Freshmen fill position holes
For the second consecutive year, the Rutgers women’s basketball team recruited a class that ranked third in the nation. It brought in a top-five ranked group for the third time in the past five seasons.
The Scarlet Knights welcome four freshmen to a program that has produced 16 WNBA players, including guards Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson and forward Kia Vaughn of the New York Liberty, as well as 2012 draftees Khadijah Rushdan and April Sykes, taken by the Los Angeles Sparks.
Forwards Ariel Butts and Rachel Hollivay and guards Kahleah Copper and Precious Person elected to play for Hall of Fame head coach C. Vivian Stringer, the winningest active coach in Division-I women’s basketball.
Stringer enters her 18th season at the helm and is excited about this year’s recruiting class. Each player brings size and depth to an already deep squad.
“They’re fresh, talented and excited,” Stringer said of the newcomers. “I’m excited because I see how they work. I don’t think anyone’s going to outwork us.”
The Scarlet Knights hoped to make the new players’ transition to college basketball as smooth as possible. To develop chemistry on the court with the new arrivals, the players spent hours together off the court, bonding and becoming acquainted with each other so it would translate to the hardwood when the time came.
“I’ve watched them a lot this summer,” Stringer said. “They’ve spent an awful lot of time going to amusement parks and cooking dinner for each other. The team is really a family. They demonstrated that, so I’m really excited.”
Hollivay, the nation’s No. 2 post player and ninth-rated player in the country, headlines the class. The Columbus, Miss., native brings more depth to a big frontcourt. She was a five-star prospect out of high school, averaging 25 points, 11 boards and 10 blocks per game in her junior season at Heritage (Miss.) Academy.
Hollivay and Butts have a host of veteran forwards they can learn from in their rookie campaigns. Senior center Monique Oliver and senior forward Chelsey Lee, who returns from sitting out the 2011-2012 season because of shoulder surgery, hope to be a dual threat.
“I really want to follow in Monique and Chelsey’s footsteps,” Butts said. “I want to go hard, just as hard as they go. I expect this to be a learning year. Then when my time comes, I just want to go out there and do what I have to do.”
Hailing from Columbus, Ga., Butts averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game in her senior season at Carver (Ga.) High School. Butts’ career numbers led to her cracking ESPNU’s Top-100 list, claiming the 75th overall spot and the ninth-best player in the paint.
Not only did the Knights add more players down low, but they expanded their backcourt with two new faces.
Copper, a 2012 McDonald’s All-American, can bring some help to the wing to spread out the floor. She took Player of the Year honors at Prep Charter in Philadelphia, recording 24 points, 12 boards and two assists per game in her final season.
Person was ranked No. 70 overall by ESPNU HoopGurlz and was a 2012 All-American nominee. She led the Lady Titans of Charles Drew (Ga.) High School to a state playoff berth last year.
“We bring a lot of heart,” Person said of what the class contributes. “We work hard [and show] determination.”
The new additions are ready to make an immediate impact and do whatever they can to contribute night in and night out for the Knights. They get their first opportunity to do so in Sunday’s season opener at Georgia in Athens.