The college basketball season is around the corner and it’s time to take a look at the players who will likely be household names. Here’s the second article in a four-part series: the juniors.
1) Aliyah Boston (South Carolina Gamecocks)
Boston has won at least a share of the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in both her collegiate seasons and has won the Lisa Leslie Award as the best center in the college game both years as well. The First Team All-American is a true post with all the skills needed to be a force on the glass and on defense. She has career averages of 10.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. The scoring isn’t through the roof (13.7 points per game last year), but she is a great inside scorer with a developing outside shot. She will lead the way for the No. 1 Gamecocks and help the talented freshmen adjust to the college game.
2) Ashley Owusu (Maryland Terrapins)
Owusu was the point guard running the show for the best offense in women’s college basketball last year. The Terps led the nation with 90.8 points per game and Owusu was fourth in the Power 5 with 5.9 assists per game. She is just as well known as a scorer and led Maryland with a scoring average of 17.9. She can beat pretty much anyone 1-on-1 with a drive or her pull-up mid-range game. Her finishing ability at the rim improved during her sophomore campaign and if she’s making her crazy layups she becomes even more difficult to stop. She has good form on her 3-point shot, but chooses not to shoot from out there very frequently. If she can take her game to an even higher level as a junior, watch out for the No. 4 Terps.
3) Haley Jones (Stanford Cardinal)
Jones was the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s Final Four. She made a number of clutch baskets during the tournament, proving that she is a prime time player en route to helping her Cardinal with the national championship. She was an All-America honorable mention and should be in the conversation to make one of the teams this year as No. 3 Stanford looks to defend its title. Jones was the No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit in the class of 2019, but dealt with a knee injury her freshman year at Stanford and her numbers didn’t blow us away that season. But she was the No. 1 recruit for a reason — she’s an incredibly versatile shooting guard/small forward with a high ceiling. And she proved in the biggest moment that she is a superstar. Now she’s on the rise.
4) Diamond Miller (Maryland Terrapins)
Miller has been the Robin to Owusu’s Batman, but could easily be the Batman on any given night and has a great deal of WNBA potential. She is one of the most athletic wings in the country and is listed as a 6-foot-3 guard. She can slash to to basket and score with ease and is dangerous in transition. Her 3-point percentage improved from 31.5 percent as a freshman to 35.5 percent as a sophomore and she made 15 more threes. We saw her put her shooting and slashing repertoire together at times last year and when she does that, the sky’s the limit for her. She averaged 17.3 points per game in 2020-21.
5) Zia Cooke (South Carolina Gamecocks)
Cooke is South Carolina’s second-best player and was its leading scorer last year with 15.9 points per game. She gives the Gamecocks even more speed than they already have with Destanni Henderson and is an elite mid-range shooter. She also shot 39.3 percent from downtown last year with 48 makes. Cooke hasn’t been able to stuff the rest of the stat sheet, but she’s still the best true two guard on this list.
6) Kierstan Bell (Florida Gulf Coast Eagles)
Bell is going to be an interesting player to watch because she has Power 5 experience and of course dominated at FGCU last year. She averaged 10.9 points as a freshman at Ohio State before transferring and becoming a member of the Eagles. She then averaged 24.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.3 blocks as a sophomore in the ASUN. She was named the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year by Her Hoop Stats and an AP All-America honorable mention. She is deserving of No. 6 on this list, even ahead of quite a few notable Power 5 players.
7) Charisma Osborne (UCLA Bruins)
Osborne made a name for herself as a freshman with the Bruins and really stepped up her play last year, averaging 17 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Only WNBA Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere averaged more points for UCLA in 2020-21 with 19.1. The Bruins revolved around Onyenwere, who is a small forward. Now, Osborne is looking to make sure the team has a backcourt to be reckoned with and hopes to keep stepping up in big moments. She is shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc with 112 makes through two collegiate seasons.
8) Mackenzie Holmes (Indiana Hoosiers)
Holmes was the leading scorer on Indiana’s first-ever Elite 8 team, averaging 17.8 points in 2020-21. She is part of a big three that also features Grace Berger and Ali Patberg. For her efforts last year, she was named an All-America honorable mention. Expect her to once again be the go-to scorer for the Hoosiers, who enter the season at No. 8. Holmes has the inside touch and shot-blocking ability to become an even bigger star. She averaged three blocks per game last year.
9) Jakia Brown-Turner (NC State Wolfpack)
Brown-Turner was a big star for the No. 1 seed Wolfpack last year, complementing center Elissa Cunane. Expect bigger and better things from Brown-Turner now that she’s an upperclassman for No. 5 NC State. She’s a versatile scorer and can do it all on the wing. Last year she averaged 13.5 points per game, a rate that was higher in the regular season alone, and shot 37 percent from distance with 40 makes.
10) Ayoka Lee (Kansas State Wildcats)
Lee put up big numbers once again last year at Kansas State. After a freshman year that saw her record 15.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, she averaged less rebounds and blocks put posted 19.1 points. Her height makes her that much more dominant and she will be hard to stop in the Big 12 again this year.
Other juniors to watch:
11. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech Hokies, 6-6 center
12. Aijha Blackwell, Missouri Tigers, 6-0 guard
13. Esmery Martinez, West Virginia Mountaineers, 6-2 forward
14. Jordan Horston, Tennessee Lady Volunteers, 6-2 guard
15. Nyara Sabally, Oregon Ducks, 6-5 forward