Women’s basketball freshmen look to make immediate impact

Missouri brings in two recruits from the ESPN top 100 for its latest class.
Missouri guard Akira Levy holds the ball at the top of the key as time runs out in the first half of Missouri's 70-48 exhibition win over Missouri Western on Monday, Oct. 30, 2018. Levy, who was a top-70 recruit, is a possible starter for Missouri's 18-19 squad.

Akira Levy stood at midcourt at Mizzou Arena, alone, with all eyes on her.

She was wowing fans with her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I ain’t got you” at Mizzou Madness, but the point guard is one of four new players who showed promise at the preseason event.

Coach Robin Pingeton has three new freshmen this year, including two – Levy and forward Grace Berg – who are ranked in the top 70 of their class. Redshirt freshman Haley Troup also becomes eligible this season after her transfer from South Carolina.

With the losses of Jordan Frericks and Cierra Porter, all four could see some immediate playing time this season.

Here’s an in-depth look at the newcomers for women’s basketball.

Akira Levy

Levy took one dribble to her right, drove through the paint and, after a euro-step, she threw a layup off the glass before it slipped through the net at the buzzer.

Levy’s layup gave her 25 points across the fourth quarter and overtime of the state championship, securing her second Tennessee state title at Upperman High School while finishing off a 37-0 senior season.

Two days earlier, the guard from Baxter, Tennessee had a triple-double that led the Lady Bees to a quarterfinal win over East Nashville.

Besides Levy’s serenade, the point guard showed flashes of slick ball handling and playmaking at the preseason exhibition.

The freshman was compared to Sophie Cunningham for her confident personality but is also an electric guard in her own right.

“Akira is pretty darn dynamic,” Pingeton said. “I think she’s going to be able to create a more up-tempo pace for us.”

Levy originally signed to play at Western Kentucky, but after WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard left for Cincinnati, the top-70 recruit committed to play for the Tigers.

With Missouri pushing the pace this season, Levy could blend with redshirt senior Lauren Aldridge to offer lineups that push the ball forward with Levy as a dynamic ball handler alongside the floor general in Aldridge.

Grace Berg

After a disappointing loss ended last season, Frericks graduated and Porter was lost to medical retirement. Then Pingeton was left with a frontcourt predicament.

Enter Grace Berg. The floor-spacing, uber-athletic forward is the type of player Missouri will use to usher in a new era of positionless basketball.

“She’s got a lot of versatility,” Pingeton said. “She’s really good around the basket, she’s a really good passer, shoots the three ball really well and from a versatility standpoint fits our system really well.”

The highest-ranked recruit for Missouri’s class, Berg can slash to the basket and finish well, but her biggest asset on the offensive end will be running the floor while Levy and Aldridge push the pace.

Berg was a cross-country runner in high school and her school-record time of 19:07 in the 5K is faster than some members of the Missouri women’s cross-country team have run this season. Berg took advantage of that speed in high school by outrunning opponents down the court for easy buckets and should continue to do so on the even larger college court.

Along with speed in transition, Berg will add defensive versatility with her ability to guard different positions on the floor.

“You could put her on anybody,” high school coach Bert Hanson said. “I’ve seen her guard girls that were way taller than her and guard point guards way shorter than her.”

Brittany Garner

Garner, a 6-foot-4 center, comes into the season as the tallest player on the roster and becomes the team’s only true post player after the medical retirement of Porter.

Garner looks to play a specialized role by providing extra rebounding off the bench as well as providing post defense to counter bigs in conference play like Mississippi State’s 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan.

Garner will be able to fit into the offense as a post presence and strong passer out of the post.

“Sometimes when she was in double teams we would still get her the ball because she was a great passer,” high school coach Dan McGettigan said. “One of her strongest attributes was her passing in the post.”

For now, Garner’s playing time will be limited until she can adjust to the fast pace of the offense. As a high school senior, her team played a slower half-court game that focused on post work and passing out of the post on offense. The drastic change in style presents a steep learning curve toward the new-look, positionless style of the Tigers.

Haley Troup

Troup will join the team after sitting out a redshirt season as a transfer from rival South Carolina.

Troup transferred before the start of her freshman season, so she will have four years of eligibility with Missouri.

Troup is a sharpshooting guard who played all of last season on the scout team and scored 2,284 career points at Gadsden City High School.

“She’s just a knockdown shooter,” Pingeton said. “When she is on she is hard to stop. She has a quick release and deep range.”

Missouri’s spacing and pace on offense will get Troup opportunities as a spot up shooter and Troup will also provide instant offense off the bench, as well as being a strong rebounder for her position.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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