The NCAA transfer portal was perhaps the hottest it’s ever been after the 2022 season, with countless big-name players switching collegiate teams. The breakup of the core of the Maryland Terrapins, who failed to meet the lofty expectations they set for themselves prior to 2022, made particularly big waves, with star guard Ashley Owusu’s choice to leave the program for Virginia Tech a move that could very well change the regular-season outcomes of both the Big Ten and the ACC.
Owusu, who is originally from Woodbridge, Va., chose to return close to home at a key point in the trajectory of the Virginia Tech program. The Hokies had been on the cusp of ACC contention for several prior seasons under head coach Kenny Brooks, but weren’t able to usurp the conference’s powerhouses — NC State and Louisville, to name a couple.
With the aforementioned programs weaker entering the 2022-23 season, it’s now or never for Brooks and Virginia Tech, and Owusu could be the piece that puts the Hokies over the top.
“[Owusu’s] versatility will give us the ability to play multiple people in multiple positions,” Brooks said of his prized transfer. “She adds an element that we haven’t had here before. Her desire to win and willingness to do what’s best for the team will elevate our program.”
Expectations are understandably high for Owusu as she joins the Hokies, and how quickly she adjusts to her new environment — both the Hokies and the ACC as a whole — will be crucial in determining just how far she can lead Virginia Tech. Let’s run through what she’s accomplished thus far in her collegiate career and what Virginia Tech fans can expect from her, as well as which of her skills stand out most in terms of WNBA potential.
Honors and statistics
Owusu was ranked as the No. 7 prospect (No. 2 point guard) in the recruiting class of 2019 by ESPN HoopGurlz, having been named a McDonald’s All-American and the state of Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior at Paul VI.
During her time at Maryland, Owusu racked up an impressive amount of awards and accomplishments. She was named to the All-Big Ten First Team as a sophomore and Second team as a freshman and junior, earned All-American honors from the USBWA and Associated Press in 2021, and took home the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award that same season as the nation’s top shooting guard. Owusu averaged 14.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in her three season at Maryland.
Internationally, Owusu has been competing for Team USA since 2016, when she participated in team trials for FIBA’s U17 World Cup. Most recently, Owusu won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2021 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup, playing alongside other big names such as Aliyah Boston, Rhyne Howard, Haley Jones and Destanni Henderson.
Owusu’s playmaking brings extra dimension to title-hungry Hokies
One thing that immediately stands out about Owusu is her build: She stands at 6-foot with a stockier frame than most guards, which, as indicated by the different position-based awards she’s regularly in consideration for, makes it difficult to nail down which position she’s suited best to play.
This can be either a strength or a weakness when weighing how an individual player matches up with their respective assignment (sometimes a player has the physical tools to play multiple positions but doesn’t excel at any one of them), but in Owusu’s case, it will very likely be to Virginia Tech’s advantage. She’ll join a backcourt featuring Georgia Amoore (at least 11 points and four assists per game in her last two seasons) and Kayana Traylor (a former Purdue Boilermaker standout who can similarly score and assist) that, with Owusu, figures to have plenty of positional interchangeability and give Brooks the option to play three ball handlers if he so chooses.
This is where the rich get richer. At Maryland, Owusu quickly became known for leading an uptempo Terrapins offense that sought out transition opportunities as often as possible; in Owusu’s three seasons at Maryland, the Terrapins recorded 27.5 percent, 27.7 percent and 23.5 percent of their possessions in transition (Synergy Sports), regularly ranking near the top of the NCAA in pace of play. While this is often indicative of a team-wide buy-in to push the ball for a full 40 minutes, it’s tough to do without a lead guard who can play at a fast tempo and make plays for others consistently — two areas Owusu excels in.
Compare that style of play with how the Hokies played last season — just a 10 percent transition frequency and a heavy dependency upon center Elizabeth Kitley (28.6 percent usage rate in 2021-22; Her Hoop Stats) — and it’s clear how much of a boost Owusu can give her new team. In playing through Kitley and recently-graduated sharpshooter Aisha Sheppard, Virginia Tech has been much more of a halfcourt team in recent seasons.
To be clear, Kitley will probably still be the Hokies’ go-to player; the reigning ACC Player of the Year is an interior presence few teams have an answer for and, as with most low-post players, she’ll need to get the ball regularly for Virginia Tech to get the most out of her minutes on the floor.
It will be up to Owusu, then, to adjust her own game to those of her new teammates, something Big Ten analyst Christy Winters-Scott thinks she’s already good at:
“[Owusu] is able to differentiate between her making a play or facilitating for the team to make a play ... I also think the way she operates is very strategic, it’s very surgical. She’s probably thinking two or three steps ahead of her opponents.”
A successful marriage of the talents of Owusu and Kitley won’t only benefit Virginia Tech. In the WNBA, low-post play is still a significant part of many teams’ playbooks, so as a lead guard, Owusu will need to be able to be as effective maximizing the talents of her teammates in the halfcourt as she is creating plays on the fast break. As a taller guard, her ability to defend up will also be under the microscope as she makes her case for the WNBA; for Virginia Tech, she’ll be the de facto small forward in three-guard lineups, but the amount of athleticism across the WNBA at that position is a completely different beast. If she can prove to be an impact playmaker on offense and a multi-position defender, Owusu will truly fulfill the positional versatility Brooks has alluded to.
Watch her play
Virginia Tech’s non-conference schedule isn’t the strongest, but a pair of early-December matchups against Nebraska (Dec. 1; ACC Network) and Tennessee (Dec. 4; ESPN2) stand out. After three seasons in the Big Ten, Owusu is plenty familiar with Nebraska, while Tennessee will be expected to compete for an SEC title and has several of its own WNBA prospects in the 2023 draft class.
Once ACC play begins, however, just about every team in the conference will be gunning for the Hokies. They’ll get two games against rival NC State on Feb. 6 and Feb. 19 (both televised on ESPN2); Virginia Tech went a combined 1-7 against NC State in the previous three NCAA seasons, but the Hokies are in a position to flip the script thanks to their new addition and a key recent Wolfpack graduate in Elissa Cunane.