April 15, 2024

Freshmen have taken center stage from the very first day of the 2023-24 women’s college basketball season, with spell-binding performances from the likes of USC‘s JuJu Watkins, South Carolina‘s MiLaysia Fulwiley and Notre Dame‘s Hannah Hidalgo in season openers on Nov. 6.

Those three have emerged as some of the burgeoning stars of the sport, but they aren’t alone. This season’s freshman class has continued to dazzle six-plus weeks into the season, in some cases elevating their teams to new heights, in others stepping up more than expected, and all the while generating more excitement over the next generation of players eager to take the sport by storm.

ESPN ranked the top 25 players in the nation this week. Now, as conference play nears and a new calendar year begins, here are the 15 freshmen who have had the biggest impact.

1. JuJu Watkins, USC

Guard | 6-foot-2
Stats:
26.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 46.9% 3FG

Watkins was highly touted as the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2023, and her first month-plus at USC has lived up to the billing. Even aside from her plethora of 30-point performances — including in a signature win against Ohio State — the way her build and athleticism are blended with such versatility and skill, smoothness and poise, makes it clear she’s not your average top recruit. In fact, it’s hard not to watch Watkins and start to think of her tantalizing ceiling as a pro prospect. She has catapulted the Trojans into national relevance less than 10 games in, as USC has enjoyed its best ranking in the AP poll since 1994 and is currently slotted as a No. 2 seed in our Bracketology.

2. Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame

Guard | 5-6
Stats:
23.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.2 APG, 6.0 SPG

Even though Notre Dame lost its season opener to South Carolina, Hidalgo’s debut turned heads in Paris and back stateside — because of her stat line (31 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals) but also for her fearlessness, something that doesn’t often come easily to freshmen. The mindset has served her well as 9-1 Notre Dame navigates being without Olivia Miles and, for all but three games, Sonia Citron. Hidalgo’s 23.8 scoring average ranks fourth in the nation (while shooting 51.1% from the floor and 38.6% from 3) and her 6.0 steals per game is tops. Hidalgo, who also leads her team in minutes and assists, and is second in rebounding, notched her first triple-double Thursday, with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Guard | 6-0
Stats:
17.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.7 APG

The star power LSU gained in the offseason didn’t just come from the transfer portal. The No. 2 player in the class of 2023, Williams has been a force for the Tigers, providing a steadiness amid LSU’s tumultuous first month. She put together a highlight-reel performance when she dropped 42 points (15-for-20 shooting) on Kent State, but has also asserted herself against better competition (her 17 points against Colorado and 20 versus Virginia Tech both are team highs). It’s not just what Williams is doing on a team with so much talent that stands out, but how she’s doing it. The guard is on track for a 50/40/90 season, shooting 51.3% from the field, 45.2% from 3 and 93.9% from the free throw line — with her 3-point shooting particularly crucial for a team that otherwise lacks it.

Guard | 5-9
Stats:
22.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 APG

For as good as Williams has been, she might not be the leading candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year. Scott, who has won the conference’s weekly freshman award four times, might be that player, as she currently leads the league in scoring amid a whopping usage rate of 31.3%. The former Florida Gatorade Player of the Year earned the green light from Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors, taking 18.0 shots per game for the Razorbacks, seven more than her next-highest teammate, and is excellent at getting to the free throw line, where she averages 6.1 attempts.

Forward | 6-2
Stats:
14.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.8 APG

Iowa State is in rebuilding mode following the departure of Ashley Joens and might not currently be a top contender in an competitive Big 12, but the Cyclones’ freshmen have the future looking bright in Ames. Brown is the only player in the country averaging at least 14 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, while connecting on 51.2% of her shots (34.1% of her 3s) and leading the Cyclones in minutes. The Kansas native’s 14-point, 12-rebound and 5-assist outing in a tight rivalry game against No. 4 Iowa put the promise of Brown and her fellow freshmen on full display.

