Star qualities in 10 incoming freshmen
It's really not all that different from "American Idol," "The Voice" and, for those of us in the older generation, "Star Search." Finding the next breakout star -- whether it's a singer or a basketball player -- can be an invigorating process.
With the graduation of Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Delle Donne to the WNBA, there are plenty of big shoes to fill in women's college basketball. On our journey across the country, we have found 10 incoming freshmen who are strong contenders to be the next big star.
Diamond DeShields, a North Carolina commit, is a 6-foot-2 winger who already plays like a pro. She doesn't just win; she wins big. As a senior at Norcross (Ga.), DeShields put up 25 points and five rebounds in a January game to hand rival North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.) its first loss. In the rematch, with the state championship on the line, DeShields had 24 points and four rebounds and won her third state title. Still not impressed? DeShields is also draped in gold after winning four top prizes with USA Basketball. She has that rare combination of talent and leadership that spells success. Along with Stephanie Mavunga, Allisha Gray and Jessica Washington, DeShields is part of one of the greatest recruiting classes ever. When this class merges with Brittany Roundtree and Xylina McDaniel, coach Sylvia Hatchell's chances of winning another national championship are hot like fire.
Lindsay Allen, a Notre Dame commit, is a 5-8 point guard who has grown her game over the years. Clearing the smoke of Diggins is not going to be an easy task, but if anyone can do it, it's Allen. Her basketball IQ has improved, and her competitive nature and skill level are going to help the Irish maintain the greatness they are used to. In the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game, Allen tied her season high of 28 points, including sinking 16 of 16 free throws, to lead St. John's College (Washington, D.C.) to a 67-66 win over Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) and avenge its only loss. Allen also is a calming influence on the floor and has the ability to make those around her better, even those on the bench. "[Allen] can make coaches look really good," St. John's coach Jonathan Scribner told the Washington Post after the WCAC title game. Playing with the best is nothing new to her. She was on the gold medal-winning U-17 USA Basketball team. With fellow incoming freshman Taya Reimer, a 6-2 post player from Indiana who can play at both ends, and the return of Jewell Loyd, coach Muffet McGraw will continue to get her team into the games that truly matter.
Linnae Harper, a Kentucky commit, is a 5-6 point guard who will be asked to pick up where A'dia Mathies left off. Mathies, a 5-9 guard now with the Los Angeles Sparks, set the bar at Kentucky for hustle and determination and helped lead Kentucky to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Those reins are now passed to the incoming freshman. Harper exudes passion, determination and a driven focus on the challenge ahead. With untapped potential, she constantly demands more from herself. She can play several positions, from point guard to small forward. Rebounding is her forte. Harper struck gold with the USA Basketball U-17 team and averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists per game at Whitney Young (Chicago) before playing in the McDonald's All American Games in her hometown.
Tyler Scaife, a 5-8 point guard and Rutgers commit, is set to pair with legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer. Given Stringer's history of developing great guards -- Matee Ajavon, Epiphanny Prince and Cappie Pondexter -- this should be a great fit. In the open floor, Scaife can dazzle the crowd with her crafty play and score when needed. With an uncompromised drive and strong will to lead, she may be the court conductor Stringer needs to get back to the NCAA tournament. Scaife was named MVP of the WBCA High School All-American Game after scoring 17 points. As a senior, she led Hall (Little Rock, Ark.) to a 30-2 record and a state championship while averaging 23.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.1 steals per game. With Scaife joining forces with a healthy Briyona Canty and Betnijah Laney, look for Rutgers to return to its winning ways.
Kaela Davis, a 6-2 winger, is expected to lift Georgia Tech to unprecedented heights. The daughter of former NBA player Antonio Davis could rewrite the school's record books. Davis can dominate smaller guards and finish strong. She is a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches because she can score at will, put the basketball on the court and shoot the jumper. Davis has struck gold twice with USA Basketball, and she has the ability to take Georgia Tech to the top of women's basketball. Despite having to sit out the last part of her senior season with a health issue, Davis put up a strong showing at the McDonald's All American Games. She showed off her range by winning the 3-point contest at the Powerade Jam Fest in Chicago and finished her high school career at Buford (Ga.) by averaging 21 points per game.
Kelsey Plum, a Washington commit, is a 5-9 guard and the epitome of what every coach wants. She is a player who has the ability to translate a coach's vision into action and assume a leadership role. That is exactly what new coach Mike Neighbors will need to get off to a strong start with the Huskies. As a senior, Plum led La Jolla Country Day (Calif.) by averaging of 27.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 3.3 assists per game. She scored 2,215 points during her high school career and led her team to a 103-22 record. Her accolades, including being named Ms. Basketball in California, are impressive even before she hits the University of Washington floor. This lefty has mastered placement on the court. Simply, she gets where she needs to be and makes her shots.
Alaina Coates is a 6-4 center who brings much more than size to the South Carolina campus. In 2012, the Gamecocks finished 25-8 and 11-5 in conference play and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. That was without a big, talented post like Coates. Many scouts believe Coates has not even tapped into her true potential. With her ability to get the rebound, outlet the pass and play rim to rim, she brings a skill and edge that could make an immediate impact. She will fit in well with coach Dawn Staley's up-tempo style. Coates led Dutch Fork (Irmo, S.C.) to a 29-0 record and a state championship as a senior while averaging 21.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. She should have a huge footprint early on the South Carolina court.
Ieshia Small, a Baylor commit, is a speedy, ultra-athletic 6-0 guard who can play anywhere on the perimeter. She is a fierce competitor and a complete player who will provide size, rebounding and scoring on the perimeter. Coach Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears are getting a player whose game progresses each time she steps on the court. Small averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 5 steals per game as a senior at Florida High School (Tallahassee). After the death of her mother, Small became more driven and acquired a relentless passion for basketball, using it as a haven from the foster-care facility where she lived. She will provide a great defensive presence and is possibly the biggest sleeper in the class. With Odyssey Sims leading the way and a five-player incoming class, Baylor is poised to stay strong as it adapts to life without Griner.
Oderah Chidom, who is heading to Duke, could be the key the Blue Devils need to get coach Joanne P. McCallie the most coveted prize. With the return of a full deck of players -- Chelsea Gray, Alexis Jones and Elizabeth Williams -- Chidom may be able to provide a final boost. She will provide the extra athletic body to battle down low, block shots and knock down shots around the rim. As a senior at Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), she averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals per game. Chidom, ranked the No. 10 prospect by espnW HoopGurlz for the 2013 class, has the ability to develop her game even further. At 6-3, she is athletic and has a hard-nosed determination to be the best.
Mercedes Russell, a Tennessee commit, is the top-ranked prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2013 class. Expect the 6-5 post player to bring the noise to Tennessee over the next four years. She is versatile, long, athletic and fun to watch. She can face up around the basket and block shots, causing hesitation to anyone entering her zone. She also steps out and shoots the ball from the perimeter. She finished her high school career at Springfield (Ore.) as the third career leading scorer in Oregon girls' basketball history with 2,286 points. As a senior, she averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and six blocks per game. She has won two gold medals with USA Basketball. What's most anticipated in Knoxville? Her combination of skill and size. She is joining a powerhouse program, and the future for coach Holly Warlick looks bright.