One player cannot fill the void of losing an all-time talent like Sabrina Ionescu.
But Taylor Mikesell embraces the challenge of helping Oregon’s reloaded roster finish the on-court business Ionescu and her teammates didn’t get to due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
The Maryland transfer recently signed with the Ducks after averaging 12.3 points and making 66 consecutive starts while winning back-to-back Big Ten championships with the Terrapins.
“When I was in high school, obviously I had seen and heard of Sabrina,” Mikesell said during a phone interview with The Register-Guard. “I watched her game a lot when I was coming out of high school. Just over the past few years, with how successful they’ve been and kind of exploded on the national scale, they have a really great chance of winning a national championship.
“That’s something I’m really chasing right now.”
Mikesell already has a strong rapport with redshirt sophomore Sedona Prince — the 6-foot-7 forward who sat out last season after transferring to Oregon from Texas — from their time together on the USA U17 team.
Coach Kelly Graves is daydreaming about his new pick-and-roll combination after four years of watching Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard run the play to perfection.
“So she’s a perfect fit,” Graves said of Mikesell, who played point guard at Maryland but will play multiple guard positions with the Ducks. “Those two are a good fit for each other. And to have them play the pick-and-roll game together … it will be a lot of fun.”
Mikesell was the freshman of the year in the Big Ten during the 2018-19 season and set a Maryland record for made 3-pointers by a freshman (95). She averaged 11.2 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 42.5% from behind the arc as a sophomore last season.
Our newest Duck can fill it up 👀
The 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, @TMikesell23 is a career 41.8 percent shooter from 3-point range and has ranked in the top 25 in the nation each of the last two seasons 🔥#GoDucks | https://t.co/Vn3tHgJXVq pic.twitter.com/TEOSnj1a3Y
The 5-foot-11 junior-to-be from Massillon, Ohio, has submitted a petition to the NCAA for immediate eligibility. Prince’s petition was denied last year.
“I think the NCAA is kind of hit or miss with these situations,” Mikesell said. “So I’m hoping it gets passed. If not, I kind of knew going into it that I might not get to play this season.”
Whether Mikesell is eligible to play in 2020-21 or limited to practices, the two-time all-Big Ten selection will provide the team with some much-needed experience.
Oregon loses top WNBA picks Ionescu, Hebard and Satou Sabally, as well as defensive stalwart Minyon Moore, from last year’s Pac-12 championship team. The Ducks finished 31-2 and No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.
Graves and his staff will welcome five freshmen who are all five-star prospects and make up the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.
Senior forward Erin Boley is the only returning starter. Sophomore guard Jaz Shelley and senior forward Lydia Giomi were also part of last season’s regular rotation.
Taylor Chavez, an elite 2018 recruit along with Prince and Mikesell, is also expected to take on a more prominent leadership role.
“We're hoping that (Mikesell) becomes eligible because it just gives us an experienced player,” Graves said. “With all these young kids and the schedule we’ve got preseason, it would be nice to have some experience.”
Mikesell did not have a chance to visit Eugene after entering the transfer portal. Campus recruiting visits are prohibited due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Graves gave her a FaceTime tour of the facilities and did his best to establish a relationship via phone calls and texts.
“The biggest thing I like is the winning and family atmosphere that coach Graves has and how free he lets his players play,” said Mikesell, who chose Oregon for her final two seasons of eligibility over opportunities at North Carolina State and UCLA. “That was a big thing for me, I really gravitated towards that. I think it was a perfect fit for both of us. …
“Just being able to just having the freedom to make plays, having the freedom to play more than one position is exciting.”
Mikesell plans to arrive at Oregon in July to begin working out with her new teammates. She looks forward to finally interacting with Graves in person as they restart the Ducks’ national championship pursuit together.
“I think it's just a confidence that we both had in each other to see this as a really good fit,” Graves said. “So we both took a leap of faith.”
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.