ACC notebook: Miami hires Shenise Johnson; Duke lands Lexi Gordon

And Kayla Jones and Kai Crutchfield are coming back to N.C. State

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Shenise Johnson remains one of the most prolific players to come through the University of Miami’s women’s basketball program. Since graduating in 2012, she still ranks first all-time in steals (401), second in rebounding (1,020), third in scoring (2,262) and fourth in assists (556).

And now she coming back to Coral Gables.

Miami announced Tuesday morning that Katie Meier had hired Johnson as an assistant coach to her staff.

“Our journey together has been so powerful and impactful, and it just feels right to give her this platform to impact others,” Meier said in a statement. “She’s a phenomenal teacher and competitor, as well a big-time motivator… Her success on the court, as amazing as it has been, will be surpassed by her impact as a coach,”

While she was a player at Miami, the Henrietta, N.Y. native was twice named as an All-American and was also the ACC Player of the Year in 2011, the same season she helped the Canes earn a share of the regular season ACC title.

“It means a great deal to be part of a Katie Meier program once in a lifetime, but twice is truly a blessing,” Johnson said.

Since leaving Miami, Johnson has been playing professionally in the WNBA and overseas in Slovakia, Turkey and Israel. She was taken fifth overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft by the now-defunct San Antonio Silver Stars. Johnson played in 205 WNBA games across a nine-year pro career, averaging 8.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per-game while shooting 40.3% from the floor and 34.8% from behind the arc. She also retires with the 18th best career free throw percentage in WNBA history, an 86.1% mark.

“Having played in the WNBA and internationally for almost a decade will make adapting to this environment easier,” Johnson said. “I’m used to building relationships with new teammates, coaching staffs and GMs almost annually. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, I can see the game through the players eyes. The evolution of the women’s game changed about every three years in the league and usually the college women’s basketball was right behind us. I’m equipped to give these young ladies the keys they need to not only get to the next level, but also to sustain a long career.”

Johnson spent the 2020-21 season working as the coordinator of player development for the Canes. Her new gig is a promotion, to be sure, and could put her on a path to a long career as a coach.

Lexi Gordon’s third stop is at Duke

With five Duke players entering the transfer portal since the Blue Devils canceled the remainder of their season back in December, it was expected that Kara Lawson would turn to the transfer portal to fill out her roster this offseason.

She made an addition on Tuesday, landing a commitment from Texas Tech transfer Lexi Gordon. The native of Fort Worth, Texas should provide the Blue Devils with a scoring punch right away.

Gordon was a five-star recruit in 2017, ranked as the 27th best player in her class by ESPN and played in that year’s Jordan Brand Classic. She signed with UConn as an incoming freshman, but struggled to find meaningful playing time on the Huskies’ crowded roster, playing just 3.9 minutes per-game as a rookie, and 2.4 minutes per-game as a sophomore.

She transferred closer to home and landed with the Red Raiders for her junior season, and began showing off her scoring abilities right away, averaging 13.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per-game while shooting 42.4% from the floor and 36.5% from three-point range. Her scoring average increased to 15.8 points per-game this past season. She finished 12th in the Big 12 in minutes played this season and was 16th in usage percentage.

A 6-foot wing, Gordon should fit in nicely in the backcourt Lawson is building. Earlier this year, Duke added former 2019 five-star guard Nyah Green via transfer from Louisville. Additionally, guards Vanessa de Jesus and Miela Goodchild will also return.

Former Duke guards Mikayla Boykin and Sara Anastasieska have transferred to UNC-Charlotte and Illinois, respectively. Additionally, Jayda Adams, Jada Claude and Jaida Patrick are also in the transfer portal.

Duke was 3-1 in Lawson’s rookie year as head coach before it opted to cancel the remainder of its season on Christmas Day.

Syracuse adds MEAC Player of the Year

Like Duke, Syracuse is beginning to replenish the voids left on its roster by transfers.

On Tuesday, the Orange announced that the 2021 MEAC Player of the Year, Howard’s Jayla Thornton, is joining the team.

Thornton averaged 13.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per-game this past season for the Bison, helping them win the MEAC’s regular season title. Over her four years at the prestigious Howard, Thornton appeared in 106 games, starting in 78 of them.

A 5’10 guard from Newark, N.J., Thornton leaves Howard as the MEAC’s record holder for most three-pointers made in a career with 275. She was a three-time All-MEAC selection.

Kai and Kayla return for N.C. State

Kai Crutchfield talks to broadcasters after N.C. State’s ACC tournament semifinal win on March 6, 2021 in Greensboro, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

It was easy to assume that seniors Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones might return to N.C. State for an extra season when neither declared for the WNBA Draft or entered the transfer portal following their Sweet 16 defeat.

The Wolfpack made it official on Tuesday: Jones and Crutchfield are back, which means that N.C. State will return all five starters from its ACC Championship-winning squad.

Jones, a 6’1 native of Jamesville, North Carolina, was an All-ACC Second Team selection this past season and had a knack for stepping up for team in big moments, hitting what proved to be the win-sealing shot at No. 1 South Carolina, and coming up with a season-high 13 rebounds at No. 1 Louisville. In all, the versatile forward averaged 11.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per-game while shooting 48.8% from the floor and 42.3% from three-point range – all of those marks were career-bests for her. Jones missed N.C. State’s final two NCAA tournament games with a knee injury.

Crutchfield, a 5’9 guard from Raleigh, was named to the All-ACC tournament team for her clutch play on both ends of the floor. Widely regarded as one of the conference’s best perimeter defenders, Crutchfield also averaged 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per-game this past season. She also shot 47.3% from three-point range, which is a program-best mark for the Wolfpack by a player in a single season.

With Crutchfield, Jones, Elissa Cunane, Jakia Brown-Turner, Raina Perez and Jada Boyd all returning, N.C. State should be the favorites in the ACC again.

ACC extras

  • A source close to the situation confirmed to The Next on Monday that Louisville’s Elizabeth Balogun had entered the transfer portal. This comes after the Cardinals added Syracuse’s Emily Engstler and Vanderbilt’s Chelsie Hall. Balogun was the 2018-19 ACC Freshman of the Year at Georgia Tech and became a starter right away at Louisville, proving to be an important contributor as a sophomore and a junior. However, near the end of this past season, her role began to diminish as she started just once in Louisville’s last 13 games, and played less than eight minutes in three of their last six games. Still, the 6’1 native of Chattanooga averaged 6.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 41.4% from the floor across 57 games for the Cards. She will have at least two years of eligibility left.

  • Miami announced the addition of transfer Lola Pendande on Monday. The native of Almeria, Spain joins the Canes after spending two seasons at Utah. She was a Pac-12 All-Freshman team honorable mention in 2019-20, and this past season was eighth in the conference in offensive rebound rate with an 11.4% mark. Across 52 games with the Utes, she averaged 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per-game. She has also featured for the Spanish National Team’s U17 and U18 sides.

  • UNC’s Petra Holešínská was one of six late entrants into the WNBA Draft that the league announced on Wednesday. Holešínská initially had her formal paperwork delayed. A 5’10 guard from the Czech Republic, she averaged 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per-game for the Tar Heels as a grad transfer while shooting 35.4% from three-point range.