Deja Kelly has landed on her final destination, with the former North Carolina star announcing her commitment to Oregon on Monday. 

A three-time All-ACC guard, Kelly averaged 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game in her four years in Chapel Hill. She led the team in scoring in each of the last three seasons, but opted to transfer elsewhere for her fifth and final year of NCAA eligibility.

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The 5-foot-8 Texas native finishes her UNC career eighth on the team’s scoring list, having helped carry the Tar Heels to a Sweet 16 in 2022

Kelly is the seventh new addition for Oregon Ducks coach Kelly Graves this offseason, as the program faced a number of big name departures at the close of the 2023 NCAA tournament. She will join Texas' Amina Muhammad, Arizona's Salimatou Kourouma, Washington's Ari Long, BYU's Nani Falatea, UC Santa Barbara's Alexis Whitfield, and Siena's Elisa Mevius in Eugene this fall.

Kelly wasn't the only noteworthy transfer shaking up women's college hoops this week, with Marquette's Liza Karlen and Pitt's Liatu King both announcing their commitments to Notre Dame within a span of roughly 18 hours.

LAS VEGAS — Cameron Brink, Deja Kelly and Hailey Van Lith sat courtside for the WNBA All-Star Game last month, looking directly at their preferred futures.

The three are heading into their senior years — Brink at Stanford, Kelly at North Carolina and Van Lith at LSU. And like the players on the court, their WNBA dreams are so close, they can almost touch them.

“God willing, this is a dream of mine,” Brink said. “So, I think seeing all this is such a good reminder of how much hard work it takes to get there. And what the players sacrifice to be in this league. I think it’s just a really humbling experience, and I’m just really happy to be here.”

Anyone who watches the WNBA or dreams of playing in the league is familiar with the difficulties of making a roster. There’s a lot of talent coming out of college basketball — Brink, Kelly and Van Lith included — but a limited number of spots.

This season, 15 of 36 draftees made opening day rosters, 15 remained on rosters from the 2022 draft, and just eight players drafted in 2021 were rostered to start the season.

For the three seniors, this upcoming season is crucial to raising their draft stock. The next two WNBA drafts could feature the deepest classes the league has ever seen.

As undersized guards, Kelly (5-8) and Van Lith (5-7) are both focusing on extending their range. Kelly shot 28% from beyond the arc last season, while Van Lith made 29% of her attempts. They’ve been effective getting to the rim off the bounce in college, but they know 3-point shooting is vital to success in the WNBA.

“I’m working on a number of things,” Kelly said. “But I think just being as consistent as possible, just playing within my game. That and really extending my range as well. I think as a guard and my size, it’s something I have to have.”

Brink also wants to improve her outside shooting as a skill that can set the 6-4 forward apart from other bigs. She looks to players like Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson for inspiration on how to capitalize on versatility while remaining dominant inside.

Versatility has become increasingly important in the WNBA in the last few years, as traditional, back-to-the-basket posts and guards who can’t create for themselves are becoming less effective. Posts have to have range, and guards need to be able to score in isolation.

Van Lith and Brink are coming off a successful stint in 3×3 basketball, where they claimed gold at the FIBA World Cup in June and Brink was named tournament MVP. The nature of 3×3, they say, promotes versatility.

“I think 3×3 is such a dynamic game, and it’s so volatile,” Brink said. “You have to be able to defend every position, be able to shoot, be confident in your shot. You have to be able to handle the ball and clear the ball in between possessions.”

Brink, Kelly and Van Lith pose with reigning WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson during All-Star weekend. (Annie Schutz/Just Women's Sports)

With only three players on the court at a time, Van Lith even spent time in the paint, playing with her back to the basket. It’s an unexpected skill set that she hopes to show off next season at LSU, after transferring from Louisville to play for the defending NCAA champions.

“I have a post bag, and it is deep,” Van Lith said with a smile. “Just wait until I get to LSU, because it is coming out.”

Changes in women’s basketball are happening off the court, too. Brink, Kelly and Van Lith have witnessed the rapidly evolving landscape firsthand, coming into college during the COVID-19 pandemic and now being some of the first players to benefit from NIL.

The opportunity to accept sponsorships and marketing opportunities has allowed college players to build and monetize their personal brands, bringing more attention to themselves and the game. Players like Aliyah Boston, who is enjoying a successful rookie season, is proof that talent can get players to the next level, but personality and visibility can bring fans from college to the WNBA. Boston already has a strong following from South Carolina, and those fans have continued their support for the Fever post, voting her as an All-Star starter this season.