Forward | 6-1
Stats:
11.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.8 APG

Booker has been a welcome addition to the backcourt, someone coach Vic Schaefer has described as having a point guard mentality looking to facilitate but also create her own shot. That has benefited Texas’ offense (she’s second on the team in assists and third in scoring) and helped take a bit of the load off Rori Harmon. Booker’s biggest scoring outing came at a great time, too, as her 20 points were huge in helping take down UConn.

7. MiLaysia Fulwiley, South Carolina

Guard | 5-10
Stats:
12.1 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.6 SPG

Dawn Staley called Fulwiley “generational” before the now-freshman even arrived on campus, and it’s easy to see why. Fulwiley went viral on the first day of the season for her playmaking in South Carolina’s big win over Notre Dame, and has continued to put on a show ever since. Averaging 19.0 minutes, she hasn’t been heavily relied upon by the Gamecocks, especially with elder backcourt players available, but nonetheless adds an electricity to South Carolina’s offense that helps take it to another level.

Guard | 5-11
Stats:
14.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.0 APG

The Big 12 has one of the best collections of freshman talent in the country, and Heard is among them. The guard from Sapulpa, Oklahoma, is the top scorer and rebounder for the Cowgirls, which has helped them mightily as they were without two-time transfer Hannah Gusters until she became eligible this past week. Heard’s 61.9% shooting ranks in the top 25 in the nation and she showed out against then-No. 5 Colorado last month with 17 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.

Guard | 5-10
Stats:
10.3 PPG, 4.5 APG; 4.9 RPG

NC State is incredibly balanced with six scorers averaging about 10 points or more, and Brooks — the Wolfpack’s highest-ever-ranked signee at No. 4 — has been part of the effort. But her playmaking really boosts NC State (her 4.5 assists are best on the team), especially over the past three games when Saniya Rivers has been out with an injury. Earlier this month Brooks logged the second triple-double in program history with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Center | 6-3
Stats:
16.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.6 BPG

Iowa State’s five-player freshman class is responsible for the highest percentage of team points, rebounds and minutes across all Power 5 schools, according to the program, and Crooks’ contributions are a significant part of that. Though she averages only 20.8 minutes and started the season coming off the bench, she now leads the Cyclones in scoring, and her 67.6% shooting from the field is the best of any freshman in the country.

Guard | 5-10
Stats:
9.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG

Duke is another team built off its youth, and Okananwa has added to that energy with a meaningful role off the bench. The guard from Massachusetts, who impressed against Stanford with 12 points and 9 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ overtime defeat, can spark the offense by getting downhill and sinking 3-pointers (47.8%) while also hitting the offensive glass at a high rate.

Guard | 5-11
Stats:
14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.5 APG

Woolston, already a two-time Big 12 Freshman of the Week honoree, has been a great complement to BYU’s double-double machine Lauren Gustin, coming in second on the team in scoring on 52.0% shooting. Over half of her shots come from the 3-point arc, where her 50.7% clip (35-of-69) positions her as one of the best shooters in the country regardless of class.

Guard | 6-0
Stats:
14.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG

Nichols gives the Jayhawks another scoring threat alongside Taiyanna Jackson and their experienced senior core, and the freshman is already making an immediate impact in Lawrence. The guard can work off the dribble and hit from the 3-point arc, pacing the reigning WNIT champs in scoring (on an efficient 47.7% from the field and 41.4% from 3-point range) and assists.

Forward/guard | 6-2
Stats:
10.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG

A three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week winner, Potts leads conference freshmen in scoring and rebounding, while ranking third and second in those respective categories for the Cornhuskers. Coach Amy Williams has also been pleased with what she brings on the defensive end.

Guard | 5-9
Stats:
8.6 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.3 SPG

UConn’s trio of true freshmen have all had their moments, but Arnold — a three-time Big East Freshman of the Week — has been the most consistent. Her ability to play with pace, facilitate and get to the rim and free throw line have been key for a UConn team that has had to shift its identity because of injuries.

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