In the changing landscape of collegiate athletics, transfers have become increasingly important to the success of many teams across the nation.
Basketball is ranked among the top two sports on both the men’s and women’s side in terms of athletes transferring schools, with 20.4% of women’s players transferring and 29.8% of men’s players transferring in 2018-19.
The Penn State women’s basketball team has experienced this to the extreme, losing six players since the end of last season after head coach Carolyn Kieger’s first season ended with a 7-23 record.
On the other side of the spectrum, the team brought in five transfers over the last two seasons, none of whom have played a game for the Lady Lions yet.
“You want to try to balance out your roster in terms of classes, that's obviously important as you go forward in terms of depth and in terms of experience,” Kieger said. “The goal of college basketball is to get old and stay old.”
These transfers include senior Niya Beverly from Wisconsin, graduate student Nia Staples from West Virginia, junior Britnay Gore from Cleveland State Community College, graduate student Kelly Jekot from Villanova and senior Johnasia Cash from SMU.
All but two of Kieger's newcomers — Cash and Beverly — got their waivers approved and are eligible to play immediately.
“Our staff did a phenomenal job adding experience, postseason experience and players who have been starters at their previous institutions to come in and play major roles right away” Kieger said.
The transfers, along with the large incoming freshman class, will be left to fill the void of the players leaving the program.
Four out of the five transfers have played at least three seasons of college basketball, and will be expected to take on a leadership role within the team.
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But, they'll also have to work to learn a new system and earn the respect of the players who already spent the 2019-20 season in Kieger’s system.
“I feel like I have to live the role in order to teach the role, so it's better to be the example than to try to come into a new school and just start talking,” Cash said. “So I’m being the best student I can be, the best player I can be and the best person I can be, on and off the floor, and hanging on to every word that coach Kieger says.”
Two of the transfers, Jekot and Cash are both Keystone State natives, and are looking forward to representing the largest university in their home state.
Jekot hails from Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania, while Cash is from McKeesport.
“Where I'm from is Penn State nation. Growing up, I came and I watched Talor Battle and the men's team play, I came and watched Maggie Lucas and the women's team play,” Jekot said. “Me, Makenna [Marisa], Cash, we all have a bond being from the state of Pennsylvania and representing the largest school from the state. It's a really cool feeling.”
The group of transfers have had little experience with Big Ten basketball, excluding Beverly, who spent three years at Wisconsin.
This year the Big Ten slate appears as tough as ever, with several teams ranked in the top 25 of the preseason AP Poll.
Fortunately, two transfers have already been able to witness a Big Ten season, as both Jekot and Staples were unable to play last season, but were members of the team.
“It was really beneficial for me to be on the sideline. I've never really been exposed to Big Ten basketball,” Jekot said. “I realized how competitive the league was this year, there's five teams in the top 25. So we just got to be prepared and ready for that challenge."
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If the Lady Lions ave any hope to bounce back from last season, they will have to start with their in-conference record, which sat at a dismal 1-17.
Each transfer will likely bring a different aspect to the young team along with their experience and leadership.
Jekot has acknowledged that she will have to take on a large scoring role this year, after the departure of last year’s leading scorer Kamaria McDaniel, who left the program to join Baylor.
Cash, who was SMU’s leading scorer last season averaging 11.1 points per game, will also have to take on an offensive role at Penn State.
While her scoring ability will be well utilized, Cash’s true talent may lie on the defensive side of the ball.
Last season, Cash tallied 52 steals and 40 blocks, while also grabbing 179 defensive rebounds, showing off her endless energy on the court.
Gore is another transfer who will be looked upon to make an immediate impact in the post. A double-double threat at Cleveland State, Gore has shown continuous improvement during her time at Penn State, according to the coaching staff.
Some people may question why athletes with little eligibility left in their career would transfer into a program coming off of a 7-23 season and a roster filled with young players, but for players like Jekot, Cash and others, this was the perfect place to be.
“I was a part of a rebuild at my last institution. We were the youngest team in the country. I actually like being a part of a rebuild — I like being the one who can say ‘we started that culture there,’” Cash said.