Introducing Troy women’s basketball’s new faces

Published 1:06 pm Thursday, November 3, 2022

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In the current era of college basketball, the transfer portal gives and it takes, and this season’s Troy Trojans women’s basketball team has a slew of fresh new faces.

Troy lost six players with starting experience from last year’s Sun Belt Champion team and has looked to the transfer portal to replenish those losses going into the 2022-2023 season.

Amber Leggett (11. 8 points and 10.7 rebounds), Tina Stephens (9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds), Tiyah Johnson (8.8 points), Jasmine Robinson (7.5 points and four assists), Jhileiya Dunlap (7.1 points, 2.2 blocks and 4.8 rebounds) and Janiah Sandifer (6.4 points) are all no longer with the Trojan basketball team. That’s a total of 51 points and 22 rebounds per game worth of production gone.

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Still, Troy returns the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year in Felmas Koranga (12.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks) and Sharonica Hartsfield (4.1 points, 2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals) with much-needed started experience from last year’s team. Troy also returns other veteran players that haven’t much of a chance to play yet, as well.

“We have two players that had really significant minutes last year with Felmas and Sheronica, they both started most every game,” Troy coach Chanda Rigby said. “(Ja’Mia) Hollings also played a good bit, too, but everyone that is returning is better. Jada (Walton) was always a great player that played at Texas Tech and Texas A&M and we recruited her hard out of high school but she suffered through so many injuries and kind of got behind the 8-ball at those schools.

“This is really just her second year of being healthy. She’s lost over 20 pounds and is really in shape and hungry because she sat and watched so much when she knows she’s a great player. Players like Gabby Cartagena – who was our only freshman last year – that have been here but not played much will give us a boost because they’re improved, too, from another year of what I call ‘riding the bus.’”

Along with the returning veterans, Troy has brought in just one incoming freshmen and a number of players from the transfer portal. Troy’s lone freshman this season is Birmingham native Shania Nunn, who was a 2020 Class 5A Player of the Year finalist at Fairfield High School. The two-time all-state guard averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and two assists per game as a senior and scored more than 3,500 career points in high school.

“Shania is (a player) that has been out for several weeks that recently came back and brought a ton of energy to practices,” Rigby said. “She is the only freshman on the squad, so you would think she would kind of want to sit back and learn but she was out here smoking people off the dribble and scoring. That was very refreshing to see.”

Troy landed Alabama transfer Nia Daniel this season. (Photo courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

Junior guard Nia Daniel – a Charlotte, NC native – comes to Troy from Alabama after earning 51 points and 24 rebounds last season with the Crimson Tide.

“Nia is quite a spark for us because she can get a bucket whenever she wants to,” Rigby said. “What we’re trying to get the same page with her is it needs to be when I decide we need the score. She’s just so talented, though.”

Daniel said the family atmosphere at Troy is one of the biggest differences between her current home and Alabama.

“The biggest difference is I feel like here is more family-oriented,” she said. “I haven’t been here long but I feel like everyone is part of my family here. It just feels like home.”

Jashanti Simmons is one of four highly decorated junior college transfers that Rigby has brought onto the team. She not only is a two-time JUCO All-American, but also was named the WBCA Two-Year College Player of the Year last season as she helped guide Georgia Highlands to the NJCAA National Championship Game. She was also named GCAA Player of the Year. In high school she was also a standout, scoring 1,541 career points at Putnam High School in Georgia.

“If you’ve been voted All-American the last two years you probably have something to bring to the table,” Rigby said of Simmons. “She surprised me because she’s been so passive and I didn’t know if she would be able to fit in with Troy Basketball, because she’s so nice and so quiet and soft-spoken.
“She’s been getting it done day in and day out, though, not just scoring either. She’s been our leading guard rebounder many days.”

Simmons said that she felt like the biggest difference in JUCO basketball and Division I so far has been the discipline.

“The biggest difference from JUCO is the discipline here,” she said. “There’s so much more discipline here than we had at my JUCO.”

