How UConn transfer Saylor Poffenbarger is making an impact on Arkansas women's basketball

·3 min read

As Arkansas women's basketball flew back from Nashville after a 54-51 loss to Vanderbilt, coach Mike Neighbors gave the Razorbacks a homework assignment for the plane ride.

Arkansas was in the middle of a three-game skid and had just shot its worst field goal percentage of the season at 28%. So, Neighbors asked each player to write down at least three things they or the team could do to improve.

Saylor Poffenbarger, who had been on campus for just over a week, wrote down 17.

Poffenbarger transferred from UConn and arrived on campus two days after Christmas. At the time of the in-flight homework, she was still new, but had been practicing with the team.

"Saylor had some unbelievable insights because she's not been here," Neighbors said. "She had no filter. She had no lens to look through."

Connecticut guard Saylor Poffenbarger, center, warms up with teammates for an NCAA college basketball game against St. John's on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Storrs, Conn. (David Butler II/Pool Photo via AP)
Connecticut guard Saylor Poffenbarger, center, warms up with teammates for an NCAA college basketball game against St. John's on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Storrs, Conn. (David Butler II/Pool Photo via AP)

A 6-foot-2 guard, Poffenbarger was a huge get for Arkansas. Out of Middletown High School in Maryland, she was the No. 30 recruit in the class of 2020 and the No. 13 guard. She appeared in 12 games at UConn before entering the transfer portal on Nov. 15 and committing to Arkansas on Nov. 26.

Because of the timing of her transfer, she won't be eligible to play for the Razorbacks until next season, but she's been given a role in which she's determined to shine. Poffenbarger said she does everything with the team in practice until they break down into groups. Then, she joins the scout team, which includes freshman Maryam Dauda, who is redshirting while she recovers from an injury sustained at the end of her last high school season.

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Neighbors said Poffenbarger's impact on the scout team has been major, and she's not the first transfer player to start in that role. Chelsea Dungee transferred from Oklahoma before playing four years and being drafted fifth overall by the Dallas Wings of the WNBA. Amber Ramirez transferred from TCU and is now Arkansas' leading 3-point shooter. Both started on the scout team while sitting out due to transfer rules.

"She lit us up," Neighbors said of Poffenbarger's early practices. "It's really good to have kids in that role, because they can play loose and free."

FILE - Connecticut guard Saylor Poffenbarger (4) is defended by St. John's guard Danaijah Williams (24) and forward Cecilia Holmberg (11) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college basketball game in New York, in this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
FILE - Connecticut guard Saylor Poffenbarger (4) is defended by St. John's guard Danaijah Williams (24) and forward Cecilia Holmberg (11) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college basketball game in New York, in this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Despite being a long way from home, Poffenbarger wasn't without a familiar face when she joined the Razorbacks. Junior Makayla Daniels, Arkansas' leading scorer, is from the same area of Maryland as Poffenbarger.

But being new isn't new to Poffenbarger. She was an early enrollee at UConn and came to campus as the lone freshman. The same was true as she came in at the semester break for Arkansas. She's never been part of a full new class.

"The welcoming here, by myself, was way different than the previous," she said. "I don't think (teammates) necessarily look at it as I've only been here for two weeks. They're just as excited as I am, and I think that helps a lot."

Poffenbarger said when she visited Arkansas, it felt like home. She couldn't explain just what it was that gave her that feeling, but something seemed right. Getting to Fayetteville and moving in with freshmen Emrie Ellis, Samara Spencer and Ashlyn Sage reaffirmed her choice.

"Coming from somewhere that you leave, you have the worry of, 'I hope it doesn't happen somewhere else,'" Poffenbarger said. "The recruiting process can be a lot of what you want to hear, and they don't necessarily tell you everything. ... How great everything's been, it's just been a lot of reassurance. Like, 'OK, I really did make the right decision.' "

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can email her at clong@swtimes.com or follow her on Twitter @christinalong00.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: UConn transfer Saylor Poffenbarger settling in with Arkansas early