There’s no need to look outside the state of Texas once November rolls around for stellar women’s college basketball.
Talent abounds from programs across the state with the projected No. 1 pick of the 2019 WNBA Draft gearing up for her senior year at Baylor, and the one player who can completely take over a game coming back as a sophomore at Texas A&M. Then there are the siblings of WNBA phenom sisters at Rice, who are good in their own right, whether or not their last name happens to be Ogwumike. Not to mention, a pair of guards looking to make this year’s Texas team their own following in the steps of a quick point guard and a shooting guard that took over in the WNBA playoffs as a rookie.
It’s scary to think about the prospect of Kalani Brown (20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game) and Lauren Cox (15.3 points, 9.7 rebounds per game and 92 blocks) possibly getting any better than how they played a season ago.
“Those two have to be considered one of the best, if not the best, front courts in the nation,” women’s college basketball broadcaster Brenda VanLengen said. “They’ll have targets on their backs, bigger than ever. There will be a lot of teams giving those two a lot of attention.”
With all that attention, the Lady Bears in the backcourt have to produce to relieve some of the congestion that will form inside. Chloe Jackson, a graduate transfer, was a prolific scorer at LSU. She will be a good complement as her shooting ability won’t allow defenders to cheat off her and sag inside to double the bigs. Then there’s Juicy Landrum, who stepped up and played big minutes at the shooting guard down the stretch in Big 12 play.
Combining with the loads of experience Baylor welcomes back this season, in addition to the transfer of Jackson, is the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and in program history.
There’s plenty of excitement surrounding what Tina Langley is doing at Houston.
After the Owls finished third in Conference USA standings a year ago, the pieces are there for Rice to make a run at the title this year.
Erica and Olivia Ogwumike – Yes, these sisters are the younger siblings of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, former Stanford standouts and current WNBA ballers – return as the top leading scorers for the Owls.
Last season, the Owls played in the WNIT for the first time since 2011 and finished the season with 23 wins, the second-most in school history.
“From the Ogwumike sisters that are there and then Nancy Mulkey becoming eligible off her transfer from OU, Rice is one of those programs that is going to be getting more and more attention in the state,” VanLengen said. “Keep an eye on them, they’ll be really exciting to watch.”
The loss of Brooke McCarty and Ariel Atkins leaves Texas with some huge shoes to fill in the backcourt. That isn’t solely because of their statistical production – Atkins averaged 14.9 points per game and McCarty averaged 13.6 points per game – but also on their leadership.
“Those two were the epitome of leadership,” VanLengen said. “I think that’s what’s going to be the real question is who steps up to lead.”
Lashann Higgs has been excellent for Texas the last couple of years with her speed and the development of her skill set, as she averaged 12.8 points per game off 53.5 percent shooting from the floor last season. Then there’s Sug Sutton who served as McCarty’s backup a year ago. Those two positions will be key to complement what Joyner Holmes and Jatarie White are able to do inside.
While Higgs and Sutton develop and make this Texas team their own, what Holmes will be able to do with a full season will be huge.
“I thought that really and obviously hurt her to come in at semester and to not have played or practiced at all for a semester,” VanLengen said. “I don’t think she ever fully got into a groove, so Texas fans can be excited about her being there from the beginning.”
There’s some revamping to do for an Aggie program that traditionally has a dominant center that reigns inside the paint for a minimum of two years, a time frame that seems to stretch into eternity for those who have to defend them. It dates back to Danielle Adams, the Most Outstanding Player in A&M’s national title run in 2011. Then it was Kelsey Bone, then Karla Gilbert, and for the past four years it was Khaalia Hillsman.
“Ciera Johnson played behind Hillsman last year and averaged, let me see, four points and a couple of rebounds per game,” VanLengen said. “It’ll be big for her.”
The biggest question marks surrounding this season for the Aggies is, how will every role be filled around Chennedy Carter, the reigning unanimous Freshman of the Year, who averaged 22.7 points per contest throughout the season and 31.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament?
“Chennedy Carter is certainly one of the best scorers, one of the best take-over-a-game kind of players in the nation,” VanLengen said. “There’s a lot of new players that are going to be developing and filling their roles, seeing where they fit around the scoring prowess of Chennedy.”
It may be easy for some people to assume that TCU will have to continue its success this season without the help of Amy Okonkwo. The forward, who played beyond her years a year ago, returns for her final year for the Horned Frogs and looks to build off a successful junior campaign that earned her Big 12 Sixth Player of the Year honors.
“She is a really fun player to watch,” VanLengen said. “She has such a variety of skills inside and out. She is very athletic. She’s so smart and such a leader and is involved with so many things on and off the court.”
TCU advanced to the NIT semifinals a year ago, its deepest postseason run in program history, after winning 23 games for the first time in a decade. Along with Okonkwo returns Jordan Moore and a couple of veteran guards.
“I think their prospects are really good for moving up in the Big 12,” VanLengen said. “I have them potentially finishing as high as fourth in the Big 12. Raegan Pebley is a former player in the conference and has done an excellent job of recruiting and coaching and using the resources there to position TCU very well.”
It’s been a tough time in Lubbock. The pieces just haven’t come together like the Lady Raiders have hoped.
Now, Texas Tech is embarking on a new era with head coach Marlene Stollings. But the expectations aren’t for her to right the ship in one season. It will take some time.
“It will take some really intense recruiting. That’s where Larry Tidwell on the staff will be a big part of that,” VanLengen said. “Nikita Dawkins has always had a great reputation as a strong recruiter. She was also on staff with Marsha Sharp in 2005-06. Then Erin Grant, I loved watcher her as a player, as a point guard at Texas Tech. … It’s on that coaching staff what they’re able to do with the current players and how they’re able to attract players to return Texas Tech to some level of prominence in women’s basketball.”
The cupboard isn’t bare for what Stollings and Co. have to work with in year one. The Lady Raiders return a trio of bigs in Brittany Brewer, Erin Degrate and Zuri Sanders.
Brenda VanLengen's Top 10:
- Texas A&M
- Texas Tech
- North Texas