The women’s basketball team has will have four of their eight transfer students eligible to play this season

A transfer student from Italy, forward Francesca Minali, gives a high-five to a teammate at the women’s basketball practice Nov. 1. Photo by Karen O’Donnell | The Signal

Change is a part of life, whether we want to accept it or not. Good or bad, sometimes change is needed for the better. The same goes to sports. Sometimes a coaching or personnel change is needed for a team, and that exact thing happened to the Georgia State women’s basketball team. This year’s team will look completely different from last year’s, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. For the Panthers, it’s a complete 180 degrees, fresh turn for this season.

The Panthers will have 10 new players on their roster to start this season, eight of those players come via transfer. The Panthers also have two new assistant coaches this year as well, in Tron Griffin and Jasmine Young.

Georgia State had huge shoes to fill with the mass exodus which took place during the offseason. They lost nine players from last years team. Five of those nine players were seniors, and the other four left for other reasons. But no matter how you slice it, the Panthers had to make some changes, and they did by adding 10 new players.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, only five of those players who transferred in will be available this season. Janessa Murphy, Victoria Middlebrooks, Juliet James and Shaliaya Fluker will have different roles to play this season, but they are all key to the team’s success going forward.

Murphy is a transfer student from Tallahassee Community College, but she is a native of McDonough, Georgia where she was named Henry County’s Player of the Year in 2015 at Dutchtown High School. Murphy decided to go to a Junior College (JUCO), where she had success, totaling over 500 career points.

For Murphy, making the decision to come back home and play was an easy one — not only is she surrounded by her family and friends, but Georgia State really made her feel at home. Georgia State is a school where Murphy envisioned herself playing because she took visits to the school before.

Now that she’s at Georgia State, Murphy says the biggest adjustment that she’ s had to make since coming here is a position switch.

“Coach B [Baldwin] made me feel really comfortable, and I had to switch my position from playing the two-guard to the point guard, but she’s made me feel comfortable, and she’s working with me,” Murphy said. “So the comfortability that the coaches were giving me really helped me make the decision to come here.”

The players who have had to make the biggest adjustments though are James and Francesca Milan, who is now playing after taking a redshirt last season. Both of them come from a foreign country. They have been in America for some time, but leaving your homeland is a big difference.

Milani is originally from Stezzano, Italy. While in Italy, she played for several different organizations before moving to America to live out her dream of playing college basketball. Milani played one year at Northeast Community College in Nebraska. After sitting out for over a year, she is ready to make an impact.

“I was a redshirt last year so I had time to work on my defense,” Milani said. “So last year being able to see the players play my role, it really helped me out.”

Being so far away from home can be tough because you are alone in a sense, but luckily for Milani, she has friends from Italy who live in Atlanta to help her feel at home.

James is a native of Kaduna, Nigeria and she moved to America when she was 17 years old.

“It was hard because I came when I was 17, so leaving my family, friends and food was really, really hard. But, I was able to adjust because the family I was with helped me throughout the situation because they know how hard it is leaving your country and your family at 17,” James said.

James started playing basketball in the seventh grade at a church convention just to have fun, and her love for the game took off from there. James moved from Nigeria to New Jersey, where she would go on to attend Paterson Eastside High School. From there on, she went to play at Northwest Tech Community College.

The transition for James to Georgia State was a bit overwhelming for her at the start, but she is starting to make the adjustments with the help of her coaches and teammates. She also notices some differences between JUCO and Division I.

“Here, they are not trying to change from how you are used to playing, they just try and help you get better,” James said. “What I’m used to doing at my JUCO is more intense. It’s faster and you have to be willing to think fast and be quick.”

Middlebrooks and Fluker both come from JUCO programs and will be ready to play right away.

Fluker was ranked as one of the top JUCO recruits last season and deservedly so because she lit up the scoreboards. While in high school, she scored over 1,600 points, which set a new school record. At Walters State Community College, Fluker broke a 31-year scoring record with 614 points in a single season. She was named to the NJCAA All-American, and named the TCCAA player of the year.

Middlebrooks previously played at Southwest Tennessee Community College, where she was named to the All-TCCAA team after averaging 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season. While there were some surprises, and a much faster pace here at Georgia State, overall Middlebrooks loves the school.

Despite the many changes in the offseason the Panthers still remain upbeat, and continue to work hard everyday in practice. Tonight, they square off against the national championship runner-ups, Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Things to know about transfers

  • Fluker broke a 31-year Walters State record with 614 points
  • All five transfers come from a JUCO
  • Murphy shot 80 percent from the free throw line at Tallahassee Community College
  • James started playing basketball in the 7th grade