One out of five; 20 percent.
That’s the it in terms of starters returning to the 2017-18 Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team. That 20 percent is Gabby Cooper, who is coming off of a record-breaking season. Cooper earned ACC All-Freshman team honors following her program-record 81 three-point field goals made.
The sense of urgency from losing impact players like Brittney Sykes, Alexis Peterson, Briana Day and Bria Day may be startling at first, but head coach Quentin Hillsman does not seem phased by it. In fact, regarding Cooper, he plans to change very little revolving her.
“She’ll continue to do things that she did last year,” Hillsman said after Tuesday’s practice. “Make shots for us — shoot the ball well, get down in transition for us. We won’t do anything out-of-body or extraordinary. Just continue to stay steady.”
To move on from the loss of Sykes, Peterson and the Day sisters, the Orange are cycling in six new players who figure to make instant contributions this season. To begin, Syracuse will retain guards Isis Young, Jasmine Nwajei, and Miranda Drummond off of redshirt campaigns.
Coach Q went beyond the sea (Bobby Darin, anyone?) to help retrieve quite the recruiting class for 2017.
The class was highly praised, ranking 14th in the espnW HoopGurlz Class Rankings, and that’s mainly due to the commitment from forward Digna Strautmane. The 6’2” Latvia native was a five-star recruit and averaged 18.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in the 2017 FIBA U20 European Championship for her country.
In addition to Strautmane, Syracuse added five-star center Amaya Finklea-Guity as well. Finklea-Guity was a 2017 McDonald’s All-America candidate. The 6’4” center averaged 16.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks per game as a senior at the Noble & Greenough School in Massachusetts.
The Heir-Apparent I
Replacing the production that left with Alexis Peterson is a difficult task. Peterson tallied 23.4 points and 7.0 assists per game last season.
Coach Q brought in a very interesting prospect to replace Peterson, in Tiana Mangakahia. Mangakahia is an Australian native who transferred over from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. She was considered the top junior college point guard by Dan Olson of espnW HoopGurlz. The 5’6” sophomore helped lead Hutchinson CC to a 33-2 overall record last season.
“Tiana has been great for us at the point guard position,” Coach Q said. “She’s probably the player that can really attack you off the bounce and make plays in the paint for us.”
Hillsman also noted the transition that Mangakahia has made into the point guard role has been fine thus far, but there are still expectations to fulfill.
“She’s been a tremendous point guard from the first day I saw her,” he said. “She’s doing everything we need her to do. Hopefully she can push tempo, attack defenses, attack the paint, and help us win games.”
The Heir-Apparent II
The departure of Briana and Bria Day means the Orange need to retool its frontcourt. This more than likely means we will see significant contributions from Strautmane and Finklea-Guity.
Coach Q confirmed to the media that Finklea-Guity will start in Friday’s season opener against Morgan State, and he said he realizes Finklea-Guity needs to be a factor relatively quickly.
“We need her to start for us from day one and be productive in the paint,” he said. “Losing Briana and losing Bria, that’s a lot of experience, a lot of points and rebounds. I expect Amaya to have some big games for us. She’s going to play a big role for us. She’s going to score the basketball for us.”
It’s fair to claim Syracuse had a fair mixture of size and speed on last year’s team. Despite losing several pieces, including their two star guards, Hillsman said there is one aspect of the current squad that may be improved over last year’s.
“Our athleticism of the overall team is a little better,” Hillsman said. “It’s really hard to say, but we’re probably a little quicker and a little faster.”
With so many newcomers entering the fold, Coach Q was not shy to deny the early challenges that could surface.
“It’s going to be a challenging season, just having so many new players,” he said. “We’re going to make some adjustments; we know that.”
He emphasized that those adjustments will likely come with game experience.
“Until you really start playing and getting into games, you kind of don’t know,” he added. We’re excited to get into the game so we can figure out exactly what we have and how we progress from this moment.”
Finally, Coach noted the team’s chemistry is at a good point before the first game tips off.
“They seem to be getting along and playing hard and playing for each other, which is important,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s all you hope for. They’re doing that so far, so hopefully they can continue to do that. If they do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Projected Starting Lineup
G - Tiana Mangakahia, 5’6” SO
G - Gabby Cooper, 5’10” SO
F - Digna Strautmane, 6’2” FR
F - Miranda Drummond, 6’1” JR (RS)
C - Amaya Finklea-Guity, 6’4” FR
The Lady Orange will tip the season off Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Carrier Dome versus Morgan State.
“They’re a very athletic team and they play really fast,” Hillsman said regarding the matchup. “They play a lot like us offensively. We kind of mirror each other in game plan. They’re a scrappy, tough basketball team.”
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Corey Crisan is the Orange Women’s Basketball reporter for TNIIAM this season. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan for coverage all season long.