Katie Benzan changes course, decides to play at Maryland for 2020-21

Harvard’s Katie Benzan shifted from the burnt orange of Texas to the black and gold of Maryland as the Terrapins announced her arrival for the 2020-21 season.

The three-time first team All-Ivy guard surprised Ivy hoops fans in late August when she decided to forgo her senior season at Harvard.  Two months later, she chose to play for coach Karen Aston at the University of Texas as a graduate transfer.

After the season, Aston’s contract was not renewed and the Longhorns hired Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer on April 5.

Shortly after that, Benzan decided to change course and look elsewhere.

Ivy Hoops Online spoke to Benzan from her home in Wellesley, Mass., where she is taking classes to finish her undergraduate degree in psychology.

When she considered the transfer process, she sought advice from her close friend and former teammate Taylor Rooks, who transferred to Harvard from Stanford after her first year and later became a graduate transfer at Michigan for the 2018-19 season.

Once Benzan gathered all her information, she decided to do what was best for her and made the difficult decision to leave the Harvard program.

That journey led her to a short list of finalists, including former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart’s UNC Tar Heels, Texas, Maryland and George Washington.

“It came down between Maryland and Texas,” said the 5’6″ sharp-shooting guard. “I fell in love with both programs and coaching staffs.”

The tiebreaker for Benzan was the fact that her brother Patrick, a former basketball player for Holy Cross, is a graduate assistant coach for the Longhorns’ men’s team.  “We’ve never gone to school together and we’re still very close,” Benzan noted. “I thought this last year would have been fun to spend with him down in Texas.”

After Texas released Aston, Benzan decided to explore her options, since she wanted to play for a coach that had personally recruited her.

“Since the coaching change (at Texas), I decided to take up coach (Brenda) Frese’s offer and play for such a historically successful and passionate coach.”

Benzan sees a lot of herself in her new coach and it gives her a great sense of excitement for the coming season.  “Coach Frese has this intensity and passion and competitiveness about her,” explained the Ivy League’s all-time three-point shooter.  “You can really see that love and enthusiasm on the sidelines.”

Maryland, which won the regular and post-season Big Ten titles, was ranked No. 4 in the country and on its way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before the coronavirus pandemic put a premature end to the year.

The Terps, losing more than half of its roster to graduation and transfer, will be without the players that produced 80% of their made three-pointers, 70% of their points, 70% of their minutes and 50% of their assists heading into 2020-21.

Maryland has 2020 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ashley Owusu (12 ppg, 31% from three, 5.4 apg and 27 mpg) and returns redshirt junior Channise Lewis (4.2 ppg, 26.4% from three, 5.4 apg and 26.3 mpg in 2018-19) from a season-long injury, but no one who has Benzan’s all-around guard play (career 13.7 ppg, 39.3% from three, 88.3% FT, 4.1 apg, two A/TO and 34.3 mpg) and experience.

While Benzan modestly noted that her new coach expects her to be a vocal leader and someone who brings positive energy on and off the court, Frese knows she’ll get much more from one of the Ivy League’s premier players.

“Katie is a proven winner and possesses all the leadership qualities you would want on your team,” Frese said in the school’s official release.  “She is extremely versatile in her skill set with her ability to knock down an open three and she can utilize her basketball IQ to make a play for her teammates, can rebound and get to the free throw line. She will be an incredible addition to our team.”

During these uncertain times, Benzan is trying to take things one step at a time as she gets ready to move to College Park and join the Big Ten.  For now, she will complete her undergraduate studies at Harvard and choose between master’s degree programs in criminal justice or clinical psychology at Maryland.

What happens after next season, in terms of basketball, academics and everything else, is unknown.

“We’ll see how this next year goes,” mused Benzan.  “I’ll let you know.”