“NIL plays a huge role in that growth process, just because fans get to see what we are doing for NIL, and it makes them want to watch us play basketball even more,” Kelly said. “NIL hit my sophomore year, and a lot of people wanted to see our team and see what we were about. Once they saw we were actually good, it made them want to come back.”

Of course, not every NIL deal transfers from college to the professional ranks. Branding remains important at the next level, and several players have found ways to benefit despite not going to college during the NIL era.

Wilson, the two-time WNBA MVP, has deals with Starry and Ruffles. Stewart, another of the league’s most well-known players, has a signature shoe with PUMA.

Coinciding with more eyes on the league, fashion has become a big part of WNBA culture. Skylar Diggins-Smith launched an entire clothing collection with PUMA last season, and tunnel pregame tunnel outfits have dominated WNBA Instagram accounts for the last few seasons.

The differing styles among players are one of the many ways they express and market themselves. It’s also something that’s trickling down to the college level.

“I love it,” Van Lith said. “There is no pressure to put a label on it. They can dress masculine one day, and the next day they can show up in a dress. There’s so much range.”

Player fashion, Van Lith says, is bigger than just what brands they are wearing. Like the changing versatility on the court, it represents exactly what the WNBA is about.

“The league is just a great example of diversity in so many ways,” she says. “Fashion is definitely one of those.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

LSU star Angel Reese headlines the roster for USA Basketball’s 2023 AmeriCup team, revealed Thursday.

Joining Reese are South Carolina’s Raven Johnson, UCLA’s Lauren Betts and Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, among others. Eight players made the initial roster announced in May, and Texas A&M’s Janiah Barker, Oregon’s Chance Gray, Columbia’s Abbey Hsu and UNC’s Deja Kelly — were added to the roster after being invited to training camp.

Of the 12 players on the roster, five of them — Barker, Betts, Jackson, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne and Wake Forest’s Jewel Spear — have a combined seven gold medals as members of USA Basketball teams.

Reese, though, will be competing internationally for the first time. The 2023 NCAA champion faced a long road to USA Basketball. While she had been a finalist for a variety of youth teams, she hadn’t made the cut until this time around.


The tournament will run from July 1-9 in León, Mexico. Held every two years, the AmeriCup features teams from 10 different countries in North America, South America and the Caribbean. The United States has won the title four times, including at the last two tournaments in 2019 and 2021.

Team USA will compete in Group A against Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela. Group play starts on July 1.

2023 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup: Team USA schedule

  • Group stage
    • July 1 vs. Venezuela — 4:40 p.m. ET
    • July 2 vs. Argentina — 4:40 p.m. ET
    • July 4 vs. Brazil — 4:40 p.m. ET
    • July 5 vs. Cuba @ 2:10 p.m. ET
  • Knockout stage
    • July 7: Quarterfinals
    • July 8: Semifinals
    • July 9: Medal games

2023 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup: Broadcast information

All 28 AmeriCup games will be available via streaming platform Courtside 1891.

2023 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup: Team USA roster

  • Janiah Barker, F, Texas A&M
  • Lauren Betts, C, UCLA
  • Chance Gray, G, Oregon
  • Abbey Hsu, G, Columbia
  • Rickea Jackson, F, Tennessee
  • Raven Johnson, G, South Carolina
  • Deja Kelly, G, North Carolina
  • Rayah Marshall, G, Southern California
  • Charisma Osborne, G, UCLA
  • Laila Phelia, G, Michigan
  • Angel Reese, F, LSU
  • Jewel Spear, G, Wake Forest

Trailing No. 5 Iowa State by 17 points in the second quarter, the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels looked like they would finish the Phil Knight Invitational as runners-up.

Cyclones center Stephanie Soares was dominating the paint with 13 points, and the Tar Heels had made just seven field goals. Just three North Carolina players registered a point in the first half as the team shot 21.2% from the field.

In short, it was a disastrous half for the Tar Heels.

But when the game was over, those opening two quarters seemed like a distant memory. 

UNC completed a massive comeback, led by Deja Kelly, who scored 22 of her 29 points in the second half, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists for her best game of the season. It was UNC’s second top-25 win in four days, coming after a victory against No. 18 Oregon on Thursday.

