Stars like Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston get plenty of attention but they’re not the only budding stars in women’s college basketball you should know.
The college basketball season is just around the corner. There are a lot of great players this year like South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Stanford’s Haley Jones, and they’ll all be talked about plenty over the course of the 2022-23 season.
But there are good players who aren’t on those teams — and good players who are on them but who aren’t those three, like South Carolina’s Zia Cooke, Iowa’s Monika Czinano and Stanford’s Cameron Brink. In fact, I’d say on virtually every team in Division I, there’s at least one player who would make you say “wow, she’s very good at basketball” if you saw her play.
So, let’s talk about some of these less-heralded stars who you should keep an eye on. I tried to have a mixture of power conference and mid-major players here,
10 under-the-radar women’s college basketball stars to get to know
Jacy Sheldon, Guard, Ohio State
Honestly, I’m not sure how “under the radar” Sheldon is. Maybe it’s just because conversations about the Big Ten have been so dominated by Maryland and Iowa over the last couple of years, but Sheldon’s an incredible offensive player who averaged 19.7 points per game last year on a 50.4/36.6/86.4 shooting split.
Sheldon averaged 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game last year, falling just outside the top 100 in both categories. She’s capable of scoring at every level, ranking in the 80th percentile last season in field goal percentage at the rim, 64th percentile in the midrange, and 87th on above-the-break 3s per CBB Analytics. Able to contribute high-quality minutes on both sides of the ball, Sheldon is someone who could play her way into WNBA lottery consideration.
Aneesah Morrow, Forward, DePaul
Of all the players I’m mentioning, Morrow is probably the biggest name after she broke a whole bunch of Big East records last season, including earning Big East Freshman of the Week 13 times in a row, and scoring a Big East freshman record 41 points in a game against Creighton. She also had 23 double-doubles in a row at one point, the sixth-longest streak of consecutive double-doubles in Division I history.
And she should get better this year. Players rarely come into college at their peak performance. Morrow is going to eat up the Big East this year and while Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist is the conference’s preseason POTY, I think Morrow stands a good chance of winning that award at the end of the season.
Rickea Jackson, Forward, Tennessee
Aliyah Boston and Haley Jones are expected to be the first and second picks in next season’s WNBA Draft, but Tennesee’s Rickea Jackson has a really good chance of being the third pick, which makes it a little weird that she isn’t getting a ton of preseason attention. ESPN’s ranking of the top 25 players this season only has Jackson at 18, for example.
Part of it is probably that Jackson left Mississippi State in the middle of the season, so we didn’t really get to see Jackson play at the time of year when the most people are watching college basketball. But in the 15 games she played, Jackson averaged 20.3 points per game, the 19th-best mark in D-I. She also added 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Jackson can do a lot when she’s on the floor, and this year she’ll get to do it on a really good Tennessee squad.
Madi Williams, Forward, Oklahoma
Williams has been the consistency at Oklahoma over her career there, especially during the last three seasons. She’s finished in at least the 98th percentile in points per game in each of those seasons. She’s got some consistency concerns from deep as she shot just 31.1 percent last year from there, but Williams is a high-usage player who knows how to make shots, and there’s some thought that she’ll be fine from 3 this season since last season was the year that she scaled up her usage from there.
And even with that concern, Williams had a 55.1 true shooting percentage, good for the 85th percentile. She’s also one of the best transition scorers in the country — last season, she ranked in the 99th percentile in points per game on the fast break.
Lexi Donarski, Guard, Iowa State
Ashley Joens is Iowa State’s star, and she’s widely acknowledged as a top-10 player in college basketball. But she’s not the only Cyclone player to be really, really good at playing basketball.
Last season, Lexi Donarski was second on the Cyclones in scoring at 13.0 points per game. She shot 37.1 percent from 3 and also added 1.8 assists per game. And honestly, we could have also put her teammate Emily Ryan in this shot, who shot 40.9 percent from 3 and dished out 7.1 assists per game. The point here is that Iowa State is more than just Ashley Joens, which is why they’re such a threat to dethrone Baylor in the Big 12.
Starr Jacobs, Forward, UT Arlington
While we’re talking about Iowa State, let’s talk about a team that took them to the limit in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament: UT Arlington. The Mavs made a run to win the Sun Belt tournament, then pushed Iowa State until late, all thanks to the star power of Starr Jacobs.
Jacobs set the team’s single-season scoring record last year, averaging 21.0 points per game on 54.2 percent shooting while also adding 2.3 steals per game. The former JUCO player stepped into Division I and was immediately dominant. Her first game was against Baylor, where she scored 14 points. She had a dominant conference tournament, scoring 28 points in three consecutive games.
Lexi Fleming, Guard, Bowling Green
The Falcons struggled a little more than expected last year, dropping from 21-8 in 2020-21 to 17-16 last year, and the biggest part of that was because Lexi Fleming suffered a preseason injury, which kept the 2020-21 MAC Freshman of the Year off the court all year.
But she’s back! Fleming averaged 15.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game as a freshman, and provided she’s healthy, she should have strong numbers again this year. Watch for the Falcons to be a threat in the MAC.
Charlisse Leger-Walker, Guard, Washington State
Last year, the Cougars were led by the Leger-Walker sisters, Charlisse and Krystal. but with Krystal graduated, it’s going to be all Charlisse this year, and she should be up for the task. Last season, she averaged 16.1 points per game for Washington State, as well as 1.6 steals per game. She only shot 27.2 percent from 3, but she made up for it with her ability to get to the basket, as she averaged 7.2 points in the paint per game.
The Pac-12 is probably the major conference that gets the least attention relative to its talent. Some of that it can be hard to watch the conference. Leger-Walker is one of a number of players on the west coast who deserve to be talked about more.
Lauren Park-Lane, Guard, Seton Hall
5-foot-3 Lauren Park-Lane might be the most fun player in college basketball. Despite being at a height disadvantage at all times, Park-Lane makes up for it by…IDK, by just being fun.
Park-Lane is just a wizard when the ball’s in her hands. Last season, she averaged 18.4 points per game, 53rd most in the country, and 6.7 assists per game, fifth-best. Turnovers can be an issue, but sometimes when you’re watching basketball, you just want to watch fun basketball. That’s Lauren Park-Lane.
Janiah Barker, Forward, Texas A&M
Barker is the lone freshman to make this list, largely because Texas A&M had a huge need for a player exactly like Barker coming into this season. Last year, the team consistently struggled to find production up front, commonly running lineups with four guards/wings.
But Baker, No. 3 in ESPN’s HoopGurlz recruiting rankings last year, should be able to make an immediate impact up front for the Aggies, who’ll be a really interesting team to watch: a new coach and a mostly new roster trying to survive in the SEC.
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