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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – University of Louisville women’s basketball head coach Jeff Walz and his staff announced on Wednesday that they have signed three top players to their 2020 class.
Olivia Cochran, a 6-foot-3 forward from Columbus, Ga., Merissah Russell, a 5-foot-11 guard from Ottawa, Ontario, and Ahlana Smith, a 5-foot-9 guard from Charlotte, N.C., have signed National Letters of Intent with the Louisville women’s basketball program.
“We are extremely excited to announce that Olivia, Merissah and Ahlana will be a part of our 2020 signing class,” said Walz. “Once again, we traveled wherever necessary to find players that are a fit for our program. I can’t wait for our fans to get a chance to watch them play.”
Overall, Walz and his staff have signed 12 McDonald’s All-Americans – with this year’s honorees still yet to be announced.
Olivia Cochran, 6-3, Forward, Columbus, Ga. (Carver)
Olivia Cochran comes to Louisville as the No. 18-ranked player in the class of 2020, according to espnW HoopGurlz. The five-star prospect is tabbed as the fourth-best player at the forward position. Prospects Nation ranks her No. 10 overall and as the third-best forward, while she is ranked No. 26 by PASS Scouting Service.
Cochran was named a first team Class 4-A All-State selection by the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2018 and 2019, while being named honorable mention as a freshman in 2017. She was also named Georgia Class 4A All-State in 2018 and 2019.
She was named Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Player of the Year in 2019, while also being named to the first team in 2018 and 2019 and the second team in 2017.
As a junior, she led Carver to their first ever Class 4-A state title. She averaged 26.0 points, 16.0 rebounds and eight blocked shots a game. She had 15 points and 11 rebounds in the state title game to cap a 32-0 season.
She was a member of the USA women’s 3×3 U18 World Cup Team that won a gold medal with a perfect 7-0 record in early June at the FIBA 3×3 World Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She scored 41 points in the tournament, which ranked fourth among all competitors in the 20-team field.
She was also named MVP of the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s 3×3 U18 National Championship after leading her team to a gold medal with a 7-1 record.
She was named to the 2020 Naismith Trophy Girls High School Player of the Year Preseason Watch List.
Her mother, Tara Williams, was a second-team All-SEC guard as a senior at Auburn in 1997 and played two seasons in the WNBA. Her father, Antonio Cochran, was a defensive lineman at Georgia and was a fourth round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He played five seasons for Seattle and one season for the Arizona Cardinals.
What they are saying about Olivia Cochran
“Olivia Cochran shores up a strong front line with her physicality and passion for the game. She brings the term power back into the forward position. She is an elite rebounder and scorer with face-up skills. She has a nose for the ball and brings an element of toughness and strength with her blue collar work ethic. Her experiences playing with USA basketball this past summer helped develop a great sense of confidence and she has the ability to compete at the highest level. There is no job or defensive assignment she isn’t willing to undertake to help her team win.” – Jeff Walz, Louisville Head Coach
“She is one of the most physical front court prospects in the class of 2020 and her stock has rose considerably over the past year. She is a workhorse off the glass, she’s relentless, and it yields results. Cochran’s offensive production has continued to rise and she’s skilled in the paint. She has all of the ingredients to be an All-ACC player.” – Dan Olson, owner and director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and director of espnW HoopGurlz
“She is a strong, versatile forward, and one of the most improved players in the 2020 class. Has the ability to attack, can score off the bounce and has a nice pull-up jumper. She can score in a variety of ways and rebounds on both ends. She will be a match-up problem for opponents.” – Harry Elifson, Preferred Athlete Scouting Service
Merissah Russell, 5-11, Guard, Ottawa, Ontario (Cairine Wilson)
Merissah Russell is ranked as the 29th best guard by espnW. She is listed as a four-star prospect by Prospects Nation and is rated No. 54 overall by PASS Scouting Service.
Russell played for Canada’s U19 team at the 2019 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand. She helped lead Canada to the quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual champion USA and head coach Jeff Walz.
She finished the tournament averaging 6.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
She was also a member of Canada’s Senior National team and participated as the youngest player on the roster in a five-game European exhibition tour in Belgium and Great Britain.
Russell was named the MVP of the first ever BioSteele All Canadian Girls Game in April, the Canadian version of the McDonald’s All-American game. She finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in that game which featured the top 24 female high school players in Canada.
