Georgetown’s 2023-24 women’s basketball season will transcend sports entirely.
Following a two-year battle with breast cancer, Head Coach Tasha Butts died Oct. 23, leaving a program, campus and greater basketball community heartbroken. Any attempt to preview the Hoyas’ upcoming season on the court will not be able to accurately capture the pain and hardship from within a grieving locker room and a campus mourning the loss of an incredible person and coach.
The Butts-inspired “Tasha Tough” campaign, originally set up to raise funds for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, will live on stronger than ever, providing solace and motivation to a community in mourning and empowering issues larger than basketball itself.
Darnell Haney, who will remain interim head coach for the entirety of the 2023-24 season, said the team is eager to prove its strength amid a formidable conference.
“I told the girls when they put it out, they don’t respect you,” Haney told The Hoya. “Respect is earned. Respect is the ultimate currency, we have to earn that. You can say whatever you want about us being tenth. That’s not where we rank ourselves when we come here and we go to battle every day.”
Georgetown comes into this year ranked No. 10 out of 11 in the Big East, ahead of only the Xavier Musketeers. The team made few new additions to the roster and lost former Big East Freshman of the Year guard Kennedy Fauntleroy to the transfer portal after a 6-14 finish in Big East play last season. This season, the Hoyas will look to take their underdog status as motivation to outperform expectations.
The head coach of Jacksonville University for five seasons, Haney brings a wealth of experience to the Hilltop, including a 2016 NCAA Tournament berth as an assistant with the Dolphins.
Newcomers Kelly Mazzante and Mariya Moore will join Haney on the bench as assistant coaches for the 2023-24 season. Both have enjoyed successful playing careers — Mazzante was a seven-year WNBA veteran and the former Big Ten career scoring record holder, while Moore logged over 1,700 points and three all-ACC selections at the Power Five level.
But while the coaching staff brings new names to Georgetown, many familiar faces return to the player roster. Ten of the 14 players who represented the Hoyas last season remain with the team, accounting for 68% of team scoring and 67% of minutes from last year’s roster. The team’s experienced core will help soften the blow of losing Fauntleroy and graduate guard Kristina Moore.
Key among the returners is senior guard Kelsey Ransom, a preseason all-Big East selection who led Georgetown in points, rebounds, assists and steals last season. Joining her are the starting forward duo of graduate Graceann Bennett and senior Jada Claude, who will anchor the Hoya frontcourt, as well as vital rotational pieces in junior forwards Brianna Scott and Kaliyah Myricks, junior center Ariel Jenkins and sophomore guard Modesti McConnell, all of whom played in at least 28 of the team’s 31 contests in 2022.
Ransom said she aims to elevate her game to another level by scrutinizing her weaknesses.
“You have to look at the film of how other players choose to stop you, and get uncomfortable with the things I do that don’t look pretty — working on my shots, making reads, slowing the game down are what I’m continuing to work on,” Ransom told The Hoya.
Three new players also join the Hoyas this season in hopes of filling the void left by Fauntleroy and Moore. Guard Alex Cowan comes to Georgetown as a graduate transfer from Wagner College, where she earned All-NEC honors twice and finished fifth in the conference in scoring last season.
Graduate forward Mya Bembry transfers within the Big East to join Georgetown from Seton Hall, where she accumulated 68 career starts as a Pirate — six of which came against the Hoyas — and consistently placed among the team’s top rebounders.
Haney said Bembry’s tenacity to hustle and dive for loose balls helps keep the team grounded.
“Mya is Miss Cool,” Haney told The Hoya, “She’s the calming factor for us. She does all the intangibles that may not show up on the stat sheet, but she’s very important to what we do.”
Ransom said Bembry and Cowan’s maturity on the court will prove to be valuable for the squad.
“It’s fantastic. Mya and Alex have been fantastic additions in adding a sense of peace and calmness,” Ransom said. “They’ve been there before, they know what it feels like when the shot clock’s running down.”
The final addition comes in the form of Georgetown’s lone high-school recruit, Detroit native Mayla Ham. A 5 foot 11 inch forward, Ham became one of the most decorated players in the state of Michigan at Wayne Memorial High School, earning a Miss Basketball nomination, an all-state nod and three all-conference honors to go along with multiple state Final Four appearances. Ham will bring defensive grit and scoring potential to the Hilltop.
Although Ham boasts an extremely impressive high school resume, the lack of young talent on the team could prove to be an issue in upcoming seasons if recruiting does not pick up in the next few years. The current uncertainty regarding the future of the head coaching position has complicated the recruiting situation, but any attempt the program makes to amp up recruiting efforts for the foreseeable future will contribute to rejuvenating the team for the years to come.
The season will tip off with the Hoyas hosting Maryland Eastern Shore at McDonough Arena Nov. 6, while conference play begins at home as Georgetown welcomes Seton Hall Dec. 20. The beginning of the Big East play provides a mental and physical challenge for the Hoyas as they reckon with tough opponents and successive away games, but also provides an opportunity for the team to showcase their mettle.
The Hoyas last achieved a winning season in 2018-19 and a positive Big East record in 2011-12. Yet, last year’s impressive first-round tournament win against Butler demonstrates the mentality and determination that much of the returning roster will be hoping to showcase again throughout this coming season.
With the tragic loss of Butts still at the front of everyone’s minds, it is difficult to predict the approach that Haney might take to get the most out of the team while still prioritizing the well-being of the players and allowing everyone surrounding the program space to grieve.
This season for the Georgetown women is bigger than basketball. Without a doubt, Butts’ memory will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds throughout this winter, and the team will hope to honor her in every game they play.