WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert: It’s more than just a weight room
The WNBA commissioner speaks out on the NCAA weight room and what it represents.
Throughout the 2019-20 season, Oregon was ranked in the top four in every single weekly ranking. To begin this season, Oregon is ranked 10th behind three other schools in the Pac-12, the conference it has finished first in the regular season in each of the past three seasons.
The difference is that Oregon is replacing the first choice in the WNBA draft, Sabrina Ionescu, the second pick, Satou Sabally and the eighth pick, Ruthy Hebard. How does Oregon plan to reload? By signing the top ranked freshman class in the country: all five earned five stars in the 2020 HoopGurlz rankings and all five were ranked in the top 25 nationally.
The No. 8 overall prospect, and the highest ranked in the class, is guard Sydney Parrish. She comes from a big-time Indiana basketball family and has the ability to take over a game. Coming into college, she was viewed as a shooter, but is now seen by the Oregon coaching staff as a scorer — someone who can get points any way she needs. Head coach Mark Graves described Parrish’s commitment as “huge.”
“I think she was the instigator and influencer,” he said. “The other players wouldn’t have come if they didn’t like what they saw here, but Sydney was such a positive influence and she’s just such a nice person and that helped.”
The next highest ranked recruit is Te-Hina Paopao, a 5-foot-9 guard from Oceanside, Calif. As a freshman in high school, she tore her ACL, only to re-injure it her sophomore season. Out of all the players in the class, she is seen as the most likely to turn the gym lights on and off — meaning she will be the first one in and the last one out. As is common throughout this group of freshmen, her versatility is a weapon.
Kylee Watson, a 6-foot-4 forward, will fit right in with Oregon’s forest, and I’m not talking about the beautiful Pacific Northwest. In addition to Watson, Oregon’s front court also boasts Nyara Sabally (6-5), Arielle Wilson (6-6), Lydia Giomi (6-6) and Sedona Prince (6-7), the tallest player in program history until Philippa Kyei steps on campus next season. The No. 17 recruit, Watson is already being praised for her aggressive style and motor.
Oregon’s coaches have been diligently scouting their own practices until the season can get underway in earnest, and Maddie Scherr is the only player to rank in the top three in assists, disruptions and rebounds. Also showing off her perimeter defense, the 5-foot-11 guard is making a case to find time in a crowded backcourt with Taylor Mikesell, Taylor Chavez, Jaz Shelley and Paopao.
Like redshirt senior forward Erin Boley, the sharpshooting forward who is the the only active player in the nation to have ranked in the top-15 nationally in 3-point percentage each of the last two seasons, Scherr is from Kentucky — the only state represented more than once on Oregon’s roster.
Graves has been so impressed with the freshmen in the preseason and his returners that he believes this Oregon roster will be the most potent shooting team of his tenure.
Rounding out the freshman class as the 22nd ranked player nationally is 6-foot-4 forward Angela Dugalic from Illinois. Internationally, she has already helped the Serbian Senior National Team qualify for the Olympics. Already, Dugalic’s versatility is being seen as a way for Oregon to replace some of Sabally’s production.
Talk about an opening statement...— Oregon Women’s Basketball (@OregonWBB) November 29, 2020
Oregon's 71 points in the first half set a new program-record for a single half, breaking the previous mark of 69 set way back in 1979 ???? #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/hFFORzkXbS
Together, this immensely-talented freshman class is looking to bring Oregon to new heights and finish the business that the pandemic took away from Ionescu, Sabally and Hebard. They are all winners, which will fit into the culture that Orego built under that program-changing trio.
“Day to day we have a different one step up, it’s a really tremendous class,” Graves said. “The one that’s been the most consistent for us and really has a chance to be a star is Te-Hina Paopao, I think she’s really solidified herself as our top guard and I think, hopefully, we have a another Sabrina-Ruthy combination with Te-Hina and Sedona.
Prince was at Texas for her freshman season after entering as the 8th-ranked recruit, but missed the season with a broken right leg suffered while playing for the USA U18 national team at the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico City. In 2019, Prince transferred to Oregon but was denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA.
Boley is the only returning starter and Oregon has high expectations for Chavez and Shelley. Both played under 20 minutes per game, but still managed to score more than 6 points per game and shoot above 42% from 3-point range. Mikesell came over from Maryland and will be immediately eligible, while Nyara Sabally, who missed the past two seasons with injuries, will be able to make her first impression.
Last year, South Carolina rode the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class to the top of the AP Poll. Oregon is hoping it can do the same — and finish it off with a championship.
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