Vikings mainstays Smith, Williams and Ly enter transfer portal

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Three additional members of the 2023 Horizon League champion Cleveland State Vikings are headed out of town through the transfer portal, according to a report from Heat Check CBB

The newly-known departures include guards Gabriella Smith and Deja Williams, as well as center Aminata Ly. The trio of graduates joins previously-announced guard Juila Hintz in seeking to continue their careers elsewhere. 

Smith began her collegiate run at Ball State in 2018-19 before spending a season at Iowa Western Community College, and is arguably the highest-profile player of the group as an every-game starter during her two years at CSU. The Chicago native generally tag-teamed with Destiny Leo at the top of the Vikings’ matchup zone to create havoc in opposing backcourts – often leading to easy buckets and jump-starting the long scoring runs that have become one of Cleveland State’s trademarks. She’s also a strong outside shooter who buried more threes last season than anyone on the team outside of Leo. 

The penultimate game of Smith’s time at CSU was possibly her finest effort in green and white. In the Horizon League championship contest against Green Bay on March 7th, she scored 19 points, highlighted by a 5-for-7 line from behind the arc, as the Vikings surged to a surprisingly-decisive title and NCAA Tournament bid. In all, her 7.3 points per game were fourth on the roster, while her 1.5 steals topped the squad.  

Williams, who was named the Horizon League’s Sixth Player of the Year in February, is also looking for her third Division I home. She was a member of the Big West’s All-Freshman Team at Cal State Northridge in 2019-20, before sitting out the 2020-21 season thanks to CSUN shutting down their program at the height of the COVID pandemic. 

While in Cleveland over the last two years, the product of Long Beach, CA became one of the Horizon League’s better point guards, even though she nearly always began games on the bench. Williams tied for the Vikings’ lead in assists in 2022-23 while placing second to Smith in steals, and her 21.9 minutes per game were often tough ones, where she was asked to run the floor during Leo’s breathers. Her fiery style and complete disregard for the generally-brutal physical toll of her frequent drives to the basket made her a fan favorite, and Williams was at her best on both ends of the floor – including 15 points, four rebounds and three steals – in a win at Youngstown State on December 29, 2022 that helped cement CSU’s status as conference leaders.

A Dakar, Senegal native who arrived by way of Greenforest Christian Academy in Decatur, GA, the 6-4 Ly has always carried a promise unique to players of a certain size, though it was only truly realized over the latter half of the 2020-21 season. She played an instrumental role in a come-from-behind win at YSU on February 19, 2021, her breakout game of sorts, with 11 points, ten rebounds, and five blocked shots. Ly was also monstrous in CSU’s run to the WBI title in 2021, totaling 39 rebounds and 25 points over the tournament’s three games. However, just as she seemed ready to emerge as a front-line player, injury wiped out her 2021-22 season. 

She returned for the recently-concluded 2022-23 campaign, only to find Amele Ngwafang (who transferred in during Ly’s injury year) and star freshman Jordana Reisma ahead of her on the depth chart. As a result, she played just 7.4 minutes per game – from 16.4 in 2020-21 – and not at all down the stretch and during the postseason, totaling just 62 seconds on the court after her senior day on February 18th. 

With Cleveland State’s outbound transfers and those who have exhausted their eligibility subtracted, the Vikings’ current 2023-24 roster includes just seven players: Leo, Reisma, Sara Guerreiro, Shadiya Thomas, Faith Burch, Carmen Villalobos, and incoming freshman Paulina Hernandez. Undoubtedly, Chris Kielsmeier and his staff will actively attempt to work the portal in the opposite direction as the offseason proceeds, and the Vikings seek to build on the most successful season in school history. 

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