Many projections and predictions are thrown out each season prior to the start of the women’s college basketball season. Experts are trying to peg down who will be the best team, the top scorer and who will make the Final Four.
But it’s difficult to account for what impact the newcomers to the sport will have on their teams, leagues and those predictions. Who would’ve thought that Shakira Austin would’ve broke the Maryland single season record for blocks last year? Or that Elizabeth Balogun would be one of the top players in the ACC? Or that NaLyssa Smith would play a large role in the final game of the season to help Baylor win the national title?
Those freshmen and a few others jumped off the screen last season for fans of women’s college basketball. They had to get familiar with those big names quickly.
Here's a few freshmen who could have similar impacts this season.
Haley Jones, Stanford
The 6-foot-1 wing from Santa Cruz, California, was pegged as the No. 1 2019 recruit in the nation by ESPN. She was a McDonald’s All-American, a Jordan Brand All-American, a USA Today All-American, the Naismith High School Player of the Year and a gold medal winner with Team USA at the FIBA U-17 World Cup.
Jones opted for Stanford over offers from all the top contenders, including UConn, Notre Dame, Oregon and South Carolina. She has been heralded for ball-handling, passing and shooting skills. As a senior in high school, she averaged 26.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.8 blocks per-game.
Stanford made the Elite Eight last season, but could go further in the NCAA tournament if Jones is as good as advertised.
Jordan Horston, Tennessee
For first year head coach Kellie Harper, landing Horston was a big get as she tries to rebuild Tennessee into the consistent championship contender that it was under the legendary Pat Summitt. Horston was the No. 2 recruit in the nation according to ESPN and signed with Tennessee over UCLA, UConn, Louisville and North Carolina.
A 6-foot-2 guard from Columbus, Ohio, Horston played with Jones on that FIBA U-17 team and was also a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American. As a senior in high school, she averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists per-game.
Athleticism is in Horston’s blood. Her father played Division III college basketball at Capital University, her sister played basketball at North Carolina and her uncle is the late Joe Gilliam, who played quarterback at Tennessee State and won two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Boston is the leader of a talented freshmen class for Dawn Staley at South Carolina. She was the No. 3 recruit in the nation, according to ESPN, and her freshmen teammates were ranked fourth, 10th and 11th. Boston opted to sign with the Gamecocks over UConn, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
A 6-foot-4 forward from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Boston was named as an All-American by McDonald’s and SLAM Magazine. She played her high school ball in Massachusetts, where she was a three-time Gatorade Player of the Year. This past year, she won a Gold Medal with Team USA at the U-19 World Cup.
As a senior, Boston averaged 17.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per-game. The Gamecocks made the Sweet 16 last season, but Boston and the rest of this talented class could help them go further.
Sam Brunelle, Notre Dame
Notre Dame lost five starters from last year’s team that appeared in the national championship game, which means that Brunelle is going to have the chance to contribute right away. At the ACC’s women’s basketball media day, Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw called Brunelle a “three-point shooting weapon.”
“I think Sam is going to have a major impact on our program,” McGraw told NCAA.com. “She’s someone we need to score and she’s going to play a lot.”
The 6-foot-2 native of Ruckersville, Virginia was tabbed as ESPN’s No. 6 2019 recruit and was a McDonald’s All-American. At the McDonald’s game, she won the three-point shooting contest. She finished her high school career with 2,229 points and 1,272 rebounds and averaged a double-double as a senior.
Diamond Miller, Maryland
ESPN pegged Miller as its No. 17 2019 recruit, but if Maryland’s season opener was any indication, Miller is going to play often for Brenda Frese’s side this season. In her collegiate debut — a win over Wagner — Miller was active, racking up seven points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals in 21 minutes of play.
A 6-foot-3 native of Somerset, New Jersey, Miller was a McDonald’s All-American and her won her state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. Along with South Carolina’s Boston, she helped Team USA win a gold medal in the FIBA U-19 World Cup this past year. As a senior in high school, she averaged 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, four blocks and 3.9 assists per-game.
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