Perennial top-5 women’s basketball program Notre Dame is in line to keep its stature with the official news on Thursday that it will add 6-4 post player and Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard to its 2017-18 roster.
Although she will have to sit out this coming season per NCAA transfer rules, Shepard — a two-time All-Big Ten choice and the No. 3-ranked player overall nationally in 2015 by ESPNHoopgurlz — will have two years of eligibility remaining in 2018-19 and 2019-20 while likely replacing All-American Brianna Turner, who will be a senior this year.
The Nebraska native committed to the Cornhuskers in the eighth grade, led a state title run at Lincoln Southwest as a sophomore, transferred to Fremont High as a junior where she averaged 30 points per game, and easily was on pace to become the state’s all-time scoring leader as a senior before tearing an ACL.
Rated by ESPNHoopgurlz as the nation’s No. 3 prospect in 2015 behind Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn) and Asia Durr (Louisville), Shepard bounced back from her injury and was named the National Freshman of the Year in 2016 while averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for a Cornhuskers team that finished 18-13.
This past year she was second-team All-Big Ten while averaging 18.4 points and 9.7 rebounds under new coach Amy Williams, who debuted with a 7-22 record, the worst in school history.
Shepard announced her intent to transfer at the end of the season and in April took visits to Notre Dame and reigning national champ South Carolina. Shepard had been teammates with Turner and Notre Dame junior guard Marina Mabrey on the 2014 U18 United States National Team that won the gold medal at FIBA Americas championship with a 5-0 record while she averaged double-figure scoring.
“I wanted to go to a place where I can develop into the player I want to be and compete for championships,” Shepard told the Omaha World-Herald. “Notre Dame has a post coach [Carol Owens] that is second to none and considered the best in the country. My skills fit into the offense they run and that offense will allow me to play on the perimeter and in the post.”
Landing front-line players to help replace Turner — sidelined with an ACL tear this March during the NCAA Tournament — has been a priority for the Irish recruiting. The Irish signed 6-3 Mikayla Vaughn and 6-2 Danielle Patterson for the 2017-18 team, and earlier this spring received a commitment from New York’s 6-3 Danielle Cosgrove for the 2018 class.
After next year, the Irish could lose all three of their current post players in Turner, senior Kathryn Westbeld and fifth-year senior Kristina Nelson.
The 2018 haul so far also includes guards Jenna Brown, Katlyn Gilbert and Abby Prohaska. Shepard will be the fifth addition. Head coach Muffet McGraw indicated earlier this season she was looking to sign six players in the 2018 cycle.