STARKVILLE — Nikki McCray-Penson is looking for fit.
Heading into her first offseason as the head coach at Mississippi State — albeit a rather unique one given the outbreak of COVID-19 — McCray-Penson inherits a team that was ranked No. 3 nationally in ESPN’s Way-too-Early Top 25 prior to Vic Schaefer’s departure to Texas.
And while growing pains are a given when coaching transitions occur, the former Old Dominion coach has four scholarships to play with heading into next season. With needs at guard and in the low-post, expect MSU to make a play for some of the bigger names on the grad transfer market.
With that said, here are a few names to watch:
G Niya Beverley — Wisconsin (Junior)
Before Vic Schaefer left for Texas, the Bulldogs kicked the tires with Duke graduate transfer Kyra Lambert. Now Lambert is joining Schaefer in Austin and MSU could still stand to add a guard with some leadership and experience to its roster.
Beverley’s numbers are almost identical to Lambert’s, if not slightly better, over her three years in Madison and her 90 career games played are more than any guard on MSU’s current roster. It’s also worth noting the Laurel, Maryland native played her high school basketball in the same conference as rising sophomore guard Aliyah Matharu.
McCray-Penson also has ties to the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area given her time at Old Dominion and that could factor in here should Beverley be interested.
G Destiny Slocum — Oregon State (Grad transfer)
Of all the players on this list, Slocum is probably the least likely to end up at MSU. By all accounts, there’s been little if any indication the former Oregon State product has had any contact with the new staff in Starkville, but should MSU need an instant-difference maker she fits the bill.
After spending her freshman season at Maryland, Slocum averaged 15.2 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game for the Beavers. The former McDonald’s All-American also boasted a 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Originally from Meridian, Idaho, it’s fair to assume she sticks out West in another Pac-12 or Big 12 program, but should MSU be able to join the mix for her services, she’s a surefire All-American candidate next season.
G DiJonai Carrington — Stanford (Grad transfer)
Like Slocum, Carrington could end up staying on the West Coast with another high-major program, but MSU could stand to benefit from the fifth-year senior.
An All-Pac-12 honoree in 2019, the San Diego product missed all but five games in 2020 due to injury. That said, Carrington averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a junior — her first season as a full-time starter.
Rising junior Myah Taylor and rising sophomore JaMya Mingo-Young are both talented enough to run the point for McCray-Penson and Matharu’s scoring upside at shooting guard is seemingly limitless, but the former Cardinal would give MSU an experienced piece who has competed in one of the top conferences in the country.
G Zaay Green — Tennessee (Sophomore)
MSU has plucked transfers from fellow Southeastern Conference squads as recently as 2019 when the Bulldogs landed Anriel Howard from Texas A&M, while now-departed guard Jordan Danberry was also a one-time Arkansas player.
If McCray-Penson continues that trend, she could reach into her roots in Knoxville and take a long look at Green. Despite being a consensus five-star product as a high schooler, MSU wasn’t heavily involved in her recruitment.
That said, Green earned SEC All-Freshman honors during the 2019 season as she averaged 9.6 points and four rebounds per game before a torn ACL derailed her sophomore campaign.
Her measurables are comparable with rising sophomore Rickea Jackson and incoming five-star freshman Madison Hayes, but her past success in the SEC coupled with McCray-Penson’s ties to Tennessee as a player could put MSU in play for the former McDonald’s All-American.
F Birna Benonysdottir — Arizona (Freshman)
Starkville isn’t exactly a Nordic hotspot, but the Bulldogs could stand to add Benonsysdottir to a front court that will be thin heading into next season.
MSU does return second team All-SEC performer Jessika Carter, junior college product Yemiyah Morris — who came on strong in the tail end of last year — and former five-star recruit and Michigan State transfer Sidney Cooks, but another big body could do wonders.
Stuck in a logjam in Tucson, Benonysdottir saw time in just 10 games this season, hitting 3-of-7 shots while adding six rebounds and four assists. Playing time aside, the Keflavik, Iceland native has proven her worth at the international level where she averaged 12.4 points and four rebounds at the under-20 European Championships in 2019.
Throughout last season, Schaefer raved about Cooks’ ability to step out and hit 3-pointers and Benonysdottir offers some ability there, but the former Wildcat is a dynamic talent who would give MSU some added length on the interior.
Other names to watch:
G Rokia Doumbia — Arkansas
F Natalie Kelly — Auburn
G Jaden Owens — UCLA
F Iho Lopez — Florida State
G Dara Mabrey — Virginia Tech