Hailey Van Lith 11 The LSU Tigers take down the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the second round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament in Baton Rouge, LA at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Sunday, March 24, 2024.

Few things get people as riled up as the new college transfer portal carousel… but a college player transferring to a hated rival team? That causes a whole different level of enmity amongst fanbases, but it also can provide the best opportunity to an athlete who is looking for greener pastures. Former Louisville and LSU guard Hailey Van Lith is currently looking for a new home after jumping in the transfer portal after making it to the Elite 8 this year. And although it would shake the college basketball scene and leave her two former schools in shock, she should transfer to Kentucky.

Earlier this week, Van Lith confirmed that in spite of multiple reports indicating otherwise, she is not committed to TCU, but is “very close” to signing with a school. Above other contenders, UK could give both Van Lith and her fans an unforgettable season.

To say that Van Lith struggled at LSU is an understatement. After averaging 11.2, 14.4, and 19.7, points, respectively in each of her seasons at Louisville, Van Lith’s average PPG dropped to 11.6 PPG in her senior year under head coach Kim Mulkey, her lowest average since her freshman year.

There was a steep cutoff after her junior year across nearly all of her stats and she scored in single digits in every postseason game in the 2023 NCAA Tournament – a stark contrast to her clutch performances in last year’s tournament where she posted at least 20 points and three assists in each game up to the Elite Eight, where the Cardinals were eliminated by the Iowa Hawkeyes, the eventual national runners-up.

Van Lith’s senior season at LSU is largely regarded as the reason she decided to return to play for the 2024-2025 season as her WNBA Draft stock undoubtedly dropped amid her struggle to transition from shooting guard to point guard to benefit her future professional career as an undersized player standing at 5’7”. Her reported commitment to TCU seemed like the perfect fit, with standout center Sedonna Prince returning and Hanna Cavinder announcing that she would be using her extra Covid year of eligibility to play with the Horned Frogs…until Haley Cavinder, Hanna’s twin sister, made a move nobody saw coming and decided to return to Miami for her extra year and Hanna decommitted and followed suit. It makes perfect sense for Van Lith to look elsewhere now that she would likely be pushed to more of a point guard role again without Hanna Cavinder at TCU. 

That’s exactly why Van Lith should consider transferring to Kentucky–not only would she get the chance to learn from one of UK’s newest transfers, the All-American point guard Georgia Amoore, who is a projected first-round pick in next season’s WNBA draft, but she would be coached by Kenny Brooks, who has transformed stat lines, including Amoore’s and 2023 WNBA first-round draft pick, Liz Kitley’s, over the years. Amoore averaged a respectable 11.8 PPG as a freshman, which increased to 18.8 PPG in her senior season.

Not only that, but in between Amoore’s junior and senior seasons, her average assists experienced a sizable jump in just one year, going from 4.9 to 6.8, good for 4th in the nation this past season. Van Lith could experience a similar increase playing along Amoore to take some of the pressure off and reacquaint herself with her former shooting guard style.

If Van Lith is after a ring, a revamped Kentucky roster could also deliver in that department. It’s early, but UK could very well be a national championship contender next year with Amoore, a possible Van Lith, and a young and impressive post presence in Clara Strack and Clara Silva.

Strack, in particular, is somewhat of an enigma in the best way possible–although she averaged only 4.4 PPG and 13.8 minutes per game in her freshman season at Virginia Tech, she was paramount to the Hokies’ postseason success, replacing three-time ACC Player of the Year Kitley, who tore her ACL in VT’s final regular-season game.

In the first round of the tournament, Strack played for 28 minutes and tallied 17 points, five rebounds and four blocks. Strack also closed out the final game of her freshman year in the second round against Baylor with an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double while filling some of the biggest shoes in women’s basketball on the biggest stage of the season before falling to the Bears, 75-72.

Clara Silva, who is considered one of the best international prospects in the game, averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds with the Portuguese National Team in the 2023 FIBA U18 Women’s European Championship last summer, so not only will Kentucky have rebounds galore next year, but Amoore and potentially Van Lith will have plenty of offensive force and assist opportunities to support them down low.

If Brooks can continue his recruiting and transfer acquisition success at Kentucky, the Wildcats can realistically become a force in women’s basketball for years to come. Hailey Van Lith can be a key component of that success if she commits to Kentucky and contributes to a deep run in next year’s tournament. Although Van Lith is still undecided, there are plenty of reasons for her to consider wearing Kentucky blue next season.

Plus, with UK games against both Louisville and LSU undoubtedly on the table for next year, it would be a transfer nobody could ignore–especially if Kentucky plays LSU for a conference championship or late postseason game. If anything, Hailey Van Lith should do it for the content. 

About Katie Lever

Dr. Katie Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Global Sport Matters, Sportico, Extra Points, Forbes, and other outlets. She is also the award-winning author of Surviving the Second Tier, a dystopian novel about the dark side of the college sports industry, available on Amazon. Follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.