NCAA Women: Top 5 Freshmen 2019/20

In a bumper class of 40 Australian freshmen this season, it was inevitable that there would be a slew of elite-level talent making their way to the US in 2019. That is evidenced as much by the players who were not selected for the Top 5 as it is by the players who feature on this list, with a number of Australian representatives sitting right on the cusp of selection.

With a number of players heading to national championship contenders and other high-major programs, and others landing in ideal situations at mid-major powerhouses, things are shaping up nicely not only for these five players, but the majority of the 2019 class of freshmen.

5 | Suzi-Rose DEEGAN | G | Davidson

Suzi-Rose Deegan may not have featured in an Australian national team on the world stage in the 5x5 version of the game. However, anyone who ventured to Canberra for February’s Under 20 Australian Junior Championships would be well aware of the Western Australian’s combination of elite skillset and athleticism that could make her a steal of a signing for Davidson. Deegan finished as the tournament’s leading scorer with 18.8 points per game and also collected 9.5 rebounds per contest to finish 4th in that category, and also buried the game-winner against South Australia in the bronze medal game, capping a 32-point outing. That bronze medal followed another of the same colour at the Youth Olympics, where Deegan combined with Alexandra Fowler, Sara-Rose Smith, and Ruby Porter to bring home a medal in 2018.

Perhaps the facet of Deegan’s game that most stands out immediately is her shooting technique, borne out of a degenerative eye condition that saw the Western Australian lose sight in her left eye by age 13. However, given the freedom to shoot in the way that suits her, Deegan’s shooting has continued to progress. Knocking down a respectable 8 of 23 at Under 20 Championships, Deegan actually finished as one of the better three-point shooters in the competition. Regardless, it looks as though it will be her athleticism in getting to the rack and collecting rebounds that will allow Deegan to make an impact from the outset as one of three Australian players at Davidson alongside Cassidy Gould and fellow freshman Adelaide Fuller as Australian assistant coach James Janssen builds a pipeline from his home country to the Wildcats.

4 | Isabelle BOURNE | F | Nebraska

A member of the outstanding frontcourt rotation of the Gems’ 2019 FIBA Under 19 World Cup team, Canberra’s Isabelle Bourne is a player whom Nebraska had been chasing since early 2018 before locking in the commitment in November of that year. A dominant player at the Under 20 level, Bourne finished in the top 5 for both scoring and rebounding in the 2018 and 2019 Australian Junior Championships despite playing in an ACT team that picked up just 3 wins across those two tournaments. Bourne was able to parlay those outstanding performances into a selection to the Gems squad for the Under 19 World Cup, taking her opportunities as they came.

Whilst Bourne’s shooting touch occasionally let her down at national championship level, where her field goal percentage hovered around the 30% mark, that has certainly improved in recent times. That improved touch enabled Bourne to finish the Under 19 World Cup as one of four Australian players to average 8 or more points a game. Tallying 8.4 per contest at 37% shooting, Bourne emerged as one of the scoring leaders with four double-figure performances as the Gems shared the offensive load. As well as finishing with 5 rebounds per game, Bourne also chipped in three assists in the 64-55 semi-final win over Spain to exhibit her passing skills. All of the pieces have shone through at one time or another for Bourne to become an integral member of the Nebraska lineup, and if it all comes together, there is potential for the Canberran to make waves at the college level.

Interestingly, Nebraska’s current coaching staff is also the coaching staff under which Australian pairing Nicole Seekamp and Jasmine Trimboli played at South Dakota, after head coach Amy Williams brought her staff with her to Lincoln in 2016. Having already had success with Australian players, there is little doubt they will be hoping to ensure that connection bears fruit at Nebraska, and that starts with the freshman from the nation’s capital.

3 | Alexandra FOWLER | F | Portland

In among a bevy of high-major Australian commits, Alexandra Fowler may prove to be a major coup for Portland, with the former Townsville Fire forward thriving in national colours in recent times. A veteran of two youth World Cup squads as well as a Youth Olympics 3x3 bronze medallist, Fowler had perhaps flown under the radar behind more notable players, but that all changed at the recent Under 19 World Cup. A bit-part player of the previous year’s Under 17 World Cup squad that won bronze, Fowler was no shrinking violet on the Under 19 stage. The 6’0 forward took the tournament by storm, leading the Gems in both scoring and rebounding on her way to a silver medal and a spot in the tournament’s All-Star Five. Tallying 9 points and 10 boards per contest, Fowler’s intensity was on show throughout the tournament, battling in the paint and running in transition with aplomb to produce several outstanding performances, including 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks in the gold medal game against the United States. Whilst Fowler’s performances may have caught the eye of a number of coaches across the US, Portland had already struck and have now landed a player who has competed and succeeded against the very best in the world.

