in the Final Four with a roster nearly unrecognizable from last year, and it simply couldn’t have been done without Reese. The All-American completely took off this year, solidifying herself as a program-maker who revolutionized LSU basketball. The “Bayou Barbie” averaged 23.2 points and 15.7 rebounds per game this season, leading the SEC in both categories. Aside from the national awards, she was also named to this year’s All-SEC First Team and All-SEC Defensive Team and set the SEC single-season double-double record.
“To say I expected this or that from Angel when we got her out of the portal … I knew the talent was there from high school and from the few games I watched her when she was playing at Maryland,” Mulkey told reporters. “But to think that she [would have] … a double-double [in] 30 of our 32 games, absolutely not.”
Reese had decided to leave Maryland for a “fresh start,” referring to some mistakes she made in College Park, and ESPN ranked her as the No. 1 impact transfer. Even so, she exceeded expectations and over-delivered, similar to the larger LSU program. And beyond just being a walking double-double who often has more rebounds than points, Reese’s teammates told The Next that she is a vocal leader who is “fearless” and inspires her team to be the same. LSU would not be in Dallas without her, and it definitely would not have its meteoric rise without what she’s brought to the Bayou. And fortunately for the Tigers, Reese told The Next she plans to graduate under Mulkey and will stay at LSU for next season.
No. 2 Rickea Jackson – Tennessee (transfer from Mississippi State)
Rickea Jackson is a walking bucket. Averaging 19.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, the USBWA All-American and All-SEC First Team forward’s game completely took off this season in Knoxville. Leaving an in-flux Mississippi State team, her season started rocky after a brief suspension, but then Jackson found her place on this team. When center Tamari Key announced she would sit out her senior season for health reasons, it became clear this was Jackson and Jordan Horston’s team.
“They are great leaders, great scorers and defenders. Everyone needs a Rickea and Jordan Horston on their team. They’ll literally give it all,” sophomore Jillian Hollingshead told The Next. “You never have to question if they’re going hard and leaving it all on the court.”
And more than just the third-leading scorer in the SEC, Jackson is extremely consistent and efficient, shooting 55% from the field. Her team can rely on her, and in a season that was full of uncertainty, Jackson’s steady numbers and leadership off the court were essential. Harper told reporters that Jackson brings an “unbelievable offensive punch to our team” but also praised her defense and growth on the glass.
“I would definitely have to say go where you see fit. Don’t just go where someone just [goes] deep in a tournament,” Jackson advised potential transfers. “Me having experience at Mississippi State, I definitely wanted to just come to a healthier environment and an environment that just wants the best for you outside of basketball. Make sure your coach doesn’t just care for basketball, they care for you after basketball.”
Jackson recently announced that she’ll spend another year in Knoxville, using up the rest of her eligibility next year.
No. 3 Diamond Battles – Georgia (transfer from Central Florida)
Core to this Georgia team is its motor, Diamond Battles. The All-SEC Second Team guard spent the first four years of her college at UCF alongside head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, and when Coach Abe made her own transfer to Athens, so did Battles, following their deep belief and bond with one another.
“It’s so funny that we’re at Georgia. I’ve called her a dog for eight years and she is still a dog, and now she is a real dog,” Abrahamson-Henderson said, referencing the Georgia mascot.
Weeks earlier, Abrahamson-Henderson had said: “She’s an extension of me. I’m her. We’re like fighters, dogs. We hate losing; we want to win every day. We’re just intense. We’re just intense people. And so she really gets me out here.”
Coach Abe and the Dawgs cite Battles’ leadership, toughness, grit and intensity as the tenets of her impact on the team. Georgia’s identity lies in its grit and defense, and she arguably leads the pack in grittiness, named to the All-SEC Defensive Team. But for a team that sometimes struggles to score, she is also the offensive glue. Battles averaged 14.7 points per game, good for top-15 in the SEC, and when she was not getting buckets, Georgia often floundered.
In the NCAA Tournament, she turned it up another gear, willing her team to a first-round upset and nearly pulling out a huge upset over No. 2 Iowa in the second round. She has officially completed her eligibility and time with Coach Abe and has declared for the WNBA Draft.
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No. 4 Myah Taylor – Mississippi (transfer from Mississippi State)
At SEC Media Day, Myah Taylor, fresh off a transfer from Mississippi State to Mississippi, explained her move to The Next: “I’m a Mississippi girl … The SEC is the best conference in the world.” Although transferring across one of the biggest rivalries in the country could’ve caused problems, it was quite the opposite for Taylor. She quickly became the leader of this squad and was even dubbed “Mama Taylor” by teammate Madison Scott.
