Brenda Frese plays down Maryland women’s basketball transfers

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

Since then, Reese has signed with LSU, Owusu has 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 that coming throughout the season. We knew we would be portals this offseason.

“Unfortunately these days you can’t make everyone happy. And I will say that everyone has different individual reasons, right? One might want to be marketed better than the other or be the top scorer or academically, Mimi wanted to get into graduate school here and didn’t have the GPA to get into. So I think every child has different reasons.”

Terps women lose holders Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu to transfer portal

The losses sent shockwaves through women’s college basketball. Reese was the highest-rated recruit – the number 2 in the country – that Maryland has ever signed and left 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 AP All-American after finishing second in the Terps in points and assists. She was the Big Ten Rookie of the Year, two-time Big Ten tournament MVP, and an all-American third team in 2021 during her Maryland career.

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

“I’ve never started anything 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 win a national championship alongside an amazing team. I could picture my shirt hanging from the rafters of the Xfinity Center.

“Unfortunately, the events that have taken place 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 show via the portal.

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

This transfer portal, they opened Pandora’s box,” Frese said. “In another year or two, everyone will understand that this is the new normal. Is it what’s wrong if you don’t have someone leaving? This will be the new normal of what was created.”

Frese and his team certainly work at the portal 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 best three-pointer in the country. This time it’s Abby Meyers (Princeton), 6-foot, Elisa Pinzan (South Florida), 5-8, Allie Kubek (Towson), 6-2, and Brinae Alexander, 6-foot (Vanderbilt). Maryland also signed forward Lavender Briggs (Florida) 6-1 during the season and signed rookies Gia Cooke and Brianna McDaniel a month ago. McDaniel 5-10 is ranked the #42 overall recruit in the country by ESPN and Cooke 5-9 is ranked 52nd.

Meyers, Walt Whitman’s former All-Met, is the Ivy League Player of the Year and was named an AP All-American Honorable Mention and Pinzan was the American Athletic Conference’s Most Improved Player of 2021.

There are just four players from the 2021-22 squad left on the roster and just three – Diamond Miller, Shyanne Sellers, Faith Masonius – have played significant minutes.

“I chose to play my senior year of college basketball in Maryland because not only am I from Maryland,” Meyers said in a statement, “but I grew up going to women’s basketball games at the amazing Xfinity Center! I have tremendous respect for the program and everything it has achieved under the leadership of Coach Frese, 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. The winning culture and the opportunity to play in the Big Ten appealed to me. After speaking with Coach Frese and her team, I really felt like they wanted to bring me into their family.”

The transfer portal and name, image, and likeness rules created a form of free agency for college sports. But even before the full effect of these changes was realized, Maryland lost such talented players as 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 I had more to prove. I had more to give. Honestly, I just needed a mentor. I felt it’s bigger than basketball. And for me, the things that 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 able to really grow and mature as a player, and an athlete, and also just as a teammate. [at Ole Miss]. I was able to really put some things 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 have had player transfers, according to the WBB Blog. Maryland transfers receive more attention because of the show’s popularity and success, Frese added.

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

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

Two years ago when we were hit by the graduations and the transfer portal, we were able to go in and pick up Chloe and Katie,” Frese said. “And the following year, we led the nation in scoring. I was lucky enough to be named coach of the year and no one left. But nobody talked about it. Everyone was happy.

“So you go into this year and egos can change. Different things you want as you evolve as a player changes. Those are the individual things they have to address. On our side, I know who we are as a program. … I think that’s the only thing players leave, they find out, is a big risk. The grass is not always greener elsewhere. So we wish them all the best.”

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