What they are saying about Merissah Russell
“We are thrilled to officially welcome Merissah to our family of international players. I have had the pleasure of coaching against Merissah and team Canada the past few summers and am glad to finally have her with us, rather than against us. She is a long athletic wing who uses her frame to disrupt the opposition’s best scorers. She can create and score in a multitude of ways and is a student of the game. She is one of the brightest young stars in Canada’s national team program. She will bring energy, enthusiasm, and a high basketball IQ to our young squad.” – Jeff Walz, Louisville Head Coach
“An athletic guard with size who brings an emerging offensive arsenal. Her upside is extremely high. She brings international experience over the past few years to Louisville, as well.” – Dan Olson, owner and director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and director of espnW HoopGurlz
“She is an athletic guard/forward and another versatile player for Coach Walz. She drives from the perimeter and can handle the ball in open court. She has range to the arc and a good stroke from 3-point range. She has huge upside.” – Harry Elifson, Preferred Athlete Scouting Service
“She is probably the most competitive person I know. She competes at an unreal level and that competitiveness extends to the classroom. In the classroom, she has to have the highest marks, she will not settle on being average. I believe that is what makes her special on the court. Merissah consistently strives to be better than she was the day before. She is an exciting and entertaining player. She can handle the ball, shoot, has creative finishes at the rim and great anticipation skills. Her high IQ and risk-taking attitude make her one of the biggest threats on the floor. I can’t wait to see how Jeff Walz and the Louisville staff continue to help her become a better version of herself. We are very excited about what the future holds for Merissah.” – Fabienne Blizzard, head coach at Capital Courts Academy
Ahlana Smith, 5-9, Guard, Charlotte, N.C. (Gulf Coast State / UCLA / Mallard Creek)
Ahlana Smith is a 5-foot-9 shooting guard playing for Gulf Coast State junior college during the 2019-20 season.
She has helped lead Gulf Coast State to a 5-0 start this season, while averaging 29.2 points per game on 51 percent shooting from the floor and 41 percent shooting from 3-point range. She is adding 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Smith spent the 2018-19 season at UCLA, where she played in 32 games, the most of among freshmen on the team. She averaged 12.6 minutes, 3.0 points and 1.9 rebounds on the year.
She opened her collegiate career by scoring a career-high 13 points in UCLA’s season opener at Loyola Marymount. She shot 6-10 from the floor and added four rebounds. She pulled down a career-high seven rebounds against Colorado in UCLA’s regular season finale.
At Mallard Creek High School, she was named First Team All-MeCKa 4A and State Tournament MVP as the Mavericks went 29-1 overall in her junior year. The Mavericks fell in the state semifinals after winning the MeCKa 4A title in 2016. She averaged 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in 2017.
She spent her first two seasons prepping at Zebulon B. Vance High School where averaged 21.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.6 steals, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game as a sophomore, while being named All-League. She averaged 19.4 points per game as a freshman.
Coming out of high school, she was ranked No. 30 in espnW’s HoopGurlz rankings and No. 34 by Prospects Nation.
What they are saying about Ahlana Smith
“Ahlana Smith is a player with Division I experience so she will be ready to contribute immediately. She is a prolific scorer as witnessed by her torrid start at Gulf Coast College. She will bring toughness and grit to our backcourt with her ability to create her own shot and distribute consistently. She plays with a chip on her shoulder and will no doubt bring a mindset that will help us win games in the future.” – Jeff Walz, Louisville Head Coach
“The most complete guard in junior college basketball and is no stranger to the BCS spotlight. After playing 32 games as a freshman at UCLA, Smith moved onto junior college women’s basketball powerhouse, Gulf Coast State. She is silky smooth off the dribble with a jumper that brings range. She is the No. 2 overall prospect in junior college by the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. She was a highly ranked player coming out of high school and her impact should be quick upon her arrival at Louisville.” – Dan Olson, owner and director of the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and director of espnW HoopGurlz
“A scoring guard that attacks and creates in open court. Has an effective pull-up jumper in the lane. Can score in the paint with contact. Will defend. Brings experience to the class. Plays for the top junior college in the country.” – Harry Elifson, Preferred Athlete Scouting Service