Two freshmen and a graduate transfer round out the UMES squad

PRINCESS ANNE, Maryland — The University of Maryland Eastern Shore women’s basketball team was already returning 12 players from a squad that came within 10.4 seconds of upsetting No. 3 seed Howard in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Semifinal.

With a 69-50 win over Hofstra Saturday at Kaplan Arena, W&M finished the regular season tied for fourth place in the Colonial standings.

But that didn’t mean it was time to rest on their laurels as the Hawks added a fifth-year transfer from William & Mary in Chaniqwa Gilliam (Norfolk, Virginia) to go along with a pair of freshmen from North Carolina Aysia Hinton (Durham) and Amira Ofunniyin (Winston-Salem).

“This is probably less about the class than at any other time because we return so many kids,” Hawks coach Fred Batchelor said. “It’s more about them fitting in and the fact that it is really a class of two freshmen who will have four years and then a transfer.”

The Hawks haven’t had a fifth-year transfer like Gilliam since Jordyn Smith (2017-18). While Smith came from Towson and provided depth in the frontcourt at a key time, Gilliam — a 5-foot-8 guard — may do the same for the backcourt.

“In the little bit of time that we have had her, I think she is a little better than I thought,” Batchelor said. “I knew she was going to be able to provide a level of experience in the backcourt for us, but I don’t think she really tapped into her natural abilities in her past experience. I think she is going to be a more impactful player for us than she had been at her previous school.”

Gilliam averaged 11.2 minutes per game as a senior for the Tribe putting up 1.9 points and 1.1 assists per contest. She played in 20 games while starting one. Batchelor said that, while her time at William & Mary was valuable and will benefit at UMES, it was playing a different system and he thinks she will better fit the role he has in mind.

“I’m impressed with what she brings for us and I think she is exactly what we were looking for as far as elevating a backcourt that returns every kid. I didn’t think bringing a freshman in to fill that spot would give us what we needed them to be able to do — handle the basketball and handle all three positions. She can play 1-3 which makes us interchangeable with a lot of other kids.”

The veteran coach also remembers recruiting her in high school where she showed an ability to shoot from the outside, hitting several threes a game, that she didn’t showcase with the Tribe.

“She is not coming in as a freshman, so she is learning all over again, but it’s not the same,” Batchelor said. “She is such a humble kid and I think she’ll provide a lot of different things for us.”

While Gilliam fits an immediate need, the two incoming freshmen will need to work their way onto the court, but they both bring good pedigree.

Hinton comes to the Hawks from Winston-Salem Christian where former NBA guard Delaney Rudd is the head of the program. Rudd — while at a handful of different schools in the Tar Heel state — has sent more than his share of talented players to UMES including, while his daughter Mia was also a graduate assistant on the staff for two seasons (2018-20).

“She is a smart kid and she understands the game very well,” Batchelor said. “She is very well coached. I think that has a lot to do with how she is going to be able to pick up things quicker. I can see that in her now even when she is struggling with something. When you have been coached, regardless of philosophies, when you have been coached how to think the game — not what to think, but how to think — then you are able to go into other situations and think those through. I think she is definitely a product of that.”

Batchelor said the 5-7 guard is an extremely good shooter, but after a few days of summer workouts, he realized she is a better ball handler than he thought. She has solid fundamentals, which Batchelor knows will serve her well, but at the same time, he knows she’ll need to get used to the change in the speed of the game at this level.

“That will be a challenge for her because now her anticipation has got to speed up and you don’t learn anticipation until you go through it,” Batchelor said. “You can’t anticipate something that you have never seen before. The fact is that I think this is going to be a learning experience for her on one end of the floor, but offensively I think she provides something for us (outside shooting) where we had a little bit of a weakness in our guards. That gives her a level of value to what we are doing. I like the fact that she is going to be able to walk in and do something that we need right away.”

The final member of the class is Ofunniyin, who won a 4A State Championship with Panther Creek High School as they topped previously unbeaten Lake Norman in the title game 75-65.

“Amira is a championship-level kid,” Batchelor said. “She’s a state champion which is another pedigree like being well coached. She is coming from a winning program. She is raw. She has a lot to learn as an undersized post player, but I think when she grows up she is going to be a monster.”

The 6-0 forward/center finished the title game with 13 rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 31 minutes. She comes from a program where all of the starting five and one player who came off the bench all went to a Division I school.

“Some of those kids are going to have successful college careers and some aren’t,” Batchelor said. “How she handles this experience is going to determine how successful her next experience will be as she grows into the young woman that we expect her to be. There are going to be growing pains and for her, it will be about how she handles them. It’s going to be how hard she works through the growing pains as opposed to letting it discourage her and deflate her because that is going to happen simply because she’s a true freshman.”

Batchelor said that Panther Creek was a talented program where the coach did a good job of accentuating their talent. It was a case where their practices were probably the most competitive basketball they saw until they got to the state tournament.

“She will need to show an ability to learn through the challenges after having a successful high school career and then coming back to start all over again,” He said. “That is basically what she is doing when we return every kid that played a valuable moment or minute the season before. You face the question of ‘where do you fit in?’ It takes some time to break through. She is going to have to work through those things to get there.”

With summer training going on for a few weeks, Batchelor and his staff have gotten their first looks at the new trio along with the other returnees who are on campus.

“The climate seems to be good,” Batchelor said. “I think the kids have a level of expectation with returning so many people. And having Zamara Haynes (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) here and Mahogany Lester (Virginia Beach, Virginia) here and then adding in a kid like Chaniqwa who is here for the summer — those three women at this point. The freshman and sophomores we have are still growing, so the new kids are getting the experience of being led and setting the culture and the expectation that they have for each other.”

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