Following Monday’s news of two transfer additions for head coach Kyra Elzy, the Kentucky Women’s Basketball roster for next season is beginning to take shape. 14 of the 15 scholarship spots have been filled, with nine new faces coming to campus this summer. The program is going to look a whole lot different than it has the last few years as Elzy continues to establish her culture ahead of her third year in charge.
For those who missed the news, Kentucky added 6-foot-1 South Carolina guard Eniya Russell and 6-foot-3 LSU forward Ajae Petty. Both are rising juniors from the Baltimore area with three years of eligibility remaining who came out of high school as highly-respected prospects. They bring SEC experience and will have the opportunity to earn starter-level minutes for the first time in their college careers. Russell and Petty join graduate transfer forward Adebola Adeyeye as portal pickups for Elzy, to go along with the six-woman recruiting class.
Kentucky could very well fill that last roster spot, and there are plenty of transfer options still available, but regardless, we now have a much clearer idea of what the on-court product will look like for 2022-23. Let’s take a quick look at the roster as it stands today.
2021-22 season stats (grade level is indicative of 2022-23 season)
Robyn Benton: 5-foot-9 (5th Sr.) 25 GP, 9 starts; 24.4 mpg – 8.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg | 43.5% FG, 37.3% 3PT, 73.3% FT
Jada Walker: 5-foot-7 (So.) 31 GP, 22 starts; 27.6 mpg – 10.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg | 41.4% FG, 35.5% 3PT, 73.8% FT
Emma King: 5-foot-10 (Sr.) 26 GP, 2 starts; 13.7 mpg – 2.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.2 apg | 33.3% FG, 9.4% 3PT, 60% FT
Nyah Leveretter: 6-foot-3 (Jr.) 25 GP, 11 starts; 17.7 mpg – 2.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.7 bpg | 50.0% FG, 69.7% FT
Blair Green: 6-foot-2 (5th Sr.) DNP in 2021-22; Achilles | averaged 6.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg in 2020-21 – 44.1% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 83.3% FT
Now that the final day for student-athletes to enter their names in the transfer portal has passed, we know for sure which Wildcats will be sticking around Lexington for at least one more year. A few of the returning players will be key for next season, specifically rising fifth-year seniors Blair Green and Robyn Benton, along with All-SEC Freshman member Jada Walker. Also returning is rising senior and Bluegrass native Emma King, as is rising junior forward Nyah Leveretter, who could be poised for a potential breakout season.
Those five give Elzy and Kentucky some sort of continuity after the loss of four transfers and Rhyne Howard to the WNBA. Benton is a known commodity as a reliable backcourt option that can score and defend. Green will have to prove she’s moved past her Achilles injury that kept her out all of last season, but she is on course with her recovery and figures to be a focal point of the offense. Walker has the most potential of them all as the fiery, undersized point guard who was, at times, the second-best player for Kentucky a season ago.
A boost in production from King would be welcome. Her nine percent mark (3-32) from 3-point range last season was a tough look. Leveretter, standing at 6-foot-3 with the purest athleticism on the team, should return to a starting role, at least early in the season. She showcased her potential as a sophomore but needs to put everything together as a junior. A significant leap from her would probably add a couple of extra wins to the season total.
2021-22 season stats (grade level is indicative of 2022-23 season)
Adebola Adeyeye: 6-foot-2 (Gr. Sr.) 28 GP, 17 starts; 20.2 mpg – 6.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg | 56.2% FG, 56.7% FT
Eniya Russell: 6-foot-1 (Jr.) 23 GP, 0 starts; 7.7 mpg – 2.3 pg, 1.3 rpg, 0.8 apg | 42.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT, 58.8% FT
Ajae Petty: 6-foot-3 (Jr.) 12 GP, 0 starts; 5.6 mpg – 2.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg | 56.3% FG, 52.4% FT
Adebola Adeyeye is easily the most experienced of the transfer trio, although her competition came in the MAC. Regardless, the 6-foot-2 forward will bring some much-needed size to the frontcourt, as will the 6-foot-3 Ajae Petty from LSU. Eniya Russell was stuck on a deep South Carolina squad that went to the Final Four during her freshman season and won it all as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1 guard was a former McDonald’s All-American and top-ranked recruit. Of the three, Russell is the one I’m most excited to see suit up for the ‘Cats.
Early on, Adeyeye should be the most reliable of the transfer group. She’s played nearly 2,000 minutes at the Division I level during her four-year career, shooting at least 55 percent from the floor in all three of her previous seasons. Even if the physicality of the SEC takes a second for her to get used to, she’s the one I would trust the most to make the transition.
Petty is the biggest unknown of the three. Elzy will now be her third head coach in as many years after not finding the court all that often at LSU under Nikki Fargas and then Kim Mulkey. But Petty came to college as a top-ranked recruit, much like Russell, and was highly sought-after. Perhaps a change in scenery is what she needs to showcase that potential.
As of right now, I would expect Russell to make the biggest immediate impact of the three transfers.
Tionna Herron: 6-foot-4 (DeSoto, TX) 4-star, No. 69 overall
Cassidy Rowe: 5-foot-6 (Virgie, KY)
Amiya Jenkins: 5-foot-10 (Lawrenceburg, KY) 4-star, No. 94 overall
Saniah Tyler: 5-foot-6 (St. Louis, MO) 4-star, No. 21 ranked point guard
Kennedy Cambridge: 5-foot-8 (Nashville, TN)
Zennia Thomas: 6-foot-2 (Warrensville, OH)
Nothing has signaled a shift to the new era of Kentucky WBB quite like Elzy’s incoming group of rookies. The head coach has brought in six freshmen to be the face of the future direction of the program, including two homegrown girls and a potential star out of Texas.
Tionna Herron, the DeSoto, TX, product, has the most immediate potential of the group. She’s 6-foot-4, a top 70 player in the country, and the exact type of post piece that Kentucky has been missing over the years. Herron has a legitimate shot to come in and earn minutes from the moment she steps on campus.
The two local prospects, Amiya Jenkins (the 2022 Miss Kentucky Basketball winner) and Cassidy Rowe, could also come in and make some noise from the jump. Jenkins’ versatility on the wing along with Rowe’s floor general skills and tireless work ethic will make them tough to keep off the floor.
Not much is known about the other three in terms of what their impact might look like. Saniah Tyler is a four-star recruit from Missouri who committed to the ‘Cats last summer. She’s almost become a bit of an afterthought in this loaded group, but there was a reason why Tennessee was after her up until the very of her recruitment. At 5-foot-6, Tyler will be a tad undersized, but Jada Walker proved that isn’t a reason to doubt anyone’s skill set.
As for Cambridge and Thomas, they’re the most recent additions to the freshman class — the former committing in March and the latter just a few days ago. Thomas burst onto the scene after an impressive senior season in Ohio and could be a solid under-the-radar pickup. Her size at 6-foot-2 combined with guard-like abilities makes her an interesting prospect moving forward.