NCAA Women: 2018/19 Top 5 Freshmen

With 30 Australian freshmen women heading over to the US for their first college season in 2018/19, competition was certainly fierce for the preseason top 5 this year, particularly with more than a third of those players having been called up to national program camps.

With nine players headed to power conference programs and a number of other players heading to top mid-majors, missing out on the top 5 this season certainly doesn’t preclude a player from developing into a star at the collegiate level, as convincing arguments could be made for at least three or four other players to be included here.

5 | Kristina MOORE | Florida

If not for an ACL injury during the tour to America that secured her a scholarship, Kristina Moore would have been one of the first names on the roster for the New South Wales Under 20 team this year, and the play that earned her a spot at Florida would have been on show for all to see in Terrigal. Although Moore had a bit-part role in the NSW side as a bottom-aged player in 2017, the power forward was one of the best front court players in the NSW Waratah League last year before injury struck, more than holding her own against the likes of Suzy Batkovic despite her young age to average 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in her 11 games before the trip to America and the injury.

Extremely nimble on her feet for a player of her size and youth, this could possibly be attributed in part to her ability in the discus circle, and Moore will indeed represent Florida in both basketball as well as track and field, having won Youth Commonwealth Games gold in 2015 and reaching #7 in the world under 18 discus rankings. At 6’1, Moore may be slightly undersized among college power forwards, but her mobility and ability to finish from close range more than makes up for it as she looks to develop a partnership with the Gators’ other Australian, senior point guard Funda Nakkasoglu. The question mark of course still lingers regarding Moore’s return from injury, but having not pushed herself to return to the game in quick time, hopefully those couple of extra months of recovery will stand the freshman in good stead heading into her first season in Gainesville.

4 | Samantha SIMONS | Saint Mary’s

One of three members of the Sapphires side that secured Under 17 World Championship gold in 2016 to feature in this list, Samantha Simons is also one of five Australians on the Saint Mary’s roster this season. She joins red-shirt freshman Milly Yates, red-shirt junior Jasmine Forcadilla, and senior pair Megan McKay and Carly Turner on a Gaels team intent on stopping arch-rivals Gonzaga from collecting a third consecutive West Coast Conference championship.

Despite suffering an injury on the opening day of the tournament, Simons led South Australia in both scoring with 13.9 points and assists with an even 4 per game at Under 20 National Championships as the team finished fourth. Those numbers good enough for sixth and fifth in the competition respectively. While known for her general desire to bomb away from deep, Simons scored her points in a variety of manners at that tournament, and continued that trend into the most recent season of South Australian Premier League with Forestville.

In an Eagles side that reached the grand final before going down to North Adelaide, Simons averaged 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game to demonstrate that whilst she is certainly an outstanding scorer, she is far from a one-dimensional player.

With recent Townsville Fire signing, Kiwi guard Stella Beck the only graduating player on last year’s Saint Mary’s roster, Simons comes into the Gaels at a time where the roster is fairly settled. However, the team will require back court players stepping up to fill the void left by Beck’s departure. With that said, although Simons is listed as a guard, at 6’2, the freshman is taller than all bar two players on the Gaels’ roster. Therefore, it would not be unexpected to see the South Australian spend plenty of time playing in the three-spot, and it may yet come to pass that she becomes the direct replacement for Carly Turner, who is in her final season of what has been an outstanding college career.

3 | Emma CLARKE | Colorado

Originally a verbal commitment to UC Santa Barbara, Clarke reneged following a coaching change at the Gauchos, and landed herself at a far more high-profile program in one of the nation’s toughest conferences in the form of Pac-12 school Colorado.

Length in the back court seems to be a trait throughout the Colorado roster, with Clarke one of a number of guards to stand at 5'10 or taller alongside pocket rockets Kennedy Leonard and Peyton Carter who stand 5'8. This should allow the freshman to shift to the three-spot at times, with Colorado coach JR Payne already outlining Clarke's versatility as one of the positive attributes that the Western Australian brings to the team.

