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2024 WNBA Draft watch: Jacy Sheldon returns to Ohio State with big ambitions

Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon, battling an injury, recently led the Buckeyes on their longest NCAA Tournament run in decades. The dynamic guard returns to Ohio State for her fifth season, betting on herself to prove she’s WNBA-caliber.

USC v Ohio State
Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon is a guard who can contribute at a high level on both ends of the court.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1) have typically been one of the stronger teams in the Big Ten since Kevin McGuff was hired as head coach in 2013. They’re coming off their deepest NCAA Tournament run in the McGuff era: the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since 1987.

Expectations are high for the Buckeyes entering the 2023-24 season, and a healthy Jacy Sheldon is a major reason why. Sheldon, a 5-foot-10 guard from Dublin, OH, chose to return to Ohio State for a fifth season as a graduate season, declaring “unfinished business” after losing a large chunk of her senior season to a lower leg injury.

For the Buckeyes, this is a case of the rich getting richer. Ohio State added last year’s ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor in the transfer portal, and assuming returning players like Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry continue their respective growth, the Buckeyes will have a roster full of high-caliber athletes and defensive playmakers capable of wreaking havoc on the court.

It’s going to be Sheldon who ultimately determines how far the Buckeyes go, though. With next-level defensive instincts and a downhill offensive game rivaled by few other guards in the country, Sheldon is a player who can carry her team on both ends of the floor and—if she’s healthy—will be of great interest to WNBA scouts.

Honors and statistics

Ranked as the No. 42 recruit in the class of 2019 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz, Sheldon was a part-time starter (24 of 33 games) as a freshman at Ohio State. Her sophomore season is when she truly broke out; Sheldon led the Buckeyes in scoring (16.7 points per game) while also contributing 2.6 assists and a team-high 1.8 steals per game, earning All Big-Ten Second Team honors in 2021.

Sheldon continued her ascent as a junior, leading the Buckeyes in points (19.7), assists (4.2) and steals per game (1.9). It was during Sheldon’s junior season that she accumulated most of her honors, earning selections to the All-Big Ten First Team and All-Defensive Team, as well as being named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press.

Entering her graduate season, Sheldon was named to preseason watch lists for the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, along with the Nancy Lieberman Award, which is given nationally to the nation’s top point guard. She was also named to the preseason All-Big Ten Team by conference coaches and media.

Sheldon personifies Ohio State’s uptempo style of play

Ohio State v Maryland
Sheldon’s attack-mode mentality makes her a constant threat to score at the rim, whether off the dribble in the halfcourt or in transition.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

It’s no secret how Ohio State wants to play: fast and aggressive, with an emphasis on forcing turnovers using a full-court press. In the past three seasons, the Buckeyes have ranked No. 15, No. 26 and No. 14 in the country in possessions per 40 minutes (Her Hoop Stats), and last season ranked No. 11 in steal rate at 12.9 percent.

Sheldon is right at home playing this kind of basketball, and it’s something both she and McGuff identified when she was first recruited back in 2019.

Playing a press-heavy defensive scheme can certainly inflate players’ steal numbers, but in Sheldon’s case, she’s someone who raises the overall ceiling of what her team wants to do. With top-notch defensive instincts and a motor that is never in question, Sheldon is one of the Big Ten’s premier off-ball defensive playmakers, contributing greatly to an Ohio State offense that recorded 21.9 percent of its possessions in transition last season (Synergy Sports). During Sheldon’s extended absence, McGuff remarked that the Buckeyes can simply play faster when she’s available, specifically mentioning transition baskets as something that Sheldon specializes in.

Sheldon being just as adept in the halfcourt, however, is what truly sets her apart. Explosive off the dribble and in the paint, Sheldon is in constant attack mode, using a variety of finishes to get her shot off against bigger defenders and draw fouls. Though she was clearly hampered by her injury when she did play last season, 39 percent of Sheldon’s halfcourt shot attempts came at the rim, up from the 35.9 percent rim attempt rate she recorded as a junior. Sheldon converted on 61.2 percent of those attempts in 2021-22.

Sheldon’s offensive repertoire extends far beyond the painted area, too. She can create space and shoot off the dribble with little effort—as a junior, 56.6 percent of Sheldon’s jumpshots came off the dribble, and she ranked in the 84th percentile in off-dribble jumpshot efficiency (Synergy Sports)—and she has a quick enough release to be considered a threat moving without the basketball, too. Sheldon knocked down at least 34 percent of her 3-point attempts in each of her first three healthy seasons as a Buckeye, many of which were either off the dribble or off relocation. Her outside shooting is a perfect complement to her excellent downhill scoring ability, as defenses can’t play Sheldon for just one specific move or shot type.

If this sounds like an ideal skillset for a professional guard to have, that’s because it is. ESPN’s Michael Voepel has Sheldon being picked by the Connecticut Sun at No. 10 overall in his most recent WNBA mock draft, while acknowledging that her returning to her pre-injury form will have a lot to do with where she’s drafted.

Here’s another factor: the decisions of other guards in the class. If Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers decide to stay in school (a decision that doesn’t need to be made for quite some time), that will only increase Sheldon’s luster. There are already precious few guards in the country who can do what she can, and she certainly has a chance to stand out from other players in her class next spring.

Watch her play

Sheldon and the Buckeyes will be participating in the Pink Flamingo Championship early next week, taking on the East Carolina Pirates on Monday, Nov. 20 and then the Oklahoma State Cowgirls on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Both games will be streamed live via FloHoops.

In December, Ohio State will play on national TV several times. The Buckeyes will face the Tennessee Lady Vols (currently ranked No. 15 in the country) on Sunday, Dec. 3 (ESPN) in a rematch of last year’s season opener, which Ohio State won 87-75. Later, the Buckeyes will host the UCLA Bruins (ranked No. 3) on Dec. 18 (FS1), pitting Sheldon and Ohio State’s guards against a tough and versatile backcourt featuring Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice.

All statistics and team records for the 2023-24 NCAA season are current through Nov. 18, 2023.