Jazmine Massengill and Robyn Benton are the two pieces separating an already impressive-looking squad from being a potentially great one.
The Kentucky Women’s Basketball Team received an immediate eligibility waiver for Maryland transfer Olivia Owens 10 days ago, just five days before the Men’s Basketball Team were granted waivers for both Olivier Sarr (Wake Forest) and Jacob Toppin (Rhode Island). Flipping sports, Auburn quarterback transfer Joey Gatewood didn’t receive his waiver until after the Wildcats’ first game of the new season back on Sept. 30.
Massengill and Benton are in slightly different situations from the group: both are coming from SEC schools–Massengill from Tennessee and Benton from Auburn–and both will be juniors the next time they can step on the floor. If that were to happen ahead of the upcoming 2020-21 season as opposed to the season after (NCAA guidelines state that transfers must sit out one season unless granted an immediate eligibility waiver), Matthew Mitchell would have the most talented roster ever during his time in Lexington.
But how likely is it that the two become immediately eligible, or is there even any hope at all? I don’t have any inside information about this–I should stress that part–but it seems feasible to assume that Massengill and Benton could still be waiting on the NCAA or SEC to approve/deny their waivers. If that were to be the case, and if we consider the timing of the waivers for Gatewood/Sarr/Toppin, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the two could still become immediately eligible at some point in the near future.
As Kentucky fans experienced with the Gatewood-Auburn fiasco, athletes transferring from one SEC school to another have been traditionally more complex to navigate. The SEC–not the NCAA–ended up being the reason that Gatewood’s waiver took until after the Football team’s opening game against Auburn (coincidentally, the team Gatewood left). His decision to part with the Tigers wasn’t due to anything other than the fact that he wanted a fresh start where he knew an opportunity would come his way. He wasn’t a graduate transfer or leaving a team with a recently fired head coach; Gatewood just didn’t want to be at Auburn and was rightfully allowed to leave for a program of his choosing with the ability to play right away.
So what’s different about the situation with Massengill and Benton? From what I can tell, not much.
Massengill left Tennessee after two seasons, although she experienced a coaching change during the offseason heading into her sophomore year. With head coach Kellie Harper in the fold, Massengill’s minutes and production basically doubled, as she went from a backup point guard in year-one to starting 30 of 31 games as the lead guard in year-two. She became one of the most dependable and steady players in the entire conference, ranking 12th nationally with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.67 during 2019-20. But maybe that relationship soured, or simply ran its course?
Her leaving Tennessee was a shock to everyone, even the people closest to her–it was her dream school. It should be noted that Massengill played on the same high school team as incoming five-star prospect Treasure Hunt and also grew up playing AAU ball with reigning SEC Player of the Year Rhyne Howard. Could that play into the transfer decision? (I sure hope not)
Kentucky knocked the Vols out of the 2020 SEC Tournament in the quarterfinals and one could argue the next two years in Lexington provide a better opportunity to win now as opposed to Knoxville.
And if you like to play into cryptic social media posts (who doesn’t??), Massengill posted this the other day with the caption: “Only time will tell…”
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As for Benton, she left Auburn (like Gatewood did) after the Tigers posted an 11-18 record in 2019-20 following an impressive 22-10 season the year prior. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team back in 2018-19 but Auburn struggled as a whole the next season. Auburn has been coached by Terry Williams-Flournoy since the 2012-13 season, so there is no coaching changeup that would warrant a smoother transfer process.
It feels like there is still a shot at Massengill and Benton gaining immediate eligibility, but time is ticking fast. The start of the regular season is exactly one month from today. Both players have been practicing as if they plan to take the court, so they would theoretically be ready to play the second any eligibility announcement is made. But for all we know, the NCAA could have denied it weeks ago.
When you step back and look at what has happened with the Men’s Basketball and Football team, you have to think that Massengill and Benton receiving immediate waivers would be a no-brainer, right? Gatewood transferred from the exact same school that Benton did. Sarr came to Kentucky literally so he could showcase NBA talent. Starting next year, the NCAA will approve all immediate transfer requests at least once. Why should Massengill and Benton have to wait? Because Kentucky is on the verge of becoming an elite team? If that’s the case, I have some bad news for the NCAA going forward…
If the two were to find a way to suit up this season, prepare yourself for an influx of talent never seen before within this program. Massengill is a perennial point guard who makes up for a weak outside jumper with superior skills at every other aspect of the game. She’s a clean 6-feet tall and can control a game with the best college players in the country. If granted immediate eligibility, she very well could start from day one. Benton, on the other hand, is a defensive-minded sniper who was one of the league’s top 3-point makers as a sophomore despite missing the first nine games. Benton’s 2.8 steals per outing in 2019-20 ranked 12th-highest in all of Division I.
They’re both former five-star recruits; this isn’t like adding a “project” freshman or a fifth-year transfer to fill out the roster. Massengill and Benton are proven SEC performers.
Kentucky already goes 8-9 players deep with the current roster configuration and adding these two would push them over the edge, talent-wise. Adding two juniors with All-SEC capabilities who have spent all of their collegiate careers in the SEC is a rare opportunity. The ‘Cats are looking at a top 10-15 preseason ranking without them. Imagine what can happen if they’re cleared.
But as the Big Blue Nation did with Owens, Sarr, Toppin, and Gatewood, all we can do now is wait.