Troy’s other JUCO transfer is Tai’Sheka Porchia from Pensacola State, a college that Rigby is very familiar with. Rigby coached for seven years at Pensacola State before coming to Troy. The 6-foot-1-inch Porchia averaged 14.7 points and 9.6 rebounds enroute to earning JUCO All-American honors last season.

“She’s incredible and been really under the radar,” Rigby said of Porchia. “Day in and day out, she’s getting things done in the post. If I were another Sun Belt coach I would be like, ‘Where did this girl come from?’

“She’s leaping and making plays full court like I like a post player to do and she just presses the envelope. She’s constantly pressing the defense to play against her and she takes advantage of it.”

Jamila “Zama” Nansikombi-Gunter is one of many new faces on the Troy women’s basketball team this season. (Photo courtesy of Troy University Athletics)

Jamila “Zama” Nansikombi-Gunter is not only another JUCO standout that Rigby has brought onto campus but she’s also another international star – much like Koranga – that has become a Trojan. Nansikombi-Gunter is from Kamapala, Uganda originally and represented the Uganda National Team from 2017 until 2019. She led all scorers in the 2018 FIBA Africa Women’s Championship and went on to play at Moberly Community College in Missouri. There, she averaged 12.9 points per game and 7.8 rebounds along with ranking in the Top 10 in the country in field goal percentage, free throw shooting, rebounding, steals and blocks.

At her JUCO, Nansikombi-Gunter played both in the paint and outside, but at Troy is moving completely to an outside player, which will bring a learning curve.

“She is transferring not only to a completely different system from what she came from but she’s also transitioning to a different position,” Rigby said. “That’s not usually good news for a first year (player) but once she makes that transition she will be a matchup problem. If there is going to be a player that has to go through that transition I can’t think of a better one than her, because she works so hard and she’s a little older and a little more mature than the younger players that have to do that at times.”

Nansikombi-Gunter can regularly be seen working on her own outside of mandatory practices as she tries to learn the new system and position.

“She knows what she wants and knows she wants to contribute and not be sitting on the bench,” Rigby said. “She’s one of the (players) I see every single day getting in extra work voluntarily. When she makes a mistake she gets her head right back up and has a ‘next play’ mentality and I feel like she is going to make the transition pretty soon.”

Nansikombi-Gunter knows a new position is tough to adjust to but is confident in her ability to learn it, so she can get on the court early and often.

“It’s all basketball to me,” she emphasized. “Before I came here I played a guard position at my JUCO going back and forth from playing in the paint and outside. Here, I don’t play in the paint much at all, so I’m having to transition to being an outside player and finding my greatest strengths there.

“I just want to be as productive as I can be this year to help my team to get to a championship we all deserve and are all working to. I want to grow mentally and physically as a person, too.”

Troy’s other JUCO transfer is Ke’Ajia Williams from Shelton State Community College. The 6-foot-2-inch Montgomery native helped guide Shelton State to two region championship and averaged 8.2 points and six rebounds last season, while earning All-ACCC honors.

The key part of Troy’s fresh faces may be 6-foot-5-inch senior forward Janeen Camp from Coastal Carolina. Camp averaged seven points, seven rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season at Coastal. Rigby feels that Camp brings a much needed missing piece to the Trojans; size.

Coastal Carolina transfer Janeen Camp will give the Trojans a much-needed presence inside next season. (Photo courtesy of Coastal Carolina University Athletics)

“For about three or four years now I’ve been saying we need a true paint protector because we aren’t able to play as aggressive as I want to out on the perimeter,” Rigby said. “When people get by us they get an easy layup when we play aggressively like we like to.

“So, I wanted a paint protector and when (Camp) came into the transfer portal we were already familiar with her because we played against her many times. She’s not the epitome of a stereotypical Troy player. She can run but she’s not the lean, running undersized post player we’ve been used to but she has brought us full circle to what we need here. Nobody is coming in that paint soft and getting a bucket against us. It allows us to play more aggressive and stop telling our guards to back up and don’t get beat, because when she’s in there, she’s got it. If you want to drive inside go ahead, Janeen has it. She won’t give up easy buckets.”

