The Rutgers women’s basketball team is having a great month, as head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s return from a health related absence at the end of last season has given the program a major boost. After a 4-0 start to the season, this week Stringer signed what ESPN ranks as the top 2020 recruiting class in the Big Ten and eighth best in the country. The five recruits signed is highlighted by Diamond Johnson, the sixth ranked recruit in the entire 2020 class, and includes four prospects ranked in the top 55 nationally.
While it’s impressive to see this type of success on the recruiting trail, this isn’t new for the Hall of Fame coach. Stringer signed three consecutive top 15 ranked classes in recruiting cycles between 2004-2006. This was back when Cappie Pondexter, Essence Carson, Matee Ajavon, Kia Vaughn, and Epiphany Prince, among others, roamed the hardwood of the RAC, as Rutgers regularly went deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Even in recent years, Stringer landed a top ten recruit in Tyler Scaife, who finished her career with over 2,000 points and second all-time in program history. However, depth and roster turnover were issues, as well as changing leagues, which resulted in Rutgers making just one NCAA Tournament over a six year period after making it 14 of the previous 15 seasons between 1997-2012. It was fair to be concerned it was time for Stringer to walk into the sunset with her legendary status already intact. Stringer had already earned that honor when she became the first college coach in men’s or women’s DivisionI basketball to take three different programs to the Final Four.
Stringer added to her legacy when she earned her 1,000th victory early last season. After a strong start to the 2018-2019 campaign, multiple players were dismissed and Stringer took a leave of absence due to health issues. Even so, her team took after their resilient coach and overcame all of that adversity to still have a successful season. Rutgers finished in third place in the Big Ten, the program’s best finish since joining the conference in 2014. They advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years as well.
In addition to that success, the program benefited from September’s opening of the RWJBarnabas Athletic Performance Center, as the hall of fame coach finally had a dedicated practice facility to call home.
Stringer has made the roster stronger in the past two years with landing high profile transfers in Arella Guirantes, a former 4-star recruit who came from Texas Tech and is the best player on the team, as well as former McDonald’s All-American and 5-star recruit, Alexis Morris, who is eligible once the first semester ends after transferring from Baylor last winter. In addition, there are two other former 5-star recruits on the current roster in sophomore point guard Zippy Broughton and freshman forward Maori Davenport.
Adding such a standout recruiting class to the core of the roster for next season and beyond ensures that the Rutgers women’s basketball team has an opportunity to be an elite program once again under Stringer. Her gas tank appears to still be full in her 25th season at Rutgers and is already set to be honored with the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching honor in the spring. Hopefully, the accolades on the court and on the recruiting trail will continue for her and the program as well.
Here is a breakdown of the 2020 recruiting class, including quotes from coach Stringer from the Rutgers press release:
5’5” guard Diamond Johnson is the tenth 5-star recruit that Stringer has signed since 2007 and the 2019 Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. She averaged 28.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals through the district championship last season, a game in which she scored 54 points.
Stringer on Johnson: “We believe Diamond is the best guard in the country, bar none. She is Rutgers’ kind of guard, which is saying she is the whole package with her flair, her style, her defense, and most impressively, her scorer’s mentality. Diamond is in the very image of the numerous Rutgers guards that have brought us deep into NCAA Tournaments and have gone on to successful professional careers in the WNBA.”
6’4” power forward Sakima Walker is ranked as a 4-star recruit and 21st overall in the 2020 recruiting class according to All-Star Girls Report. She has led her high school team, Africentric Early College, to consecutive state titles and an undefeated record last season. Her team is ranked no. 4 in the country in USA Today’s preseason poll.
Stringer on Walker: “Sakima can play both inside and out. Her length and athleticism will help us inside and her ability to stretch the defense with her shooting range will give her an opportunity to be a unique player. Her passing ability is praiseworthy. Her size on the perimeter allows her to make passes that will greatly expand our offensive abilities. She will be an excellent defender and rebounder for our program.”
6’3” forward Chyna Cornwell is a 4-star recruit and ranked 48th in the 2020 class according to All-Star Girls Report. She averaged 28.3 points and 20.5 rebounds per game as a junior and has produced 1,848 points and 1,616 rebounds in her high school career so far at Newton Conover High School in North Carolina.
Stringer on Cornwell: “Chyna is a tremendous frontcourt athlete who can positively affect the game through her versatile skill set. She’s a very good finisher with the capacity to face up to the basket with her speed. Her leaping ability makes her the type of player you need to compete night in and night out in the Big Ten. In addition to being a hard-working player who runs the floor effortlessly, she has the versatility to defend multiple positions and rebound the basketball out of her area.”
6’0” guard Elizabeth Martino is a 3-star recruit who saw her junior season end early due to a knee injury. Before that happened she was the 25th ranked recruit in the 2020 class per espnW Hoopgurlz and is currently ranked 53rd in the class by Blue Star Basketball. Martino is a strong shooter and could prove to be the steal of the class for Stringer and her staff.
Stringer on Martino: “Elizabeth is a great shooter who believes every single shot is going down as she shoots it. She has to learn to expect and seek perfection, while understanding that perfection is impossible. Most people think that great shooters are born, but great shooters are made because of their work ethic and commitment. Liz has done that and is still doing it. Rutgers Nation will be excited when she takes the court next season.”
6’0” wing Erica Lafayette is a 3-star recruit that espnW Hoopgurlz has ranked as the 40th best wing in the 2020 class. She averaged almost 20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game as a junior and is a top 5 recruit in the state of Louisiana.
Stringer on Lafayette: “Erica is a highly versatile combo guard who is just as effective making plays for her teammates as creating offense for herself. She can attack the basket or shoot the three-pointer. She has good size and speed to be effective on both ends of the floor. Her ability to rebound the ball, push the ball in transition and attack the basket will be a great addition to the team.”
Not only does the Rutgers women’s basketball have high hopes for this current season, but the future under Stringer looks as bright as its ever been in her time on the banks.
NEWS | #RHoops 2020 Recruiting Class Ranked No. 8 Nationally, No. 1 in Big Ten by @espn— Rutgers W.Basketball (@RutgersWBB) November 21, 2019
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