Although Clarke skipped this year’s Under 20 National Championships in which Western Australia finished sixth, that proved not to be a barrier to national team selection. She was called up to the FIBA Asia Under 18s tournament in October alongside a number of other 2018 freshmen, including Miela Goodchild and Samantha Simons.

Clarke has also been impressive in Western Australia's SBL this season, finishing second for scoring and third in rebounding for her Perry Lakes side that went out in the first round of the playoffs in her final season before commencing her college career.

After originally committing to UC Santa Barbara - partly for the chance to play significant minutes as a freshman - Clarke has already shown that she may be able to do just that for Colorado after leading the team with 14 points per game in the Buffaloes’ recent trip to Italy. Whether that translates into a similar impact as the team takes on far tougher competition in the US remains to be seen, but having already shown good form, the platform has certainly been laid for Clarke at this point. Colorado is looking to improve on last year’s 5-13 conference record, shattering what had been a solid start to their campaign after the Buffaloes finished 9-2 in non-conference play.

2 | Miela GOODCHILD | Duke

Another of the Sapphires’ World Championship-winning team to feature here, Miela Goodchild played only a minor role in that campaign, but has come along in leaps and bounds since that time. Having captained the Sapphires at last year’s FIBA Oceania Under 17 tournament, the Queenslander has since landed herself a spot on the roster at Duke, one of the most high-profile programs in college basketball.

An athletic combo guard, Goodchild possesses the ability not only to run an offence, but also knock down shots from outside as well as get to the rim when the opportunity presents itself. She has been one of the top performers in QBL this season, averaging 18 points per game and hitting her shots at 45% from the field to sit among the top players in the league in both categories. Her Townsville side finished top of the table before being swept 2-0 in the grand final by Goodchild’s junior club in Southern Districts, although the freshman had already left for Duke prior to the playoffs.

Goodchild joins Duke at an intriguing time for the Blue Devils, particularly as star guards Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell wrapped up their college careers after the 2017 season. If both are fit, it looks as though Haley Gorecki and Kyra Lambert will take the starting berths. However, with both of those players, as well as red-shirt freshman Mikayla Boykin all coming back from injury this season, how the minutes are split could still very well be up in the air. Goodchild surely in the mix to see solid playing time from day one.

1 | Jasmine SIMMONS | Oregon State

Sapphires captain and an Under 17 World Championship All-Star in 2016, Jasmine Simmons was destined to land at a high-profile program if she so desired, and it came to pass that the NSW Country product found her way to a team in Oregon State that has been among the top sides in the nation for the last few seasons.

Although Simmons is hardly undersized at 5’11, the wing plays at least a couple of inches taller than her listed height, with her outstanding athleticism complementing her well-rounded skill set. She is able to get to the rack with ease and secure unexpected rebounds which can prove vital in close games.

While injury may have limited Simmons’ appearances in the green and gold, including missing last year’s Under 19 World Cup, the New South Wales star once again showed her qualities at this year’s Under 20 National Championships. She led the competition in steals whilst also finishing third for scoring with 17.4 points per game, third in assists with 4.1 per game, and eighth in rebounding with 7.3 per game as the team in sky blue came within seconds of defeating Victoria before settling for third place.

It is that all-round game alongside her athletic abilities, that have opened up the opportunity for Simmons to land a spot on a team at the highest level. Oregon State is certainly in that stratosphere after reaching the Final Four in 2016 and the Elite Eight earlier this year as part of an NCAA Tournament streak that now extends to six seasons dating back to 2014. With last year’s team losing just one player to graduation in the form of now-Phoenix Mercury centre Marie Gulich, and 2017 WBCA National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocum now available after sitting out last season following her transfer from Maryland, Simmons joins the Beavers at a time when Scott Rueck’s team is set to challenge for a title not only this year, but potentially for the entirety of Simmons’ time in Corvallis.