Under-the-Radar Transfers Shine
Valuable transfers gain more attention as the season unfolds
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With over a thousand players changing Division I basketball programs for the 2022-23 season, it was impossible to cover all of them in the preseason rankings and reviews. But now that the season is in full swing, several players who weren’t included in those earlier writeups are starting to stand out more. Below we highlight a few of these players and take a look at what has helped them adjust to their new teams and contribute to their winning records so quickly.
Makira Cook, Illinois
After two seasons at Dayton, Cook seamlessly transitioned to Illinois and has been a key factor in the Fighting Illini’s 10-2 record this season. The 5-foot-6 junior guard is averaging 17.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and shooting 50.3 percent from the field. In the team’s recent 65-61 loss to highly-ranked Indiana, Cook recorded a career-high 33 points, shooting 3-for-4 from outside the arc, and pulled down five rebounds.
During the offseason, Cook worked hard on her point guard skills, her focus, and her leadership. And with her new team, she has placed an emphasis on strengthening relationships. When asked what has helped the most in terms of finding her stride with her new team so quickly, Cook offered some great advice.
“Being open-minded, allowing myself to connect with new people, doing things that were out of my comfort zone, and learning new things about people.”
Gabby Gregory, Kansas State
After losing one of its best players to injury, Kansas State needed someone to help fill in that void, and Gregory has done just that. The 5-foot-11 senior guard transferred from Oklahoma after last season and has been a fantastic complement to the Wildcats. Averaging 21.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, she’s helped the team compile a 10-2 record and earned the Big 12 Player of the Week during the second week in November.
Gregory credited her smooth transition to her new teammates and coaches, who are all really close and have been very welcoming. In addition, over the summer, Gregory worked hard on her shot, ball handling, and getting her feel back, all of which have boosted her confidence and helped her perform. But the most critical aspect may have been simply finding a team that was the right fit.
“The most important thing for me was to feel like myself playing again,” Gregory said. “We have a lot of fun playing, and I’m just super glad I made the decision to come to Kansas State.”
Mir McLean, Virginia
McLean is one of several transfers who’ve been helping reshape the Cavaliers under new head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, and her impact has been felt in every game. The 5-foot-11 junior guard transferred from UConn and is now one of just 19 Division I players averaging a double-double this season, propelling her team to a 12-0 record.
During the transition between teams, McLean focused on her confidence in shooting the ball from the perimeter, becoming a more versatile player, and getting stronger. But once she joined her new team, she focused more on developing strong connections with her teammates and really understanding the vision for the team and the expectations for her in their structure. And all of that relationship-building has been paying off.
“Everyone is rooting for each other to win individually as well as a group,” McLean said. “Having that vibe going into every game, and truly knowing that whatever you experience on that court your teammates and coaches will have your back is truly a blessing.”
Lasha Petree, Purdue
Petree is another player who has been able to make a tremendous impact on a new team right away. The 6-foot senior guard has started in all 11 games, averaging 26.6 minutes, leading her team with 18.6 points per game, and pulling down 3.7 rebounds, which have helped establish her team’s 9-2 record.
After playing for Bradley for three seasons and Rutgers for one, Petree has learned to quickly adapt to new environments. Over her most recent offseason, she’s also worked hard on finishing through contact, opening up her midrange game, and increasing her confidence. All of these have contributed to her successful transition with the Boilermakers, but the relationship she’s developed with her new coach may be the biggest factor in her latest success.
“I knew I was going to like playing for Coach Gearlds,” Petree said. “She has so much trust in us and stays calm because she truly believes in our abilities. Knowing that your coach has complete confidence and trust in you on the court is a feeling unmatched.”
Alissa Pili, Utah
Even among the Utes’ already-talented roster, Pili has been a valuable contributor to the team right from the start. The 6-foot-2 junior forward, who transferred from USC, is the only Division I player averaging more than 20 points per game while shooting over 70 percent from the field and has been a huge factor in the team’s 10-0 record.
In a press conference after the team’s first conference win, Utah head coach Lynne Roberts discussed how Pili’s physicality down low and scoring efficiency have really helped the team this year, adding that Pili is leading the country in points per shot attempt. When Pili was asked whether she’s starting to find her groove with this team, she had little doubt.
“Yes. Definitely,” Pili responded. “Coach Lynne puts me in such a good position to score and play at my best. I think she just knows my game really well to where it’s to my advantage and to the team’s advantage.”
Kadi Sissoko, USC
Sissoko is another transfer who found a way to contribute to her team’s success from the get-go. After one season with Syracuse and two with Minnesota, the 6-foot-2 senior forward has started in all 11 games for the Trojan’s and is averaging 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. She’s been the team’s leading scorer in six of their games and a critical piece in their 9-2 start.
Since joining the team this year, Sissoko has focused on maintaining her confidence, playing with energy and poise, being vocal, staying aggressive, and crashing the boards. She has enjoyed the challenge of playing with teammates who’ve come together from different backgrounds and schools and gives a lot of credit to her coaches and teammates for her seamless transition.
“Having a great coaching staff that is pushing me and giving me a lot of confidence has been key,” Sissoko said. “And having teammates who support each other and all have something to add to the team. I really like that. I feel comfortable and confident playing with my teammates and for this coaching staff.”
Stephanie Soares, Iowa State
Having an impact on an already-successful team is usually a challenge, but it hasn’t been a problem for Soares. The 6-foot-6-forward grad transfer from The Master’s University, a program that competes in the NAIA, has started in all ten games and is averaging 15.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. She’s also had six double-doubles and has been a key factor in the Cyclone’s 8-2 record.
Over the summer, Soares worked hard on expanding her game, especially her perimeter shooting, as well as improving her ability to read defenses, which have all helped her thrive this season. But Soares credited her smooth transition largely to the connections she’s built with her team, learning each player’s strengths and preferences, and playing with such high-caliber teammates.
“Each player is so talented in their own way,” Soares said. “Each one has a great thing they bring to the table and to the team. That’s just been something that I’ve been happy to be a part of. Everyone understands the game. They’re just passionate and love to compete.”
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Nice Job, Rebecca, but it would've been worthwhile taking a look at Notre Dame. Why? The Irish have four starters back and were missing only All-ACC center Maya Dodson, an under-the-wire transfer last year who was vitally important to the Irish's run to the Sweet 16.
This year, they are using two transfer centers -- Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson -- to fill the void left by Dodson's departure. So far, so good: ND's only lost one game and the duo are holding their collective own in scoring, rebounding, defense.
Caroline Germond and Kseniia Kozlova, James Madison. You could conceivably include Amira Williams, too, but Germond and Kozlova have been starting.