“I feel like I had to step into another leadership role instantly. And she goes to show me that leadership doesn’t look one certain way,” Taylor told The Next. “I’ve just grown so much as a person … I just feel like I didn’t have to be perfect here. I felt like I was able to be vulnerable. It’s hard sometimes to come into a new place and knowing that everything’s not gonna be perfect, but I was able to be very authentic.”
Taylor is the fabric of Mississippi’s notorious defense and ranks 11th in the SEC in both assists and steals per game. And although her stats may not jump off the page (6.4 points, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game), Mississippi doesn’t make the Sweet 16 without Taylor. In the final minute of its upset of Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Mississippi appeared to be floundering, enduring a four-plus minute scoring drought. Taylor was the one who told her teammates they could win the game: “It’s not over until the buzzer is off.” And from an outsider’s view, even in the brief moments in the locker room, it’s clear that Taylor is the leader of this team and that her experience carries them far.
“I think we have a great leader in Myah. She does a great job leading the team,” teammate Angel Baker told The Next. “She brings something that nobody can bring. Her voice, she’s the calmness to the storm. She’s a true point guard, and I think we all follow her.”
Although the state of Mississippi will miss Taylor’s game as her eligibility concludes, she has declared for the WNBA Draft and plans to stay connected to basketball no matter what’s next.
No. 5 Ciaja Harbison – Vanderbilt (transfer from Saint Louis University)
On a pure statistical level, fifth-year senior Ciaja Harbison is just behind Angel Reese and second in the SEC in scoring (19.6 points per game), second in steals (2.4) and third in assists (4.5). On a depleted Vanderbilt squad, this former A-10 star has been the saving grace. Head coach Shea Ralph calls Harbison the team’s “motor” and leader on a young team.
“She’s not the most vocal, most [out]spoken person, but just her game, she’s the most effective … whether that’s on the court, or whether that’s with her words,” teammate Marnelle Garraud told The Next. “She’s not one to talk about herself, but she’s the loudest when it comes to supporting her teammates.”
The All-SEC Second Team guard stepped up when her team desperately needed it, and although Vandy didn’t win a ton of games, Harbison’s explosive skill was the backbone of the team. The only player on this list transferring from a mid-major, Harbison was never unsure of whether she’d be able to thrive in the SEC. She proves how grit and hard work can lead to impact in a Power 5 conference.
No. 6 Saylor Poffenbarger – Arkansas (transfer from UConn)
“Our defense went from [ranked] like 300-something in the country to top 15. If you were asking me to pinpoint one thing, it would be [Saylor Poffenbarger],” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors told The Next in January.
Moving any statistic up hundreds of spots is quite the feat, and for a freshman like Poffenbarger, it’s unheard of. Poffenbarger, who left UConn just a couple of games into her freshman season, is now a redshirt freshman at Arkansas after sitting out part of last season. Since taking the court this season, she has been the team’s defensive X-factor. She leads Arkansas in rebounds (6.9 per game) and blocks (1.1), clocking in at fifth and eighth in the conference, respectively.
“She’s a big guard, so she can guard another team’s post players or even their guards, and she’s quick enough to stay with both,” senior teammate Makayla Daniels told The Next.
Neighbors adds that the All-SEC Freshman Team member has intangibles that are often challenging to measure: maturity, vocal leadership, awareness and a locked-in mentality.
“The impact is hard to measure with stats. You have to be around us, you have to be at practice, you have to be on the plane, you have to be on the bus,” Neighbors told reporters. “As far as impact freshmen, she gets up there at the top of my list with Kelsey Plum and Aari McDonald … She is in that conversation of all-time freshman-ready kids.”
The freshman’s ceiling is endless, and she has plenty more eligibility to prove herself further.
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No. 7 Jillian Hollingshead – Tennessee (transfer from Georgia)
6’5 sophomore Jillian Hollingshead has been the key post figure that the Vols so desperately needed after losing Key for the season. Hollingshead is elite in the paint, with footwork very few sophomores of her size possess. She’s grown tremendously over the last year, ending the season a nearly unrecognizable player. Hollingshead told The Next that she specifically worked on her footwork throughout the year, putting in the hours to eliminate the travels she had been getting called for.
“Big shout out to Jillian. Man, I’m so proud of her. She is so young, but she works so hard. She comes in every day and does what is asked of her with a great attitude,” Jackson said at the SEC Tournament. “She was definitely our X-factor tonight. She is versatile [and] can do a little bit of everything. So proud of her. Her toughness … playing at such a high level against a ranked team, that’s nothing that you just come across, so big shout-out to her.”