Expectations were high for the Tar Heels heading into the season after they reached the Sweet 16 in 2021-22 for the first time since 2015 and hung with eventual national champion South Carolina in a 69-61 loss. So far, they’re living up to the hype.

Yet their last three victories – over James Madison, Oregon and Iowa State – have all been come-from-behind wins. UNC has the grit to win in difficult situations, but do the Tar Heels have staying power?

The team, which has moved up to No. 6 in the latest AP Top 25, is 6-0, with no stumbles against lower or unranked teams and now a statement win over Iowa State.

The next few weeks will provide further opportunity for the Tar Heels to prove themselves, as they play No. 6 Indiana on Thursday and No. 22 Michigan on Dec. 20 before heading into ACC play and taking on No. 11 Virginia Tech on Jan. 1.

So far, the Tar Heels seem like the real deal. Kelly and Alyssa Ustby turned heads last season as an elite scoring duo, but the win over Oregon proved they aren’t the team’s only weapons. UNC’s starting five all finished in double-figures, with Eva Hodgson leading the way.

The transfer from William and Mary provides UNC with a reliable outside threat, making 45.5% of her attempts from long range. Hodgson came off the bench as a junior, but she’s embracing the starting role, and her point production has gone up from 9.1 ppg to 15.8. She’s also averaging 3.8 assists.

Hodgson’s offensive growth has made a difference for the Tar Heels, as Kelly and Ustby aren’t as reliable from long range as they are from inside the arc. Kennedy Todd-Williams has also provided a lift, shooting 38.5% from 3-point range. 

The long-distance shooters brings balance to the Tar Heel offense, while Kelly thrives off the bounce and Ustby posts up smaller guards and executes from the high-post. 

Defensively, the big question for the Tar Heels heading into the game with Iowa State was how they would defend 6-6 forward Soares. She has a significant height advantage over Tar Heel starting forward Anya Poole (6-2), and the tallest player UNC brings off the bench is 6-4 redshirt freshman Teonni Key, who plays just 10.3 minutes per game. 

But UNC handled Iowa State by limiting the rest of the Cyclones. Soares finished with 19 points, and Ashley Joens had 18, but the rest of the squad was held to single-digits. North Carolina was also aggressive in its defensive attack, forcing 17 turnovers. 

Teams with multiple post threats or more productive guards are the next challenge for the Tar Heels. Thursday’s matchup with Indiana could be telling, as the Hoosiers have the second-most efficient big in the country in Mackenzie Holmes, who is shooting 76.6% and averaging 20 points per game. 

The Hoosiers will likely be missing Grace Berger (10.3 points per game) who was injured against Auburn on Friday – no update has been provided yet – but they have several other scoring weapons. Sara Scalia, Yarden Garzon and Sydney Parrish all score at least 10 points per game, and Chloe Moore-McNeil sits at 9.7 per game.

If UNC can top Indiana, then it will get that much closer to cementing its status as one of college basketball’s top teams. A difficult ACC slate will also allow the Tar Heels to showcase their talents and answer any lingering questions about their potential to make a deep run in March.

Deja Kelly knows what she wants and is not afraid to speak it into existence.

The University of North Carolina sophomore star has been planning out her basketball career since middle school, meticulously preparing for her collegiate campaign and eventual turn in the WNBA. For Kelly, it has never been a question of if, but rather when she will make her dreams a reality, on and off the court.

The Texas native first made waves as an emerging teenage guard out of Duncanville High School. Named to the 2020 McDonald’s All-American Team and awarded the 2020 Texas Gatorade Player of the Year, Kelly established herself as one of the best high school players in the country. With the hype came offers from a wide range of elite Division I basketball programs.

“Being a top-ten recruit comes with a lot — I had schools from all over the country recruiting me,” Kelly tells Just Women’s Sports.

“Growing up, I saw a lot of other top recruits pick a school just for their name or for what they would do for their image. With me, I was really strategic in my recruiting process, and I wanted to go to a school where I could build my own name, I could build the program up, I could set my own legacy at the school eventually and win some championships of my own, instead of going to a school that was already established.”

Courtney Banghart, who took over as head coach at UNC in 2019 after turning around Princeton’s program, played an integral role in Kelly’s decision to sign with the Tar Heels. Banghart earned Kelly’s trust during the recruiting process, telling her that together they could “be the start of something special” and bring the “program back to life.”

