The 2019-20 slate was a season of transitioning for the Clemson women’s basketball team. Coming off a breakout year that saw them earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since the early 2000s, the Tigers dealt with on-court adversity this season. Clemson finished the campaign at 8-23 overall and 3-15 in ACC play after losing 12 of its last 13 games. Head Coach Amanda Butler’s squad never seemed to settle into a rhythm in Butler’s second year on the job, consistently facing early deficits and seeing valiant comeback attempts fall short. However, the promise displayed by the team late in the season indicates that an uptick in winning and a return to NCAA Tournament-caliber play will come to fruition for the Tigers next season.
Clemson lost three of its best players to graduation at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, with guards Aliyah Collier and Danielle Edwards and wing player Simone Westbrook each exhausting their eligibility. In addition, key freshmen Camreé Clegg and Taylor Hosendove transferred in the offseason, resulting in several roster changes heading into the 2019-20 slate. Those significant changes contributed to the inconsistency that Clemson experienced this season, but the addition of several key newcomers partially compensated for the player departures and set the Tigers up for substantial success in the coming seasons.
Following a year of sitting out due to transfer rules, sharpshooter Kendall Spray became a starter for Clemson this season and made quite the splash from 3-point range. Setting a new program record for the most 3-pointers tallied in a single season, Spray, a guard, connected on 80 treys over the course of the 2019-20 schedule. Spray will return to the Tigers for her senior campaign next season, and she will assuredly look to leave behind a legacy as one of Clemson’s all-time great shooters.
Like Spray, Nique Cherry, a forward, and Shania Meertens, a guard, transferred to Clemson prior to this season and took part in their junior seasons this year. Both players contributed to the Tigers off the bench, and Meertens, in particular, stepped up for the Tigers as conference play progressed, culminating in her scoring a career-high 20 points in Clemson’s season-ending loss in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
Solid scorers and rebounders, Cherry and Meertens will have expanded roles in the Tigers’ rotation next season, as will former high school star Danae McNeal. A former South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, McNeal committed to the Tigers while playing for Swansea High School in Swansea, S.C., and the guard showed flashes of brilliance in her role as a backup this season. McNeal is positioned to excel under Butler next season, as is transfer Delicia Washington, who formerly played for Butler when the coach was at the helm of the Florida Gators. Washingon sat this season out as a result of transferring, but the guard should be a star player for Clemson beginning this coming fall.
McNeal was not the only freshman to garner playing time as part of Clemson’s rotation this season. In fact, two of the most important members of the starting lineup for the Tigers were both freshmen. Poised to become the face of the program in the near future, forward Amari Robinson was the leading rebounder and second-leading scorer for the Tigers in 2019-20. The freshman phenom was the breakout star of Clemson’s season, showing out on both ends of the floor and being honored as the USBWA National Freshman of the Week for a couple of stellar January performances. Also starting down low, or, in this case, “down under,” for the Tigers this season was Australian freshman Hannah Hank. Hank was a premier post player for Clemson, and, together with Robinson, she will fill the void left behind by the departure of graduating forward Kobi Thornton.
Other rising sophomores for the Tigers include Isis Lopes and Kaylee Sticker, both of whom are tall guards boasting the ability to knock down shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Rising juniors Skylar Blackstock, a forward, and Mikayla Hayes, a center, will also be back in the fray for Clemson in 2020-21. Representing the Clemson senior class next year will be center Tylar Bennett, one of the top shot blockers in program history, and guard Destiny Thomas, who led the Tigers in assists this year.
Perhaps the biggest boost to Clemson’s efforts this coming season will come in the form of the superb recruiting class put together by Butler and her coaching staff. Five-star recruit Gabby Elliott, the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Michigan, is heading to Tigertown as one of the most prized recruits ever landed by the Clemson women’s basketball program. The talented wing player is joined in the 2020 Clemson recruiting class by fellow wing player Clair Neff and point guard Weronika Hipp.
Although losing the aforementioned Thornton, who finished her standout college career with the 11th-most points and sixth-most in rebounds in program history, and reliable defender and selfless leader Chyna Cotton to graduation will definitely take away from what the Tigers will bring to the table next season, the future is bright for Clemson. Under Butler’s guidance, the Tiger squad that showed signs of greatness in the midst of a series of hard-luck losses this season could very well return to serving as an NCAA Tournament contender next season. From the notable returning players to the promising incoming players, Clemson should be able to learn from this season’s hardships and convert them into next season’s successes, bringing magic to Littlejohn Coliseum and beyond.