The transition from high school basketball to one of the top programs in Division I women’s basketball is not always easy. To have an impact as just a freshman, one has to have it.
Maryland women’s basketball freshman guard Shyanne Sellers experienced all the highs and lows that come with that experience, but it feels like she is more of a seasoned veteran than a rookie as the No. 4-seeded Terps near Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown with No. 1-seed Stanford.
“You do [forget she’s a freshman],” a laughing head coach Brenda Frese told Testudo Times. “I mean, I think that’s the biggest compliment is, no one on staff or her teammates view her as a freshman. They have complete trust in her and she’s a big-time player.”
Sellers separated herself from most freshmen, per her head coach, because of her attitude coming into Maryland last summer. She was never afraid to work hard, and that undeniably helped her progress.
The No. 22 recruit in the class of 2021 has shown enough flashes to prompt the thought that she could be an All-American and lead Maryland to titles in the future. For now, she is playing a role on a team that has title aspirations, and that role is vital to Maryland’s success.
Sellers began her Maryland career with a bang. In her first collegiate game against Longwood on Nov. 9, she shined. Sellers scored 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting and snatched three steals en route to a 30-point win over the mid-major Lancers, but the glimpses of stardom left Maryland fans pondering what could be for the next four years.
“They were worried about my defense when I came here, but I told Coach B I could turn it on, so that’s what I did,” Sellers said on Nov. 11. “Defense wins games and championships, so that’s what I’m really looking forward to doing and helping out here.”
Frese and her staff were tough on Sellers’ defensive play to start her career, and rightfully so. Sellers would have to produce off the bench, especially on defense, to crack a rotation with six All-Big Ten returnees.
“I think she figured it out,” Frese said. “... Because it was her defense that was taking her off the court. I mean, she couldn’t even guard the ball. And now, you just look at her level of intensity and her motor and she really had to really just understand the defensive side of the game, the other half of it.”
Even if Sellers did not pass the test to prove that she could contribute early in her career (she did), she would be forced into big-time action sooner rather than later.
At the beginning of the season, junior guard Diamond Miller was sidelined for 10-plus games with a knee injury. Additionally, graduate student guard Katie Benzan and junior guard/forward Faith Masonius both missed the first three games of Maryland’s non-conference gauntlet (Baylor, NC State, Stanford) with illness.
Of course, that meant Sellers would be pushed into the starting lineup. Frese coined it as a “baptism by fire” type of progression.
There was the good; Sellers was a plus-3 against Baylor on Nov. 21, playing all but 22 seconds. There was also the bad; Sellers was 1-of-10 from the field and played all but six seconds in a loss to Stanford on Nov. 27.
Sellers’ production varied, but the experience certainly helped.
“It’s accelerating her curve, no question,” Frese said on Dec. 1. “You don’t typically get those kind of minutes as a freshman, although Shy is very talented. But I think it’s obviously accelerating her curve which is going to make us better for March. She’s getting a lot of on-court experience, real live game experience, two top-five opponents, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
As Maryland got healthier, Sellers reverted to the original freshman plan. In 10 games from Dec. 2 to Jan. 20, Sellers only recorded more than 20 minutes of playing time thrice. Going from Maryland’s workhorse to a steady bench player may have been the lift that Sellers needed as she entered the most important part of Maryland’s season.
After Maryland lost to Ohio State on Jan. 20, it began what would be an eight-game win streak, at home against Northwestern three days later.
Since then, Sellers has played a minimum of 22 minutes in every game. Part of that was due to junior guard Ashley Owusu’s five-game absence, but it also must be credited to her growth as a reliable player. She is one of only four players to play each of Maryland’s 31 games, and it has needed her in each one of them.
The narrative surrounding Sellers has changed. She has gone from a defensive question mark to one of the best defenders on this Maryland team. Sellers has earned Frese’s trust, and no one can blame the future Hall of Fame coach.
“She doesn’t shy away from the big moment,” Frese said on March 17. “I thought the Big Ten tournament, she didn’t make it bigger than what it needed to be. I don’t expect that she will with the tournament. I mean when you’re a high motor, high-energy type of player, that doesn’t change. So I expect that she’ll continue to be just really defensive-oriented for us, you know, be aggressive and play at a really high level.”
It is unclear whether the word “shy” was supposed to be a play on words, but the charismatic Sellers is anything but that when it comes to winning time. Not only does she not back away from the big moments, but she also does not back away from the biggest names in the sport, either.
Maryland traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, as underdogs on Feb. 14. Owusu missed the game with a sprained ankle, so Sellers would again see major minutes. She took the task of defending Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark – the potential National Player of the Year – head-on. She aced it.
The Terps limited Clark to 19 points, which was more than eight points below her then-season average, on just 7-of-25 shooting. Sellers’ defensive effort was a huge reason why Maryland captured a 12-point road win against Iowa.
“The huge improvement by Shy has really rounded our defense together,” Frese said on Feb. 19. “I mean, when you’re talking about the length and the athleticism now between Shy and Diamond and the fact that the defense isn’t taking Shy off the court anymore. I just love her moxie, her confidence. She wants to take the best player on the floor, I mean you saw that with Caitlin Clark and with Taylor [Mikesell] the other night getting hot.”
“She’s just really become our defensive stopper for us.”
Maryland zoomed past No. 13-seed Delaware and No. 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast in the first two rounds, respectively.
Against the Blue Hens, Sellers, the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, once again stepped up on defense, helping Miller take on the task of All-American Jasmine Dickey, who is now off to the WNBA. Dickey, one of the best players Maryland has played all season, scored 31 points, but she went 12-for-32 from the field. Dickey was Delaware’s best player, but she was not completely effective. She credited the 20 missed shots to Maryland’s “bigger guards” making it uncomfortable to shoot and get to the rim.
“Shy fought today,” said Benzan during Friday’s postgame presser. “And she had a hard job, like Diamond, guarding Dickey, and she did a great job stepping up to the plate for us. Then on the offensive end, she just works hard. Her motor is always there, and that’s what we need her to do, and she’s so reliable in that regard.”
Frese concurred with the level that Sellers played, as well.
“Her first two games in the NCAA Tournament, I haven’t seen a freshman like that come in and not even blink,” Frese said. “I mean, she was fantastic in her role.”
In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Sellers averaged six points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal per game. That stat line is more than sufficient, but Sellers has an opportunity to thrive in the tournament’s second weekend.
“I think I’m taking really, really big strides,” Sellers said on Selection Sunday. “In the season, just learning how to handle the ball, coming to the D1 level – people playing [at a] fast pace – learning how to guard. So yeah, I think I’ve been taking big strides, but for this tournament, I’m just trying to lock into whatever I’m trying to do. Obviously defensively, that’s something big.”
Conveniently, the Sweet 16 showdown comes against Stanford, the team that swallowed Sellers for one of her worst collegiate games. Given all the adversity at the time, it was a different Maryland roster and a different Sellers. Frese understands the goal at hand, but she also understands that this team is “nowhere near” where it was in November.
Sellers will have a golden opportunity to earn vengeance from that performance and become the boost that leads the Terps as deep as they want to go in this tournament.
One year ago, Sellers was sitting in class at Aurora High School. Fewer than 12 months later, she became a top student in Frese’s basketball classroom. Sellers’ hard work in the months leading up to March has led to tangible success on the court, and she has left no doubts of what she has and could accomplish.
“She went from, I always joke with her, our worst defender to being our best defender in literally about three months of a season,” Frese said. “So it’s been pretty cool to see.”