It seems like forever ago that Rutgers was flirting with greatness amid its short-lived stay near the top of women’s basketball.
The Scarlet Knights’ five-year streak of making it to the Sweet Sixteen, from 2005 to 2009, was highlighted by their trip to the national championship game in 2007. There, they lost to a Candace Parker-led Tennessee team that was too much for the big four of Kia Vaughn, Essence Carson, Epiphany Prince and Matee Ajavon (all of whom went on to play in the WNBA).
Rutgers has not made it back to the Sweet Sixteen since 2009, but returned to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2015. Head coach Vivian Stringer — back from a health-related issue — is ready to go with a new freshman star on the roster.
Maori Davenport arrives
Davenport made national headlines last season when she was suspended from her high school team because she cashed a stipend check accidentally given to her by USA Basketball. She comes to New Jersey as the No. 14 overall recruit in the nation and the No. 2 post player, according to espnW’s HoopGurlz rankings for the class of 2019.
Known as a dominant rebounder and shot blocker at 6-foot-4, Davenport should also be able to help the Scarlet Knights in the scoring department. She averaged 13.8 points per game as a senior at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Alabama.
According to a story written on scarletknights.com, the adversity Davenport faced has helped her grow as a person:
”I think [the suspension] has made me have a different outlook on the world … It’s not always just Skittles and rainbows all the time. I had to take it day-by-day and not even know what my fate was … It taught me to cherish the things I love and count my blessings, because you never know it could be gone. At the same time, it encouraged me to work hard.”
Rutgers returns redshirt junior Arella Guirantes, who was second on the team in scoring last season with 12.1 points per game. The only player ahead of her, Stasha Carey (12.3 points per game), has graduated, leaving the door open for new players to average double figures. The Scarlet Knights lost a total of six seniors, but no superstars. A lot of their success will now rest on Davenport’s shoulders, but hopefully, more than just one other person will break that barrier.
Rutgers defeated eventual regular-season champ and NCAA Tournament three-seed Maryland early in Big Ten play last year. The Scarlet Knights were ranked as high as No. 14 in the country and finished third in the Big Ten, the highest they’ve placed since joining the conference. They are not included in the preseason espnW top 25, but they could surprise a lot of people again if the positive vibes surrounding their upcoming season come to fruition.
In addition to Davenport, the Scarlet Knights added freshman Joiya Maddox and graduate transfer Danielle Migliore to the squad. They defeated Fordham 73-57 in an exhibition game this past Saturday and open their regular season at South Alabama, in the home state of both Davenport and Maddox.