SouthArk's recruiting class set to make impact

South Arkansas College’s women’s basketball team will have a plethora of new faces for the 2023-24 season.

So far, coach Nate Evans has added 11 players to the roster with the latest coming last month in Zoe Nation, who is transferring from Connors State (Okla.).

“I think the sky is the limit. It really is,” Evans said of his class. “They have the chance to come in here and really shake some things up and set a culture for us. There will be a little learning curve, but we’re going to have depth at every position one through five, so the opportunity for them early to see the floor right away and get those bumps and bruises out of the way will be there for them. 

“We’re not going to be as reliant as we were in the spring with just six, we’re going to be able to throw in different groups and get them comfortable early, especially in practice. We’ll be able to scrimmage, something that we couldn’t do this past spring. This class coming in is going to be everything for us. They’re all great kids, level-headed, ready to just make an impact and help out.”

With Nation arriving from Oklahoma, the Stars’ class is represented by three states with recruits from Louisiana and Arkansas comprising the rest of the class.

The Arkansas recruits include tandems from Fouke and Drew Central.

Jacie Bishop and Logan Smith were 3A All-State guards at Fouke.

“They are an All-State pair at the guard position and were nominated for the Arkansas All-Star Game,” Evans said. “They led their team to the Elite Eight and won over 30 games this season. They’re both winners and they’re another fresh addition at the guard position that we badly needed.”

Guards Hannah Meeks and Edriana Hunter are the duo from Drew Central. Both were second-team All-Conference selections this year.

“She’s a high-effort player who makes winning plays,” Evans said of Hunter. “She’s a good defender. Meeks is a shooting guard with a high basketball IQ. She is an elite marksman, and is going to be a good 3-point threat for us.”

The Stars also inked forward Camryn Dickson from Spring Hill.

“She’s a lights-out shooter for her height,” Evans said. “She adds excellent rim protection. She’s got a really long wingspan, she takes a ton of charges, she’s an unselfish player, a good teammate.”

Benton guard Tazayyah Bufford signed with the Stars in April.

“Zayyah is a big-time addition,” Evans said. “I know she will come in on Day 1 ready to go. As good a player as she is, she is an even better teammate. She will be another weapon at the guard position both offensively and defensively.”

Evans landed four recruits from Louisiana.

Lexy Robinson will be joining SouthArk after finishing her career at Claiborne Christian, where he she was an All-Star selection.

“She’s very mobile for her height,” Evans said. “She runs the floor very well, excellent free-throw shooter. She’s going to give us nice depth at the forward spot.”

Alicia Skains from D’Arbonne Woods Charter in Farmerville is another forward Evans signed.

“She’s a strong, aggressive forward. She’s a gym rat and she’ll give us some good depth in the frontcourt,” Evans said.

Like Robinson, Weston High’s Emma Kate McBride will be competing in the Louisiana All-Star Game.

“She is a 1,000-point scorer and was also named to the All-Star team in Louisiana,” Evans said.

Evans added more size by landing Allena Milton from Southwood High in Shreveport.

“In my opinion, she is the steal of the class,” Evans said. “She had some four-year schools looking at her late. She’s got great size and athleticism at the center position, and her potential is sky high to be a dominant force down low, so I’m excited to get Allena.”

Nation, the latest recruit for Evans, brings experience and outstanding perimeter shooting.

"Zoe comes to us from Connors State College, an NJCAA Division I program, where she shot 35% from three and 91% from the free-throw line,” Evans said. “She obviously brings in an elite outside shot, but her collegiate playing experience also will be a huge factor in getting our freshmen ready for season."

Evans said the class has been in contact with one another, and they are eager to get to El Dorado.

“We’ve got five kids that will be on academic scholarships,” Evans said. “We really knocked it out of the park with this class. They’re all great kids, they’ve all already been in contact with each other on social media. Some of them played against each other in high school. They’re already familiar with each other. They’re itching to get here. They’re some gym rats and they’re what we need.”

In addition to the recruiting class, the Stars are returning their six players from this past season, including Kylee Portilloz, who averaged a double-double for the season at 19.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.

Her numbers were even better in conference play at 20 points and 12.4 rebounds.

“Kylee does have the opportunity, but she texted me and said, ‘Coach I’m dead set coming back. Nothing is going to change my mind,’” Evans said. “We’re really excited. It’s hard to hide your excitement about her. She’s a special player, and getting her to come back is going to be a huge, huge benefit for us and for her. With the success that she had, there are parts of her game that can be improved. We’ve got to improve her outside shot, we’ve got to get her better at taking care of the ball and limit some turnovers. 

“She’s going to come back for a really big sophomore year. She wants to leave her legacy here, not just with statistics, she wants to win games. That’s what she told me and all of the freshmen did in their interviews that we had before we went on break was that they want to come back and they want to win.”

Evans said he was proud the growth his team showed despite playing their conference schedule with just six players.

“All six are coming back,” Evans said. “Kylee is obviously a big one. She finished second in the region in scoring and first in rebounds. She was in the top 15 in the nation in both statistics. 

“They all improved so much. I’m so proud of how they handled the adversity. We’ll hit the weight room and the court really hard  just to give us a good head start before we get all of these freshmen and we get the whole team together. 

“I’m excited to see how all of these freshmen handle the load of being sophomore leaders now. I’ve already stressed to them enough how they’re going to be the ones that are going to be the upperclassmen, they’re going to be the ones I look to as far as team chemistry and getting it established, making sure the freshmen come in and feel welcome, really doing a lot of stuff off the court as a family as well. They’ve got a lot of responsibility, but I know they can handle it. I’m excited for them.”

Evans said he would like the team to get acclimated with each other during the summer.

“We can’t have any sanctioned official team practices until October 1, so what I’d like to do is give them a few opportunities throughout the summer every other Sunday, having an open gym where it’s player-led scrimmages that they just get to run and play basketball with each other where I don’t have any say. I’ll just be a bystander watching,” Evans said. 

“There will be several dates throughout the summer where they’re coming to town for a weekend, getting to play ball with each other, going out to eat as a team after. 

“The freshmen will move in the first of August, and we’ll start with everybody together, not official team practices, but conditioning and individual groups, not having them all in there at the same time until October. Once October hits, we’ll hit it hard.”

With a big signing class and several returnees, Evans said he is going to challenge his team in non-conference play.

“One-hundred percent,” Evans said. “The benefit of this past year was that it really was my guinea pig year as a head coach. I realized very quickly how little I knew, so I hit it hard as soon as our season ended the first of March. 

“We took two or three weeks off as a team and that gave me time to get some kids signed, send some letter-of-intents out and it also gave me a chance to go ahead and make our non-conference schedule, which I’m pretty much finished with already.

“We’ve got more games this year than we did last year. We’re playing better teams this year than we did last year. We’ll be traveling to Mississippi frequently and playing the Division 1 junior college schools over there. They give us some really good tests early and a really good comparison to what our region opponents play like. 

“They’re really athletic and strong and they pressure the ball really well. We’re already going to be battle-tested before region gets here. I was really excited to go ahead and get that schedule made. I’ve been in contact with some really good coaches who come from some really good programs. We’re going to be tested early and often.”