Who's next? Evaluating Georgia's recruiting and options for 2022 class
Georgia has pursued prospects for the 2022 class. Who might be the next wave of players to end up in a Lady Bulldog uniform?
“On the midnight train to Georgia.”
The six-word phrase is the catchy line in the 1970s song “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips. The Peach State-based R&B band’s top hit makes its way into the Stegeman Coliseum basketball offices on occasion. Each time it does, the jingle means a recruiting win and a new Georgia Lady Bulldog in the fold.
Over recent months, Georgia head coach Joni Taylor has announced a commitment by tweeting the tune. It serves as an alert. The sweetest of warnings, at that, for a coaching staff that embarks on the year-round grind of recruiting — the lifeblood of any college program.
The practice of recruiting is a never-ending one for college coaches. Prospects are something that fan bases have keen interest in — regardless of sport — because there’s anticipation for who might be next to put on the uniform.
The (scheduled, because not much in 2020 goes to plan) signing period for the 2021 signing class comes up in about four months. Once those days pass, it’ll be time for the following group to step into the spotlight.
So, why not tackle it all? Let’s peel back a few layers of Lady Bulldog recruiting. Allow the Lady Bulldogs Report to review the previous class, look into the current one and see what might be possible for 2022.
Georgia has two scholarships remaining for the 2021 class. Four seniors graduate with two commitments in the fold.
Taylor won’t always fill the roster, however, if the available players aren’t a match to fit what the Lady Bulldogs want from their prospects.
A number of 2021 recruits have already committed to programs, but a couple remain in Georgia’s reach. The acquisition of a transfer could be in the cards, too, as there are three on the current roster. Georgia does not recruit out of the transfer portal, but accepts calls from those seeking a new destination.
From the high school ranks, here are some options for the remaining spots.
Jillian Hollingshead: Hollingshead is one of the top names remaining on the proverbial recruiting market. The five-star prospect plays at Holy Innocents’ and for the Team Hubbard AAU program. Georgia junior Kaila Hubbard played at each program as a prospect.
Makayla Timpson: Georgia has been in pursuit of the 6-foot-2 forward out of Blakely, Georgia for quite some time. It offered Timpson in August 2018. According to her ESPN profile, Timpson is described as “an athletic forward” with “guard-like speed.”
The recruitment of the 2022 class becomes a bit more difficult without in-person meetings. A virtual style of recruiting isn’t the easiest, especially for a program that bases its philosophy upon personal relationships like Georgia.
The Lady Bulldogs have work to do with a lofty number of scholarships available. If two more prospects are added to 2021, then three will be available in 2022. If none are added through the upcoming signing period, Georgia will have five to work with.
There will be more content with these prospects through the recruiting cycle, but allow this to serve as the introduction. This can be bookmarked for reference to see what the options are for Georgia. Each of these prospects have received a scholarship offer.
Janiah Barker: Barker holds the No. 4 spot in the ESPN HoopGurlz’ rankings for the class of 2022. The Tampa-area product is a 6-foot-3 forward with USA Basketball team experience. Barker is originally from Marietta, so proximity to her hometown could play in Georgia’s favor. Her brother, Jabari Hunt-Days, graduated from Hillgrove in Powder Springs and played linebacker at Georgia Tech.
Barker was a gold-medal recipient at the 2019 FIBA Americas 16U Championship.
Kara Dunn: Daughter of former Lady Bulldog Stephanie Dunn. Georgia extended an offer on Feb. 17, 2019. Dunn plays at Mt. Paran Christian School and for the Alabama Southern Starz AAU team.
Maya Nnaji: One of Georgia’s latest scholarship players went to Nnaji, a top-10 prospect out of Minnesota. She stands at 6-foot-4 and is ranked as the third-best forward prospect in the 2022 class. Georgia offered on June 29.
Aaliyah Gayles: A 5-foot-9 guard out of Las Vegas, Nevada, who has held an offer from Georgia since 2018. The five-star prospect ranks 11th nationally and “oozes potential,” according to an ESPN HoopGurlz report.
Darianna Littlepage-Buggs: Georgia offered the four-star out of Oklahoma on May 1. The 6-foot-1 wing ranks as the 35th-overall prospect nationally.
Kailyn Gilbert: The Tampa native stands at 5-foot-7, but was awarded Player of the Year honors by the Tampa Bay Times. Gilbert averaged 32.1 points and 11.2 rebounds as a sophomore.
Gilbert told the Lady Bulldogs Report that Georgia offered on April 10. She has weekly phone calls with assistant coach Chelsea Newton, has had several meetings with Taylor and a family-wide Zoom session with Georgia coaches.
