In March, the UNC women's basketball team showcased its future as its young core led the way to a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament. That future got even brighter on April 11, with the commitment of Ciera Toomey, a five-star center and No. 3 recruit in the nation for the class of 2023.
Toomey had an outstanding junior campaign at Dunmore High School, averaging just over 18 points and 7.0 rebounds per game with a 67.2 shooting percentage from the floor. Toomey received around two dozen offers from NCAA Division I programs, including UNC, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame and Connecticut.
UNC may not have the credentials that multiple-time national champions UConn and Notre Dame have, but for Toomey the clear decision was to join head coach Courtney Banghart in Chapel Hill.
“I have always liked UNC,” Toomey said. “It's one of those colleges that you just root for even if you don’t have any connection.”
For anyone close to Toomey, her decision was not surprising at all.
“Really from the beginning, North Carolina seemed to be the school that stuck out the most,” Toomey’s high school coach Ben O'Brien said.
Toomey’s draw to UNC began when she played in the Drive, Chip and Putt golf tournament at Pinehurst, N.C. at the age of 12. That day, she told her mom that she would go to school in North Carolina.
Still, it was more than just the initial pull of North Carolina that led Toomey to her decision. She was won over by the Tar Heels’ coaching staff, style of play and academics.
“I loved coach Banghart right from the beginning,” Toomey said. “I always knew that she was going to be the coach for me.”
Toomey prefers Banghart’s calm and collected coaching style, which she said is similar to her high school coaches. Toomey also connected with the assistant coaches and current players. She said that as soon as she visited UNC she knew, “These are the type of people I want to be around.”
Looking forward, Toomey will likely be a key contributor in multiple aspects of the Tar Heels’ game. At six-foot-four, Toomey will be one of the tallest on UNC’s roster next to rising junior Alexandra Zelaya and rising redshirt freshman Teonni Key, who are both six-foot-four. Key missed the 2021-2022 season due to an ACL injury but is likely to return for the 2022-2023 season.
Toomey's height and versatility will add much-needed depth to Banghart’s team. The Tar Heels had a commendable season last year but fell to South Carolina in the Sweet 16. Part of that loss was due to South Carolina center Aliyah Boston, who pulled down 22 rebounds and scored 28 points against the smaller UNC team.
Before Toomey arrives in Chapel Hill, she has to finish her senior year of high school, which will be hindered by a torn ACL that she suffered on March 3. Her recovery was delayed by infection before surgery but is now going smoothly.
O’Brien believes that the strength training and physical therapy involved with the ACL recovery process will increase Toomey's strength, speed and agility beyond where she was at before her injury.
“Ultimately, Toomey is going to come back a better player … than she was even before,” O’Brien said. “At the end of the day, it's going to be a blessing in disguise.”
Toomey said her style of play was inspired by UConn legend and Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart. Toomey's coaches have even worked with her to incorporate some of Stewart's moves into her arsenal.
There are certainly some aspects of Stewart's game that can be seen in Toomey. Toomey has guard-like passing and shooting skills that are very rare for someone of her height. She is able to shoot threes, drive to the basket and post up. Defensively, she is able to guard multiple positions and block shots.
With skills on both the offensive and defensive end, there are seemingly endless possibilities for how Banghart will incorporate Toomey into the Tar Heels’ game.
“She’s a coach's dream,” said Kevin Clark, Toomey's AAU coach. “That’s why she was so highly recruited. She is able to do so many things.”