Shakira Austin is probably not the most objective of critics when it comes to Ashley Owusu considering their ties from their basketball-playing roots in Northern Virginia and their families. So the enthusiasm shown by Austin, the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward for the Maryland women’s basketball team, in embracing the addition of Owusu, the 6-foot freshman point guard, seems understandable.
“I think the sky’s the limit with her,” Austin said Thursday during the program’s media day at Xfinity Center. “She might be one of the best point guards that are coming in as a freshman. She’s obviously going to contribute a lot of minutes and a lot of points and a lot of assists. So it’s going to be great.”
If that sounds like hyperbole, consider what Terps coach Brenda Frese said about Owusu.
“I always say when you don’t look like a freshman, that’s a great thing,” said Frese, who is set to embark on her 18th season with the Terps. “In the practice setting, she looks like a junior or a senior at the point guard position. Just poised beyond her years. And I think the thing that separates her is, with all the greats that have come through this program, she just kind of has that ‘it’ factor. When you watch her on the court, just the number of plays she can make — whether it’s getting somebody else involved, scoring the basketball, her ability to get to the rim, her ability to push in transition — has been at a really high, elite level.”
Owusu is a promising prospect for a program that is ranked No. 5 by several media outlets. ESPN cited her as the No. 5 overall player in the country and the top player at her position, and she was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia and a McDonald’s All American as a senior.
Along with shooting guards Diamond Miller and Zoe Young and forward Faith Masonius, Owusu is part of a freshman class ranked No. 3 in the nation by ESPN.
Continuing her career in College Park took a backseat, however, in December when Owusu was struck by a car while walking through a parking lot outside of a fast-food restaurant near her parents’ home in Woodbridge, Va. She somehow avoided breaking any bones or tearing any ligaments, but soon developed a blood clot in her left leg that prevented her from joining her teammates at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Va.
“Yeah, I consider myself very lucky,” said Owusu, who said she did not have to undergo rehabilitation and took medication to treat the clot. “It was very challenging, but I knew that I couldn’t play because of my medical condition. I just had to go through with it.”
Owusu returned to play a few games, but then broke her left foot and underwent surgery, ending her senior year. She smiled briefly when asked about the loss of her final season in high school.
“It was a rough senior year,” she said. “It was tough, but with family, friends, my teammates supporting me, it wasn’t too bad.”
Austin, who said she was notified of Owusu’s incident in December by her father who had talked to Owusu’s father, said she texted and video chatted with Owusu to encourage her.
“We talked about it, that everything happens for a reason,” Austin said. “I think she needed to regain focus again and to make sure that she’s locked in. We were talking about the bigger picture. We’re trying to do great things this year. So we were just making sure that she was taking it easy a little bit and getting her health back and getting her rest and getting her mind right and being ready for when June comes because that’s when it’s going to really start.”
Frese would not have begrudged Owusu if she had have slipped a little physically due to the lack of playing time as a senior. Instead, Owusu has impressed her coach, especially on the defensive end of the court. Frese said she thinks the accident has given Owusu a fresh perspective.
“I don’t think she takes a day for granted,” she said. “I think she’s come really into having some of that senior year taken away from her and not being able to play at the level she would have liked to in her senior season to where she is now. She’s actually kind of further ahead than I anticipated.”
Finding motivation for her collegiate debut should not be a problem, Owusu said.
“I would say that missing my senior year has made me more excited and ready to start playing again,” she said. “I think I’ve been just working a lot harder and just focusing on a lot more on taking care of my body.”
Owusu acknowledged that she is hungrily awaiting the start of the season, which kicks off Nov. 5 against Wagner at home.
“I would say I’m excited and a little nervous,” she said. “This is my first time playing on a much bigger stage in front of a much bigger crowd. I think I’m ready though. I’m excited for it.”