Kaleigh Addie: As a three-star guard prospect, Addie is an option for Georgia at 5-foot-7. Addie earned AAA Player of the Year honors by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Sydney Bowles: The five-star out of Woodward Academy ranks as the second-best wing prospect nationally for 2022. She averaged 25.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Talaysia Cooper: At 6-foot, Cooper is described as an “ultra-athletic guard with a scoring punch,” according to ESPN HoopGurlz. She is AAU teammates with Reigan Richardson, a Georgia pledge, on Team Curry.
The 2020 class has made its way to campus along with the returners. Although a bit later than usual, the newcomers are becoming accustomed to Georgia’s philosophies and how the SEC differs from high school experiences.
Georgia signed two recruits, four-star guard Sarah Ashlee Barker and three-star forward Zoesha Smith. For the sake of shaping the season’s roster, let’s throw two transfers into the mix too — Rutgers transfer Maori Davenport and UConn transfer Mikayla Coombs.
Barker: The Alabama prep star and daughter of former Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker wanted to blaze her own path. She narrowed it down to the two in-state rivals — Auburn and Alabama — along with Georgia. The Lady Bulldogs won out due to the coaching staff’s relationship-first approach. She also favored the opportunity to be a factor in Georgia’s system.
Barker won Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama, along with numerous other honors. She seemingly scored 30 points a night for Spain Park High School, and also played AAU for the Alabama Southern Starz.
“She is a very impressive young lady who fits the mold of what it means to be a Georgia Lady Bulldog,” Taylor said in November when Georgia announced Barker’s national letter-of-intent. “Sarah Ashlee makes everyone around her better both on and off the floor, and she is a tremendous competitor who will outwork anyone.”
Smith: At 5-foot-11, Brunswick native Zoesha Smith has a similar build to senior build to Maya Caldwell. Smith could be a newcomer who plays a handful of positions at Georgia. Smith’s ESPN HoopGurlz’ profile states her ability to “defend any position on the floor.”
“The first thing that stands out is her athleticism,” Taylor said. “She is an explosive and versatile player who can really do it all. She’s a scorer, she’s a rebounder, she makes plays and she defends really well.”
Davenport: Georgia originally missed out on the five-star forward from Alabama, but Davenport wanted to “come home” and join the Lady Bulldogs. Taylor welcomed the newest addition after a few phone calls.
Davenport, as an undergraduate transfer, is not eligible during the 2020-21 season. Georgia will not apply for an immediate eligibility waiver, unless the NCAA plans to pass a one-time transfer waiver for all athletes. Davenport and the Lady Bulldogs anticipate a year of development for the 6-foot-4 post player.
Davenport played sparingly at Rutgers, and made the move with no ill will toward her former program. She recorded a career-high 13 points against Marshall.
“Maori is somebody who wants to be really good and coached hard,” Taylor said. “Her potential hasn’t even scratched the surface of what she’s capable of.”
Coombs: Georgia will add Coombs, a Buford native and former UConn guard, into the fold. She missed the 2019-20 season after the NCAA denied an eligibility waiver. Coombs had Geno Auriemma vouch for her to play immediately at Georgia, but an appeal didn’t bounce in the Lady Bulldogs’ favor.
Taylor was frustrated. Coombs had the difficult challenge of spending a year on scout team and not traveling to games. Now, Coombs is essentially an incoming recruit and someone who can give Georgia leadership and a solid asset at guard.
“I can’t wait to have her playing with us, rather than against (in practice),” now-senior guard Que Morrison said. “I want her on my team.”
There are two Georgia pledges for the 2021 class. They’ve each been profiled at the Lady Bulldogs Report. The additions of Kimora Jenkins and five-star guard Reigan Richardson came over the summer, despite Georgia missing out on a few top talents within the state.
Five-stars Raven Johnson and Sania Feagin have pledged to Dawn Staley and South Carolina. Kayla McPherson, from nearby Madison County, left Georgia out of her top five.
Richardson: Georgia had the North Carolina native on its radar from the moment Richardson first met Taylor, in eighth grade. Richardson suffered a couple of injuries, and a few powerhouse programs faded for the top-50 prospect. Georgia held true to its relationships, latched onto Richardson and won the recruiting battle as a result.
Jenkins: Entering the spring, the Long Island, New York guard had no Power 5 offers. Jenkins posted a highlight reel to Twitter, and Newton became intrigued. Jenkins committed to the program a couple of months later, but has yet to visit campus because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Contact: Brandon Sudge can be found on Twitter (@brandonsudge and @ladydogsreport). You can reach Brandon via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Joni Taylor looks on during a game against North Carolina A&T at Stegeman Coliseum. (Courtesy of Chamberlain Smith — Georgia Sports Communications)