She brings morale to a team that faced a lot of challenges and, as Harper says, is a “go-to player.” She can score in the paint, averaging 6.2 points per game, and is an improving rebounder (4.4 per game). And in the more high-pressure games toward the end of the Vols’ season, Hollingshead stepped up to will her team to wins. The sky is the limit for Hollingshead, something her teammates have always known.
“I called it at the beginning of the season. I said, ‘Y’all need to watch out for Jillian,'” Horston told reporters. “She is a dog. She had to settle in and get her feet wet, and that’s exactly what she’s done.”
No. 8 Kierra Fletcher – South Carolina (transfer from Georgia Tech)
Coming off a national championship in 2022, Staley seemed to have apprehension about just one thing: the point guard position. But quickly this fear became a problem of yesteryear when graduate transfer Kierra Fletcher and freshman Raven Johnson both proved their worth running the floor, with Fletcher nabbing the starting spot. Although Fletcher doesn’t produce the most jaw-dropping numbers in the SEC (4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game), the starting point guard on the best team in the nation naturally leaves a big footprint on the league. She has fantastic court vision, a high basketball IQ and solid ball-handling.
“There’s definitely been some ups and downs, but I love it here and I think I made the best decision for myself both on and off the court,” Fletcher told The Next. She explained that coming to South Carolina’s legacy program was at first challenging due to self-imposed “unnecessary pressure,” but she quickly righted that with her teammates’ help.
Staley has been very clear about how important Fletcher is to the team, and when she went down with an injury at the SEC Tournament, her team even dedicated their championship to her.
No. 9 KK Deans – Florida (transfer from West Virginia)
KK Deans leads the Gators in the majority of statistical categories, including points per game (14.1), steals per game (1.8) and 3-point percentage (38%). In a year riddled with injury, Deans has brought vital production and confidence to the Gators.
“She’s brought so many things just in who she is. She’s a fighter,” head coach Kelly Rae Finley told media in February. “When we were recruiting KK, it was really important to me that we were honest with her. It was really important to me that she understood that she could fill a hole that we needed to fill on our roster, but that if it wasn’t good timing for her to come back off her ACL [injury], that she would not be playing at the beginning of the year. It was really important, and I think her mom and I saw eye-to-eye on that. KK was like, ‘Nah, I’m hearing you, but whatever.’ She’s played since the start of the season.”
Dean kickstarts this team offensively and is a fantastic 3-point shooter, ending the year with 77 triples, the seventh-most in Gator history. And in big moments, she stepped up, including the Gators’ run to the WNIT quarterfinals. On Thursday, The Next reported that she had entered her name in the transfer portal again, meaning that she’s not returning to Gainesville for her final year of eligibility.
No. 10 Maddie Scherr – Kentucky (transfer from Oregon)
Kentucky junior Maddie Scherr has a classic homecoming story: After two years at Oregon, the 2020 Kentucky Miss Basketball packed her bags and transferred to her hometown team. And although Kentucky’s season was disappointing at best, Scherr was one of the bright spots. She led her team in rebounds (5.1 per game) and assists (4.3), ranked second in steals (2.1), and was top-three in scoring (11.6 points per game). She ranked in the top five in the SEC in assists and steals.
“You think about Maddie Scherr, a Kentucky girl that came home, and not only did she show up, but she showed out this year. I think she showed why she is the player that she is,” head coach Kyra Elzy said after Kentucky’s SEC Tournament win over Florida. “Her mental toughness is huge, and we need it for us to continue to be successful.”
Elzy says Scherr’s “refuse-to-lose mindset” uplifts her teammates to play hard even when they’re down. Throughout the season, Scherr stepped up in big moments: setting her career high against South Carolina, getting tournament wins, and picking the Wildcats up during their slump. At the SEC Tournament, Scherr hit another gear, leading the Wildcats on an impressive run that doubled their conference win total. She even set a program record for most blocks in an SEC Tournament game. As Elzy rebuilds, she’ll have to hope that her “Kentucky girl” stays in Lexington.
Outside the top 10, Sarah Ashlee Barker (transferred to Alabama from Georgia), Brittney Smith (Georgia from UCF), LaDazhia Williams (LSU from Missouri), Marquesha Davis (Mississippi from Arkansas), Aaliyah Nye (Alabama from Illinois) and Alisha Lewis (UCF to Georgia) also made quite the difference.
This season, the top three scorers in the SEC were all transfers. Transfers made the conference what it was. And as some players will stay, others will leave again and some will graduate, more transfers will emerge as an undeniable part of the conference’s fabric.