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Aliyah Boston and college basketball stars pass baton to next generation

Talaysia Cooper, Angelica Valez, KK Arnold, Zia Cooke, Chloe Kitts and Milaysia Fulwiley celebrate winning The Women’s 3v3 Tournament on May 14. (Courtesy of Overtime)

Just over a year ago, Oregon’s Sedona Prince highlighted in a TikTok video the inequities in amenities between the 2021 Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The outrage that ensued pushed the NCAA to apologize and make substantive changes based on an independent investigation into gender discrimination.

Now, a month after the Women’s Final Four in Minneapolis broke attendance records, those same college basketball stars who have been vocal about the need for change are using their platforms to empower the next generation.

On May 13 and 14 in Atlanta, Overtime hosted The WBB Takeover, the latest in its series of high-profile events to help grow the women’s game. Presented by Gatorade and executive produced by UConn guard and Gatorade athlete Paige Bueckers, the Takeover showcased 15 of the nation’s best recruits in a series of competitions.

While the young stars battled it out, they were mentored by some of the most influential names in women’s basketball, including South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, Stanford’s Haley Jones and Baylor’s Jaden Owens. In addition to multiple national championships and other trophies between them, the college mentors have been learning how to navigate the new landscape of NIL rights and larger social media followings.

“With women’s basketball, I do think that it’s improving for college women and for the WNBA,” Cooke said of the shift in the sport. “People are starting to watch us more. For the high school girls, as far as how they’re able to brand themselves now, I see it all for the better.”

This is the second Takeover Overtime has hosted in celebration of the women’s game. In Brooklyn in 2019, Cooke earned the title of “Queen of the Court.”

She followed that performance with perhaps an even more rewarding one in 2022 — by coaching the winning team in the 3×3 competition. Top class of 2022 recruit Talaysia Cooper and class of 2023 recruits Milaysia Fulwylie, Angelica Velez, KK Arnold and Chloe Kitts took care of business for Team Zia Cooke.

All the players who participated saw their social media followings grow, some by as much as 40 percent in the week after the event, according to Overtime.

The next wave of college stars, though just 3-4 years behind the mentors and rising college seniors, are experiencing social media in new ways. The high school class of 2022 boasts players like UCLA-bound Kiki Rice and LSU-bound rapper Flau’jae Johnson, both of whom have thousands of followers on Instagram. They’re learning the highs and lows that come with that level of attention.

“When it comes to criticism, I think a lot of people can get caught up in that when you first get into the spotlight,” Jones said. “Social media individually is interesting because you’re growing a fan base. It’s cool to know you have all these people looking up to you and following you, but it’s also something I think you can spend too much time on. If you have the right perspective, it can be a place for you to share who you are, what you believe in, and find a fan base that supports that.”

Modern-day recruits, while following the same NCAA rules as their predecessors, also have social media to help inform their process.

“I think recruiting has changed,” Boston said. “There’s a lot of talent in women’s college basketball. A lot of different teams are starting to win more games. Being able to show off how your team is developing and how coaches are has helped a lot of kids realize where they want to go.”

Top women’s college basketball programs generated anywhere from hundreds of thousands to over a million interactions on their official team social accounts in March 2022. Bueckers recently became the first women’s college basketball player to surpass 1 million followers on Instagram.

“Social media has brought a lot more attention to women’s college basketball,” Owens said. “Players being themselves on social media, understanding that they’re welcome in this world as they are, brands reaching out to players and liking who they are and what they represent — it’s putting more of a spotlight on us that we’ve been deserving.”

Mikaylah Williams, the No. 1 recruit in JWS' 2022 rankings, celebrates "Queen of the Court" honor. (Courtesy of Overtime)

Between the Men’s and Women’s Final Fours this year, eight of the top 10 players with the highest NIL value were women, according to Opendorse. For the first time, the NCAA also granted the use of “March Madness” branding for the women’s tournament, after previously reserving it for the men’s championship.

“The energy was completely changed,” Boston said about this year’s women’s tournament – now officially called March Madness. “The gyms were packed, which I think was really special because you get to see how much women’s basketball is continuing to grow each and every day.”

While men’s college sports, namely basketball and football, have been subject to heightened scrutiny since the introduction of NIL last year, women’s basketball players have found ways to use the new rules to their advantage.

“NIL brings more attention to women’s college basketball, especially with some women’s college athletes partnering with major brands,” Boston said. “It allows people to see who we are and get familiar with us and how we play the game.”

There’s no shortage of major brand deals in women’s college basketball. Boston is partnered with Bose, and Jones with Beats. Cooke and Owens both have NIL deals with H&R Block, among others.

Even some high school recruits are beginning to test the NIL waters, now that six states have passed legislation allowing high school athletes to benefit from it.

To the players seeing the investment and reception surrounding women’s basketball change in front of their eyes, it’s only the beginning.

“The more you see it, you’re gonna have to see it,” Cooke said. “Hopefully we can get people who see that we actually can hoop. We can do the same things the men can do. I think people are starting to notice that now.”

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also writes about college basketball for Blue Ribbon Sports and covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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