Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Updated: November 8, 5:56 PM ET
Top rookies to watch
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
As much as the attention last season centered on Tennessee and its Super Six freshmen, Texas' rookies seem to be topping the story lines now. With guard Erika Arriaran headlining our first team, three Longhorns landed among our top true freshmen (yes, folks, that's why you don't see Candace Parker's name here) to watch this season:
PRESEASON ALL-FRESHMAN FIRST TEAM
Erika Arriaran, Texas, 5-10, guard, Norco, Calif. (Norco HS)
Arriaran has been on the radar since the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when she became the youngest player ever invited to Blue Star Elite Summer Camp. As a senior, Arriaran averaged 17.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 52 percent from downtown. Arriaran was the Parade Magazine and State Farm/WBCA national high school player of the year and was rated the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2004-05 by the All-Star Girls Report and Basketball Today. Touted for her ballhandling, distribution skills and shooting, Arriaran -- who helped the USA U-19 team go 8-0 for gold last summer at the FIBA World Championships -- can play either guard position.
Marissa Coleman, Maryland, 6-1, guard/forward, Cheltenham, Md. (St. John's College HS)
Terps coach Brenda Frese calls Coleman a tremendous competitor who "won't back down to anyone," and the rookie's résumé backs it up. The first-team Parade All-American led all scorers with 19 points in the McDonald's All-America game and was named the East Team's MVP at the WBCA's all-star contest. Coleman, a member of the gold-medal winning USA U-19 World Championship team, amassed 2,057 points and 1,750 rebounds in high school while averaging a double-double the past two seasons (she was 0.3 rebounds shy of a double-double her sophomore season, as well). Coleman can "score, defend, rebound and pass" and "is going to have a huge impact on our program from day one," Frese adds.
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma, 6-4, center, Piedmont, Calif. (Piedmont HS)
Paris, whose twin Ashley also is a Sooners freshman, is a traditional power center who averaged 27 points, 18.9 rebounds and five blocks as a senior. Yet, Paris' "exceptional instincts set her apart," OU coach Sherri Coale says. "She knows when it is time to take over. She has a feel for the game like a point guard. To have a back-to-the-basket player who instinctually understands the flow of the game is really, really special." Paris, the USA Today and Naismith 2005 national player of the year, tallied 16 points and 12 boards for MVP honors at the McDonald's All-America game. She also already is OU's most experienced international player, having won three gold medals with various USA Basketball youth teams. Paris, whose father, William "Bubba" Paris was an All-Pro NFL lineman for the 49ers, averaged 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds over 12 games with the USA U-19 World Championship team this past summer.
Kia Vaughn, Rutgers, 6-4, center, Bronx, N.Y. (St. Michael's Academy)
Remember the impact that Sylvia Fowles had last season at LSU? Vaughn is expected to do the same thing, only she'll start immediately for C. Vivian Stringer's Big East favorite squad. Rated as the second-best post and as high as the No. 4 overall prospect, Vaughn played in the 2005 McDonald's and WBCA All-America games. The preseason All-Big East freshman of the year averaged 26 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks as a senior en route to New York State Gatorade Player of the Year honors. And she's already familiar with her teammates. At the summer 2004 USA Basketball junior national team trials, she played with current Scarlet Knights Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson.
Abby Waner, Duke, 5-10, guard, Highlands Ranch, Colo. (ThunderRidge HS)
Touted as a prolific scorer, Waner didn't disappoint in high school, where she amassed 2,670 career points. During her senior season, she scored at least 20 points in all 28 games -- including a state-record 61 points in the regular-season finale -- en route to averaging 32.5 points (as well as 7.5 rebounds, 5.7 steals and 6.9 assists) per game. The Gatorade and McDonald's national player of the year, whose older sister, Emily, also plays for Duke, is a long-range threat who started all eight games for the USA U-19 World Championship team this past summer, averaging 8.9 points and hitting 40.6 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Carla Cortijo, Texas, 5-7, guard, Houston (Bellaire HS)
Mariana Mergerson, Texas, 6-3, post, Duncanville, Texas (Duncanville HS)
Texas' recruiting class included six players ranked among the top 75 recruits. Still, the ACC signed more top-75 players (15) than any other conference. The SEC signed 14, followed by the Big 12 (12), Big East (11), Big Ten (nine) and Pac-10 (seven).
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.