While Troy wanted Camp mostly for her defense, Troy was so attractive to Camp because of the offensive style that Rigby’s teams play with.

“I love it,” Camp said of Troy’s offensive system. “I’ve gotten better with my shooting and my confidence and I just love being around everyone here. At my old school I could never shoot and now she’s saying I can bring the ball down and I can shoot, too.”

Point guard Makayia Hallmon was one of the last additions to the Troy roster and the most successful, as well. Hallmon comes to Troy after three seasons at Louisiana, earning third-team All-Sun Belt honors last season. She averaged 11.8 points per game in 2021-2022 and 7.2 points per game in her career as a Ragin’ Cajun.

“If you asked the whole team who they are most excited about playing with, many would say her,” Rigby said of Hallmon. “I’m extremely excited, she brings that way I want to be able to play to the table. She can push the ball and has that fire in her belly of never giving in or giving up and pressing you for 94-feet if that’s what it takes.

“She’s smart enough to absorb a game plan and follow it and is very eager and very coachable, which is something that people that play at that 90 MPH pace can’t always do. A lot of times those types of players do what it’s in their mind to do because they’re going at such a pace, but she is very cognizant of the whole picture.”

Players aren’t the only new faces in the Troy program as Troy added an impressive addition to the coaching staff this offseason, as well. Former Arkansas and WNBA star Chelsea Dungee joins Rigby’s staff that already included stellar assistants like Courtney Simmons and Jennifer Graf.

New assistant coach Chelsea Dungee was an All-American at Arkansas. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

While this is Dungee’s first coaching position, she’s one of the most decorated college basketball players of the past decade. Dungee’s list of collegiate accolades are immense, including numerous All-American honors, Wooden Award finalist, All-SEC and All-Big XII. She holds Arkansas’ single-season scoring record and career record for scoring and free throws. After her stellar college career, she was selected fifth overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft by the Dallas Wings.

“Chelsea is incredible. She just got finished playing at a very high level,” Rigby said. “She knows a lot of skill things to tell our players and they hang on everything she says, because she’s not just saying it, she’s done it. I see a lot of players after practice setting up individual workouts, volunteering with her, so that is so valuable.

“They’re continuing to work outside of required practices and they want to do it because they know the knowledge she has to pass to them. Her presence here is spurring that on. They want to know what she knows and wants to learn what she knows. She is invaluable to our program.”

With a brutal 2022-2023 schedule, that begins next week, Troy’s new faces have a short time to gel together, which is paramount to the Trojans getting to where they want to this season.

“I tell everybody I think if we can stay healthy I think we’ll be really good eventually, but the question how long,” Rigby continued. “We have a really short time to get there because of the way we laid out the schedule.

“Going 14 days on the road playing all Top 50 teams can get really ugly with anyone, much less a group of girls that are just coming together, if you don’t get some wins. I know my job and I know that it’s to stay the course, whether we win all of those games on the road or not.”

A group of new players and coaches that already feel like family may be just the recipe Troy needs to come together early in the season. When asked, every one of Troy’s transfers pointed to that familial atmosphere as being a reason for coming to Troy.

“Once I got off the airplane, me and the coaches connected,” Camp emphasized. “After that we were on the phone every single day and just made me feel like I was at home. I was looking for a family environment and a mother environment, too. (Rigby) had a big impact on me coming here.”

Nansikombi-Gunter said that Rigby spent as much time talking about things off the court as on, which made her feel like she would be safe and at home in Troy.

“Troy felt like family right from the start,” she said. “(Felmas and I) talked and she said how she was treated well and everything was nice here and it all felt like home. That was very important to me being a million miles away from home.

“Finding family here and feeling at home is very important mentally. When I spoke to the coaches, the very first thing Coach Rigby talked to me about wasn’t even about basketball. It was about how I would feel about coming here and my comfort and safety and how I would feel being here. That was really important to me.”

Troy opens the 2022 season next Monday, Nov. 7, at Samford at 4:30 p.m. in a game that will stream on ESPN+. Troy wraps up the opening week of the season at UT-Martin on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m., also on ESPN+.