Fowler now joins fellow freshman, Keeley Frawley, and 2018/19’s Pick and Roll Freshman of the Year, Haylee Andrews in Portland as the Australian connection grows rapidly. Andrews and Fowler in particular have a long history together as a pair of Townsville Fire products, and reprising that connection could very well spell success for Portland in coming years.

2 | Isabel PALMER | G | Texas

A star for NSW Country, New South Wales, and the Sapphires, Isabel Palmer has emerged as one of the star backcourt players of her class. However, an ankle injury suffered during the gold medal game of February’s Under 20 National Championships scuppered Palmer’s chances of national representation in 2019 after featuring as an integral member of the Sapphires team that secured bronze at the 2018 Under 17 World Cup. The Novocastrian finished that tournament as the Sapphires’ third-leading scorer with 6.6 points per contest, whilst leading the team with 2.9 assists per game as Australia snuck home against Hungary to secure third place.

Awarded the Bob Staunton Medal for Player of the Tournament at this year’s Under 20 Australian Junior Championships, Palmer was at the centre of everything on offence for the New South Wales side that finished with a silver medal. Getting to the rack with ease and shooting 96% from the free throw line, Palmer tallied 18.8 points per game to finish as the tournament’s top scorer and almost double any of her teammates’ output, whilst also collecting 6.7 boards and dishing 3.4 assists per game. Whilst her NBL1 campaign was halted by the ankle injury suffered in February, Palmer nonetheless comes in having enjoyed an outstanding stretch of form prior to the injury.

With Texas losing the highly-rated Destiny Littleton following her transfer to South Carolina, 24 minutes per game of playing time has now opened up behind expected starters Sug Sutton and Lashann Higgs, and Palmer will be right in the battle for those minutes. Whether Texas have the tools and experience to make a fifth deep NCAA Tournament run in six seasons after last year’s anomalous first-round exit remains to be seen, but this group looks set to contend in the long-term, with Palmer set to be an integral part of a unit attempting to finally capture college basketball’s holy grail – a national championship.

1 | Jazmin SHELLEY | G | Oregon

A star for the Sapphires and Gems on the world stage since the 2016 Under 17 World Championship, Shelley forced coaches across the US to sit up and take notice with a 23-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist performance against the Americans in the semi-final of that tournament as the Australians marched to gold. A veteran of three age-group World Championships with an Under 17 gold and Under 19 silver under her belt, it is little wonder that Shelley attracted the attention of top-level college coaches. Eventually, the 2018/19 WNBL Rookie of the Year made her way to national championship favourites Oregon alongside fellow Under 17 World Cup gold medallist Lucy Cochrane.

Comfortable in either backcourt position and able to create opportunities for both herself and teammates, Shelley is set to compete for the playing time opened up by Spanish point guard Maite Cazorla, who is now playing in the WNBA. Competition for those minutes will be fierce as USC graduate transfer Minyon Moore and fellow Australian, junior Morgan Yaeger, will also be battling for those minutes. However, Ducks star guard and reigning National Player of the Year, Sabrina Ionescu, already has high praise for Shelley at this stage of the season, praising her maturity and ability.

"She’s really mature for her age," Ionescu said in speaking to Erik Skopil of 247Sports’ Duck Territory. "I think that’s awesome. She’s going to kind of come in and play the one for us. Those are really big shoes to fill, especially coming from Maite. I’m excited to see her progression."

Shelley’s signing continues a long history of Australian signings for Kelly Graves, harking back to his signing of Kelly Bowen during his time as head coach of Gonzaga. Since moving to Oregon, Graves has repeatedly dipped into the Australian stocks, with no less than six Australians signing with the Ducks, including junior college transfer Megan Trinder and Fresno State transfer Jacinta Vandenberg.