Caliya Robinson reflects on performance following win over Ole Miss
All Mikayla Coombs’ basketball career knows is greatness.
A farewell to her home state vividly illustrated it. Coombs wore a Wesleyan jersey for the final time with determination to win another state title. She carried her team from a 17-point deficit to beat Holy Innocents’ inside McCamish Pavilion. Hoisting the trophy, in a clutch performance chronicled by the Gwinnett Daily Post, was only the beginning.
Coombs made her way to UConn, spurning offers from the two in-state powers and accepting a chance to learn under the tutelage of Geno Auriemma. Arguably the nation’s most-prestigious program with enough championships and undefeated seasons to share, Coombs played part in two Final Four trips and gained a rich perspective on how a team prospers.
After two seasons up north, Coombs’ tenure at UConn progressively became a mismatch. Auriemma is reputable for wildly-short rotations. Coombs, a former five-star prospect with a 98 rating on espnW, found herself without legitimate playing time. Thirty-one appearances through a sophomore campaign, Coombs’ averages sat at 0.9 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
Coombs declared a need for change on April 23, and a team starving for guard production came calling. Georgia looked like a match and a return home for the Buford native became tangible. Coombs’ officially became a Lady Bulldog on Monday afternoon after officially visiting the program this past weekend. The 5-foot-10 guard has two seasons of eligibility remaining and plans to apply for an immediate eligibility waiver, a source said.
“Mikayla is the complete package,” Georgia head coach Joni Taylor said. “(What) I am most excited about is that she is a high-character young lady who is coming back home to play for her state. Mikayla’s athleticism is off the charts, and she is an explosive play-maker. She is someone Lady Bulldog fans will enjoy watching over the next few years.”
A new situation awaits Coombs. Once only seeing success, the formerly-coveted prospect enters a program that longs to renew a winning tradition. Let’s analyze Georgia’s addition and where it puts the Lady Bulldogs’ roster for Coombs’ first season in red-and-black — whether it be 2019 or 2020.
What is Georgia getting in Coombs?
Coombs entered the college ranks with an average of 16.9 points and seven rebounds per game. An opposing player in both the high school and AAU ranks regarded Coombs as a “force to be reckoned with.” Those who followed Coombs’ days at Wesleyan recalled performances similar to the championship-clinching run rather frequently.
“She is a great role model for younger players to look up to,” said Jan Azar, Coombs’ former coach at Wesleyan, now at Hebron Christian. “It’s exciting to have her back and representing UGA. She knows how to win and will be a great addition to Joni’s team.”
Despite a lack of opportunity to produce at UConn, that shouldn’t be a problem once her eligibility is sorted out. Georgia is the opposite of UConn in regard to using its depth. Taylor will play a rotation that is 10-to-12 deep at times, and has a few vacancies at the guard spots. Taja Cole and Donnetta Johnson transferred out of the program in April. Cole played nearly 40 minutes a game and Johnson slowly emerged during her freshman season.
Coombs and Georgia signee Javyn Nicholson will reunite as former AAU teammates. The pair played together with the Finest Basketball Club, known as FBC, and saw each other’s potential frequently. Coombs played each of the guard positions, and could play alongside Gabby Connally to continue Georgia’s strategy of positionless guard play. Nicholson slots in at the power forward spot as a potential replacement for Caliya Robinson.
“I’ve always looked up to her as a big sister,” said Nicholson, out of Collins Hill. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to play with her at my dream school. She’s aggressive, knows how to score the ball and makes plays for those around her.”
Another recruiting win for Georgia
Georgia aspires to recruit the best talent, and Coombs’ accolades fit that desire. Her list of honors is rather extensive and includes being named Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017 and a McDonald’s All-American. Entering the 2019 season, Georgia’s roster will carry two Gatorade Player of the Year honorees (junior Jenna Staiti being the other) and two McDonald’s All-Americans (incoming freshman Chloe Chapman).
If one is to count Coombs’ high-school reputation into the mix, Georgia would have three five-star prospects in its 2019 class — Chapman and Nicholson as the others. Taylor continues to show success in adding prospects from the transfer market (or should we say portal) by adding one prospect from another institution in three consecutive seasons. Staiti was added ahead of the 2018 campaign from Maryland and Shaniya Jones was added midway through the 2019 season out of Virginia Tech.
There are a few advantageous factors for Georgia: 2018’s ascent toward becoming a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, a plethora of glory days from previous coach Andy Landers and all of the life-based qualities that Taylor teaches to intertwine basketball and an athlete’s future.
Next step: on-court success. That’s what Georgia’s newest group of newcomers hopes to bring. It believes Taylor shares that same drive.
“She clearly shows how much the (NCAA) tournament means to her,” Chapman told The Telegraph in March. “She shows how badly she wants to get (top recruits) there. All of that is to win a championship.”
Coombs is now in the fold and championship runs could be a step closer for Georgia. Once this highly-regarded player steps back onto her home floor, Coombs hopes to only know a similar greatness.
“I’m extremely excited about what we’re doing,” Taylor said. “The new players we brought in are the right people and the right fit. We are continuing to hit the road in recruiting in order to bring our program to the next level.”