With the women’s basketball season approaching, this year’s Panther squad will feature experience and excitement as a squad of returning players and fresh faces prepare to make an impact.
“I don’t look at us as being so young anymore because we do have the experience,” head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “I look at us as a more experienced team … with so many new players.”
With six new players, Pitt’s roster will need to fill some big roles from last season. For starters, the Panthers will be without last year’s leading scorer, forward Brenna Wise, after she transferred to Indiana. On top of leading with 14.3 points per game, Wise was the team’s leading rebounder with 6.4 rebounds per game. And she was the only Panther to start in all 30 games.
Pitt will be without some other familiar faces on the court this upcoming season, including center Brandi Harvey-Carr — last season’s second-leading scorer — and forward Destinie Gibbs. Harvey-Carr played her final season as a graduate transfer and Gibbs as a redshirt senior.
Despite the losses, Pitt is returning with a plethora of talent from last year’s team. Now a senior, Aysia Bugg could be a main facilitator in Pitt’s offense, as she led the team in assists per game last year at 5.4. But she is currently out with a knee injury, so her role could be filled by sophomore guard Jasmine Whitney.
Whitney played her first college season last year, playing in all 30 games and starting in 17. She earned the ACC Women’s Basketball Rookie of the Week title twice, while also posting eight double-figure scoring performances.
In addition to Whitney and Bugg, Pitt returns another starter in junior forward Kauai Bradley. Bradley was a staple on the defensive side of the ball last season as she led the team in steals and was second in blocks.
Pitt will also be receiving offensive help from forward Yacine Diop as she returns from the injury that led to her medical redshirt season. Before her junior-year injury, Diop started every game as a sophomore and was Pitt’s second leading scorer in the 2015-2016 season.
With eight returning players, the Panthers have welcomed a six player first-year class, including highly touted international prospect Kyla Nelson. Nelson, hailing from Worthing, England, was the captain of Great Britain’s senior women’s national team. She also played for Oaklands College in England where she averaged 16.1 points per game.
McConnell-Serio also recruited 6-foot-2 forward Magatte Sall. Originally from Senegal, she played for Victory Rock Prep in Florida. Prior to that, Sall competed for ASC de Thies in Senegal where she was named MVP in her sophomore and junior seasons.
The Panthers international ties in the first-year class continue with forward Pika Rodriguez who played in the U19 FIBA world cup this past summer for Puerto Rico. Rodriguez even competed against the United States U19 team coached by McConnell-Serio.
“When you have players that can have that type of experience, playing internationally at a high level, they bring that to your team,” McConnell-Serio said. “There’s a different level of play and that needs to be contagious. It brings the level of play up among the team as well.”
This new talent might be just what the Panthers need. Pitt’s struggle was evident in its 13-17 record last year, but the team struggled against ACC opponents even more, recording a 4-12 season. The ACC Blue Ribbon Panel released its preseason awards and rankings earlier this month, in which the Panthers are predicted to finished in 13th, only ahead of Boston College and Clemson.
“You never really know what you look like until you see your team against another team,” McConnell-Serio said. “We’re just excited about what we’re seeing, but hopefully it transfers into game situations.”
For the women’s basketball team to succeed this year, the players will have to quickly adjust to playing with such a young group of new teammates. The Panthers’ first regular season chance is Nov. 10, against the Youngstown State Penguins at 7 p.m. in the Petersen Events Center.