With influx of transfers, Maryland women’s basketball turning heads: ‘It’s going to be really fun’

At least for now, Brenda Frese is embracing artificial intelligence.

The Maryland women’s basketball coach has been the centerpiece of several AI-generated video clips in which she is dancing or walking onto the stage at an outdoor concert when the program has landed a transfer from the portal or is close to making an announcement. Frese credited Joe Glowacki, the team’s video director, and Jessica Imhof, director of scouting and assistant coach, with hatching the idea and her twin sons Markus and Tyler with offering suggestions.

“They just keep getting better and better,” Frese said with a laugh at the short videos that are accompanied by a “Come party with Brenda” tagline. “And I like that they make me look like I can really dance.”

Lately, there has been a festive mood surrounding the Terps, who spent the past two weeks announcing the signing of a seven-member class from the transfer portal. The new faces include 6-foot-2 senior forward Christina Dalce of Villanova, 6-6 senior center Amari DeBerry of UConn, 6-3 senior forward Isimenme Ozzy-Momodou of Gulf Coast State, 6-2 redshirt junior guard Saylor Poffenbarger of Arkansas, 6-0 junior guard Kaylene Smikle of Rutgers and 5-5 graduate student guard Sarah Te-Biasu of Virginia Commonwealth.

And on Sunday, Maryland announced the addition of 5-11 shooting guard Mir McLean from Virginia. McLean, a Baltimore native and Roland Park graduate who began her career at UConn, racked up 12.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 assists per game in 15 games as a junior in 2022-23 before tearing multiple ligaments and dislocating the kneecap in her right knee and sitting out all of last season. McLean was the 2020 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year.

“I chose Maryland because I know the atmosphere will fit me as much as it will challenge and push me to be my best self,” McLean said in a statement. “I’m super excited to be coming home and show up for my state!”

Frese said not recruiting Mir out of high school was “a huge mistake” but she “wasn’t going to let that happen a second time.”

“It’s fitting that the final piece to our recruiting is a local star in Mir McLean,” she said in a statement. “Mir is as competitive as they come and is a silent assassin. Mir is extremely versatile, athletic, can rebound, defend and score. Mir will bring a level of experience and leadership with her to our team that will be invaluable.”

The commitment from McLean represents a trade of sorts after 6-7 sophomore center Hawa Doumbouya left the Terps for the Cavaliers on April 16.

That group joins senior shooting guard Shyanne Sellers, junior shooting guard Bri McDaniel and redshirt senior power forward Allie Kubek for the 2024-25 season. They will also welcome a three-member freshmen class of guards Ava McKennie (McDonogh) and Kyndal Walker and forward Breanna Williams.

The retooled roster drew praise from a pair of ESPN analysts.

“I think they did well,” said Stephanie White, who is also coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. “There are tough choices sometimes when you’re thinking about recruiting high school kids and recruiting the portal now. I think Brenda and her staff always do an outstanding job of finding the right personnel that fit how they want to play, fit their style, fit their system. They’ve got experience, and they rebound, and I think that position is one that they probably missed the most. So I think they did a really good job.”

Debbie Antonelli, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, echoed White, saying: “It’s going to be really fun for the Maryland fans. I think they’re going to love it.”

Last winter, Maryland went 19-14 and earned its 14th consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament. But that team accumulated its fewest number of wins since the 2003-04 squad finished 18-13, and its 9-9 mark in the Big Ten was the program’s first with a .500-or-worse record since the 2009-10 team finished 5-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Terps’ No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament was their lowest since the 2003-04 squad was the No. 12 seed, and their 93-86 loss to No. 7 seed Iowa State in the first round marked their earliest exit from the postseason since the 2000-01 team as the No. 8 seed was bounced by No. 9 seed Colorado State, 83-69.

While acknowledging that their shortcomings last season drove her and her coaching staff to be more active in the transfer portal, Frese said the premature ouster from the NCAA Tournament was a blessing in disguise.

“Things broke in our favor this offseason,” she said, adding that the coaches are free of the 14-hour days they worked since the transfer portal went live March 18. “I said it before: Unfortunately, we were finished early, but we were able to spend more time in the portal than when you’re trying to win games in the NCAA Tournament. So there’s a plus-minus to all of that.”

Maryland was outrebounded only 11 times last season but went 2-9 in those games. To improve in that department, the team brought in Poffenbarger, a Middletown native who led last winter’s Razorbacks in rebounds per game (11.2) and set a single-season record for defensive rebounds (225); Ozzy-Momodou, who averaged 11.6 rebounds; Dalce, who pulled down 9.4 rebounds and had double-digit rebounds in 18 games; and DeBerry, whom Frese called “a true center.”

White, who covered the Terps’ game against Syracuse and Iowa and scouted them when they played Ohio State, said recruiting more height was a top priority.

“When you look at their roster over the past few years, they’ve been able to play small, and they’ve been able to be successful playing small. But when you run into those teams that have size on the interior and on the days that you’re not making shots or maybe not getting as many stops as you need, you’ve got to be able to get some boards and have a presence on the interior and force defenses to collapse,” she said. “You play the hand that you’re dealt no matter what, but if you have a choice — and in this case, they did — they were able to go out and get some size.”

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The arrival of Te-Biasu, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year who amassed 15.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists, allows Sellers to shift from point guard to her more natural position as a shooting guard. And Smikle, who ranked fifth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.9 points per game as a freshman in 2022-23, is another threat from the perimeter to combine with Sellers, McDaniel and Te-Biasu.

“You cannot have enough guards,” Antonelli said. “You have to have guard play. I’ve watched Brenda over the years transform the way they play. They used to be a little bit of a softer defensive team that always could score and a great rebounding team, and they won. Then as the game started evolving, she started to stretch out her defense a little bit more — some full-court, some three-quarters court pressure. It’s going to be fun.”

The upcoming season is still six months away, but Maryland will get an early start. The Terps are scheduled to tour Croatia in the offseason, and the coaches and players are permitted 10 practices together to develop chemistry.

Time will tell whether the new-look Terps can compete for a Big Ten championship with newcomers Southern California and UCLA and conference rivals Iowa and Ohio State. Frese said she is feeling optimistic.

“We’re going to be able to get back to playing how Maryland basketball looks,” she vowed. “Our standard was hit with lack of depth and size and athleticism last year. I can’t say enough about that team though and what they did to try to get us to our 14th straight NCAA Tournament. … Now it’s our job to put those pieces and the bonding [together].”