Syracuse, NY – Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack strongly supported League women’s basketball coach Quentin Hillsman when asked about the roster’s massive turnover for the first time on Tuesday.
No school had more players leaving the program than Syracuse. The Orange have lost 12 players, including the highest-ranked rookie in program history this offseason.
It’s a rather unusual upheaval regardless of the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Wildhack is backing Hillsman, who has just completed his 15th season in Syracuse.
“I fully support him. I support the values he has for this program, ”said Wildhack. “I support the standards he imposes on everyone, regardless of how well you rank in high school, how good you are or how bad you are.”
Wildhack said he had had many candid conversations with Hillsman about the program redesign, but he also said it reflected the times with relaxed restrictions on player mobility.
Syracuse turned to the portal to piece together her list. He has seven transfers and a top-15 recruiting class that will join the team next season.
The whereabouts of the roster have prompted several questions in recent months from reporters and fans alike, especially for a team that has qualified for its eighth consecutive NCAA tournament.
“I understand, but there are other programs that had eight or nine on the female side and the male side, so it’s not unique to Syracuse,” said Wildhack. “It is a sign of the times, a sign of reality.”
As 12 players entered the portal on the women’s side, the men’s SU team asked four players to request a transfer. Men’s orange center John Bol Ajak entered the gate but chose to return to the program.
Across the country, there have been 1,088 female basketball players to enter the portal since fall 2020, according to Raoul – the creator of a popular women’s basketball trading website.
Other college programs that allow eight or more players to access the transfer portal include: Arkansas State (8), Clemson (8), North Carolina Central (8), Tennessee State (8), UMBC (8), Eastern Washington (9), Penn State (9), Northwestern State (10), Texas Tech (10) and Detroit Mercy (12), tying Syracuse with most in the country.
The full list of Syracuse players continuing their basketball and college careers at other institutions: Kamilla Cardoso (South Carolina), Emily Engstler (Louisville), Kiara Lewis (Clemson), Digna Strautmane (Georgia Tech), Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi (Miami), Amaya Finklea-Guity (Duke), Maud Huijbens (Gonzaga), Taleah Washington (Old Dominion), Faith Blackstone (North Carolina A&T), Kiara Fisher (Marist College), Khamya McNeal (Stetson) and Lauren Fitzmaurice, who withdrew from the 2020-21 Season due to Covid-19 but later entered the transfer portal.
Five of the 12 Orange players – Lewis, Strautmane, Djaldi-Tabdi, Finklea-Guity and Fitzmaurice – to request a transfer were seniors who graduated but were fortunate enough to return to the program for another year due to the NCAA’s decision to grant all athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillsman had previously said half of the losses were shocking, but the other half was not and believed part of it to be “pure attrition.” Wildhack echoed these feelings about seniors fulfilling their obligations to the program.
“You know what? They did what they came to Syracuse for,” Wildhack said. “They graduated. They played at a high level. They’ve got a year left. If they want to go play something. On the other hand, they have the right to do so and they will always be part of our program.
Wildhack alluded to a lack of adherence to university standards when referring to the four freshmen who chose to leave after one season. The group was led by Cardoso – the highest ranked rookie in the history of the program – along with Blackstone, Fisher and McNeal. The last three players, along with Washington, missed the SU playoffs due to a team rule violation.
“I think part of that is… in terms of culture and what we ask of every student-athlete, we’re not going to stray from that. Whether it’s when we’re coming out of Covid or we’re in Covid, ”Wildhack said.
Wildhack’s main concerns with the transfer portal centered on players from all sports who chose to enter the portal but might not have a landing point.
“Think about it. They might not have a place to go back to, ”said Wildhack. “They might not have a place to play. Not only can they not play, but what happens to their college education? What happens to this scholarship? It really, really worries me.
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