FAYETTEVILLE – Seems a team of Destinees joins Erynn Barnum as the 2020-2021 complements to Arkansas women’s basketball center Taylah Thomas.
Thomas and graduated 2019-2020 senior Kiara Williams comprised the SEC undersized but effective two-headed center for Coach Mike Neighbors, 24-8 Razorbacks and NCAA Tournament bound until the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the Tournament days before its field would have been announced.
Now Barnum, a redshirt freshman last season, Destinee Oberg, injured last season as a true freshman playing just eight games, and signed incoming freshman Destinee McGehee vie for time behind Thomas. Between them, Thomas, starting all 32 games, and Williams, a former starter set back by a preseason injury but contributing in 19 games off the bench, averaged 10.8 points and 10.0 rebounds. Thomas, whose minutes upped from 632 for 37 games with Williams the starter in 2018-2019 to 732 minutes in 32 games last season, welcomed Williams’ midseason return alternating with Thomas in 13 of Arkansas’ 16 SEC games and three SEC Tournament games.
“Back when she was having to play 30 minutes a game she was telling me she’s ready for me to get back,” Williams said as last season closed. “I said, ‘I’m trying to get back to help you out. Me and Taylah have a good understanding what she’s good at and what I’m good at. To have another teammate that plays the same position that you can actually go to with different problems and actually have each person have the best for each other that’s great.”
Neighbors marveled how Thomas, now embarking on her senior season, both stepped up playing more minutes than could have been envisioned before Williams’s injury and then readjusting. However Neighbors did have an inkling just because of the superb condition that Thomas Arlington, Texas reported to start the fall semester. “She’s been even more committed going into this summer than she was last summer,” Neighbors said. “I think we’re going to see the same (improvement) jump with her that we did last year.”
Although graduated All-SEC guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway and returning as senior guards Chelsea Dungee and Amber Ramirez are acknowledged as the stars of the 2019-2020 Razorbacks, Thomas’ shined as a star to Neighbors. “She’s been a tremendous role player for us,” Neighbors said. “I think a superstar in her role and a huge reason we made some jumps last year.”
Neighbors and Thomas know in May what Thomas didn’t know until Williams’ injury last November that Thomas must play more minutes. But it would sure help her and the team if Barnum, the 6-2 Little Rock Central alum and raw talent with a Razorbacks leading 28 blocked shots in 308 minutes last season, Oberg, 6-3 and highly recruited out of Burnsville, Minn. or 4-star 6-2 signee McGehee of Madison, Ala. came through. “We need one of them to come back in the best shape of their lives,” Neighbors said. “Taylah proved that she can play beyond 20, 22 minutes if she has to. But she plays so incredibly hard that she’s as efficient in those 22 minutes as she might be in 30 minutes, because she’s not pacing herself. We need those kids (Barnum, Oberg and McGehee) to understand there’s a role to be filled. Taylah has earned hers.”