Some called them the Fab Five. Others named them the top recruiting class in 2020 women’s college basketball. Fans felt confident the new players would continue Oregon’s run to the national championship.
All of Oregon’s top five recruits were five-star players and Gatorade Players of the Year in their home states. They were beautiful to watch. The skill of that level usually is.
That was February 2020.
By March 2022, four of the Fabs were gone. Only Te-HIna Paopao remained.
So, what went wrong? Why did they leave?
For Angela Dugalic, it was a matter of escaping the shadows of Oregon’s tall roster. Despite standing 6’4″, handling the ball like a guard, and being good enough to start on the Serbian national team, Angela never found traction at Oregon. Before committing to Oregon, she had been coveted by UCLA, and that became her transfer destination. She was instantly the tallest player on the Bruin roster instead of being the fifth-tallest at Oregon.
Unfortunately, two knee injuries have slowed her career, but she will be back, and it will be interesting to see her regain her elite status at UCLA.
The other three Fab Five recruits were Sydney Parrish, Maddie Scherr, and Kylee Watson.
They all came to Oregon together and departed Oregon on the same day. If that sounds like a package deal, then you might be on to something because those three had become friends in AAU ball and BlueStar Training camps long before reaching college.
In fact, when Scherr and Parrish competed against each other, they were in middle school AAU basketball and had become good friends, enough to set their sights on playing together in college.
As that scheme developed through high school, it came to Oregon as the place Scherr and Parrish would play. Watson was on the same youth development track, and the influence of Scherr and Parrish brought Watson to Oregon.
Kylee validated that influence when she told Duck Territory, “I’m really close to Sydney Parrish. We were talking about how we both liked Oregon before she committed. After she committed, she kind of became the biggest recruiter ever with me. I’m really excited to get out there with her.”
It took a few weeks for them to sign with Oregon officially, but two years later, it only took one day for them to leave.
After Oregon’s embarrassing loss to 12th-seeded Belmont in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament, coach Kelly Graves was quoted by ESPN as saying, “I think at times our players have acted and performed entitled,” and he believed there was something missing from his players.
That was on March 19, 2022.
Ten days later, all three entered the transfer portal.
Scherr transferred to Kentucky, where she is blossoming as the experts and analysts expected her to at Oregon. She is playing 32 minutes per game and averaging double figures for the first time in her collegiate career. Her shooting percentage has returned to her pre-Oregon excellence.
Watson is also playing more minutes and producing greater results, and the fact that she is doing that at Notre Dame, which is 18-4, makes me wonder why she did it immediately at Notre Dame when she didn’t do it in two years at Oregon.
Parrish is playing more minutes and averaging double figures for the first time in her career at Indiana. Let’s not forget that Indiana is 22-1 and ranked second in the nation.
It’s odd that Parrish has come alive at Indiana but didn’t at Oregon, where she was surrounded by the best back-to-back recruiting classes in women’s basketball. Why would a player thrive in AAU, become a five-star in high school, and a star at 22-1 Indiana but drop in her shooting touch, steals, rebounds, and blocked shots at Oregon?
It’s interesting to see that the transfer destinations of those three have returned them to closer geographic proximity to one another than before Oregon.
As if the loss of those three all in one day wasn’t enough, the Ducks received more bad news three days later.
Former five-star Gatorade Player of the Year from the previous recruiting class, Taylor Bigby, announced she was also leaving Oregon. Bigby suffered a foot injury in 2021, but even after being cleared to play, she didn’t see a minute of playing time after January 17, 2022.
So, in the space of three days, Oregon lost four elite basketball players.
It was the second year of devastating transfer news for the Ducks because it was the year before when Dugalic transferred, and she was accompanied by Taylor Chavez and former junior international star Jaz Shelley who both announced their plans within 20 minutes of each other.
Both Shelly and Chavez had been named to the 2020 preseason PAC-12 All-Conference team, yet as the season progressed, both of them saw their efficiencies drop. Despite an international reputation, Shelley didn’t start half of Oregon’s games in 2020.
Chavez is no longer in college basketball, but Shelley transferred to Nebraska, where she has thrived like we all thought she would at Oregon.
She is in her second year as the top guard in the Husker program and one of the best in the Big 10. Her playing time has doubled from what it was at Oregon, her scoring has tripled, and like the others, her shooting percentage has gone up noticeably.
All these elite players — Shelley, Chavez, Dugalic, Parrish, Scherr, Watson, and Bigby — entered the transfer portal within about 12 months. Most of them have blossomed elsewhere.
When they came to Oregon, the garden was beautiful. Fans expected a field of dreams. The blossoming would be astonishing.
Instead, they bloom elsewhere.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who laments: Where have all the flowers gone?