The number of Australians in NCAA women’s basketball continues to increase, with over 20 freshmen making their way across the Pacific to begin their college careers.
A number of members of the 2014 Sapphires team that finished fifth at the World Championships are part of this year’s freshman class, and these players make up the majority of the season’s preseason Top 5 incoming freshmen.
5 | Ella Hellessey | TCU
The state of Texas continues to be a preferred destination for top Australian recruits, as Ella Hellessey joins Alicia Froling and Stephanie Collins (SMU), as well as Kristy Wallace (Baylor) at a major school in the Lone Star state. Whilst Hellessey’s credentials are perhaps not as well-established as those three players, the 6’2” forward has nonetheless carved out an excellent junior career. A national team representative at the FIBA Oceania Under 18 Championship in 2014, Hellessey was also a non-travelling reserve for the 2014 FIBA Under 17 World Championship team.
As is the case with many Australian players in college, TCU coach Raegan Pebley is enamoured with Hellessey’s versatility and ability to play at both ends of the floor. Her rebounding is highly valued, an area of competence that Hellessey demonstrated during the 2015 Under 20 national championships in which the power forward averaged 7.6 rebounds per game. Hellessey’s arrival adds to a long list of Australians who have played under Pebley, joining the likes of WNBL players Bree Farley, Rosie Moult, and Alice Coddington, whom Pebley coached during her time at Fresno State and Utah State.
Hellessey may be hard-pressed to earn a starting spot this season in a TCU side that returns plenty of front court experience, but in a side that saw plenty of rotation in 2015/16, the Victorian may yet manage to force her way into the starting five.
4 | Georgia Pineau | Boston College
One of a pair of Australian freshmen to make the move to Boston College for the upcoming season, Georgia Pineau arrives with excellent credentials from her junior career.
A member of this year’s Victoria Navy Under 20s national championship winning side, Pineau averaged 10.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in a dominant team. Pineau also represented Australia at the 2014 FIBA Under 17 World Championships, averaging 8.3 points per game, including a 23 point effort against Japan. Although known principally as a power forward who displays real tenacity on the boards, her developing outside shot has been noticed by Eagles’ coach Erik Johnson. This may see the freshman slot into more of a stretch four role at the college level, particularly in a Boston College team with plenty of height on the roster.
In a young Boston College side looking to improve on last season’s 2-14 conference record, Pineau’s developing versatility could prove to be a real factor in the Eagles’ progress as they search for the winning formula that eluded them for much of the second half of last season after going 13-2 in non-conference play before things took a turn for the worse in ACC play.
3 | Taylor Ortlepp | Boston College
The other half of the Australian freshman pairing in Chestnut Hill this season, Taylor Ortlepp’s career has progressed in a very similar manner to Georgia Pineau’s. The pair were team-mates on the 2014 FIBA Under 17 World Championship team, where Ortlepp was used mainly off the bench but managed to contribute 4.7 points per game.
Although primarily a point guard, the 5’9” Ortlepp can play both back court positions, and her well-rounded game allowed her to become South Australia’s top scorer at this year’s Under 20 national championships. Ortlepp also spent last WNBL season with the Adelaide Lightning, hitting the court in three games. Perhaps a scorer first and facilitator second, Ortlepp can nonetheless produce in a number of ways and at both ends of the floor, with the Eagles’ staff impressed with her defensive abilities.
The scope certainly exists at Boston College for the South Australian to continue to play both back court positions, especially with the Eagles needing to replace team captain Nicole Boudreau in the back court. Boudreau’s production will not be easy to replace, but with coach Erik Johnson already indicating that Ortlepp will be expected to make an immediate impact, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for the freshman to make her mark from the outset.
2 | Morgan Yaeger | Oregon
Forming part of one of Oregon’s most highly rated recruiting classes in program history, Yaeger joins the college ranks as the only Australian in the 2016 ESPN Top 100 recruits for this season. A highly athletic guard who was a member of last season’s Adelaide Lightning WNBL squad, Yaeger saw playing time in 19 of Adelaide’s 24 games last season, averaging 3.3 points in 10 minutes per game.
Yaeger has also represented Australia at the highest levels of youth basketball, coming off the bench for the Sapphires at the 2014 FIBA Under 17 World Championship where the team finished in fifth place. Yaeger will almost certainly be expected to play both guard spots in her freshman year, with Ducks coach Kelly Graves pointing out the South Australian’s versatility as one of her greatest assets, alongside her aggressiveness in getting to the rim and ability to score in a number of ways. The South Australian has displayed these attributes time and again at various representative levels, and will no doubt continue to do so throughout her time in Eugene.
With five Top 100 recruits this season and a coach with long-term championship ambitions, Yaeger appears to have joined Oregon at possibly the most exciting time in program history as the Ducks look to break a fifteen year NCAA Tournament drought.
1 | Alex Sharp | Wake Forest
It was incredibly difficult to split Alex Sharp and Morgan Yaeger for top spot in the preseason top 5, but on paper it appears that Sharp will have more opportunity to make an impact in her freshman year.
A member of the Australian Under 19 side that finished with a bronze medal at the 2015 FIBA World Championships, Sharp averaged 8.7 points and led the team with 7 assists per game in the tournament. Able to play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, Sharp has already been earmarked as a wing for Wake Forest, but her versatility will no doubt be an asset to the Demon Deacons not only this season, but across the next four years.
Having played along the likes of Alanna Smith, Kristy Wallace, Madeleine Dennis, and Alicia Froling at the national team level, Sharp is certainly among good company when it comes to succeeding at college basketball. The Victorian has all the tools to become yet another member of that 2015 Gems team to forge a successful college career of her own, with her scoring, rebounding and basketball IQ evident throughout her junior career and the subject of effusive praise from coach Jen Hoover at the time of Sharp’s signing.
The Pick and Roll caught up with Sharp earlier in the year, and it is safe to say that she is just as excited to be joining Wake Forest as the program is to have secured her.
Click here for a complete listing of the Australian women playing NCAA Division 1 basketball this season.