In her first year in Chapel Hill, Coach Banghart made good on her promise to the 5-foot-8 guard. “I came in, I had to do a lot. I had to make a real big impact from the jump,” Kelly says. “Most of the time, the ball was in my hands.”

As a freshman in 2020-21, Kelly averaged 11 points, 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 23 starts, embracing her role as lead facilitator and earning a spot on the ACC All-Freshman Team.

“I like to call myself a playmaker,” she says. “I am not just a scorer, I am not just a passer. I can do both.”

Now in her second season, Kelly is harnessing the lessons she learned as a first-year. Her game has improved in nearly every statistical category from her freshman to sophomore season, in part because of a shift in mentality and in part because she’s been given the green light to make plays from the one and two positions as the focal point of UNC’s offense. Through 15 games for the 14-2 Tar Heels, Kelly is averaging 17.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. In UNC’s win over ACC foe Clemson on Jan. 2, she notched a career-high 31 points on a season-high five 3-pointers, showcasing her evolution as a shooter.

“Individually, I am really looking at expanding and growing on my range, my 3-point range and my defense,” says Kelly, who’s shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc this season, up from 31 percent in 2020-21.

As a team, UNC is playing an exciting, fast-paced form of basketball, getting out in transition and beating teams on the break. Their game plan is dependent on getting defensive stops, an area where Kelly says she and her teammates have been locked in.

“If we keep learning and keep being dedicated to growing and not being content at where we are at right now, I think we can make a lot of noise once tournament time comes,” she says.

UNC’s only two losses this season have come against ranked opponents NC State and Notre Dame. Despite their record against top teams, Kelly says the team is not intimidated by marquee matchups, especially in the competitive ACC. Left off of the AP Top 25 preseason poll, the Tar Heels have gone undefeated at home and 4-2 in their conference to earn a No. 20 ranking in the latest AP poll.

As UNC gears up for a gauntlet to close out January — with games against Virginia (on Thursday), No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 21 Duke and No. 4 NC State — Kelly is already thinking about March. Fifteen years have passed since UNC last made a Final Four run, a streak the sophomore is determined to rectify.

“That’s exactly what I came here to do, is to bring this team back to the Final Fours, Sweet 16s, Elite Eights, just to put more banners up in our gyms,” she says.

The 2021-22 season has been a watershed one for women’s basketball in a number of ways. Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has yet to affect UNC’s game schedule as dramatically as it has for other teams, Kelly and her teammates have had to balance increased isolation with typical student life.

“It’s definitely hard. You are basically locked in a bubble of just you and your teammates and your coaches,” says Kelly, adding that the team’s chemistry has helped them weather the challenges.

Another new, albeit positive, normal that Kelly and student-athletes have had to navigate is the NIL landscape. For the first time this season, college athletes have been able to profit off of their name, image and likeness, opening the door for lucrative partnerships and corporate deals.

Kelly has embraced opportunities off the court, signing with WME Sports for NIL and marketing representation in the fall of 2021. The partnership has given her the chance to bolster her personal image, a project the 20-year-old has worked on with her mom since she was a young hooper. She doesn’t just think about branding in the conventional sense, but also as a chance to show what she stands for. NIL, to her, is a key step toward “getting collegiate athletes what they deserve.”

“When people hear Deja Kelly, I just want them to just think of a really loving and caring basketball player who off the court is a beautiful woman who knows what she wants and is really goal-oriented,” Kelly says.

Inspired by Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kelly looks to the WNBA star’s career as a blueprint for her own. Having spoken with the Phoenix Mercury guard a few times, Kelly says she admires Diggins-Smith’s confidence and the fact she always “[keeps] it real.”

“She is a beautiful woman who carries herself as such, and she is a businesswoman, she’s a mom, a wife and a killer on the court,” Kelly says. “She knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to go and get what she wants.”

Kelly already shares in her idol’s ambition and unwavering confidence, declaring with certainty that she will play in the WNBA, something she has aspired to for as long as she can remember.

“When I have my mind set on something, I won’t stop until I get it,” she says.

Before Kelly gets too preoccupied with her professional future, she remains focused on the second half of UNC’s season, and the chance to prove that she and her team are national contenders.

Clare Brennan is an associate editor at Just Women’s Sports.