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 third article in a four-part series: the sophomores.
1) Paige Bueckers (UConn Huskies)
Here’s what I wrote about Bueckers prior to her freshman season based on highlights:
Bueckers is fast and explosive. She can handle the ball and run an offense incredibly well. She is a great all-around scorer who doesn’t fall in love with the 3-point shot.
One AP Player of the Year award later, I think it’s safe to say that Bueckers lived up to expectations. She averaged 20 points as a freshman and that was while having a pass-first mentality at times. She dished out 5.8 assists per game too. She did end up shooting a lot of threes at the behest of Geno Auriemma and shot a phenomenal 46.4 percent. She made an impact on defense as well with 2.3 steals per game. Bueckers showed a little bit of everything and hit clutch shots against Tennessee and South Carolina to begin her legacy as a superstar player. She shone bright in the NCAA Tournament as well with 18 points, nine boards and eight assists in a Sweet 16 victory over Iowa and 28 points in an Elite 8 victory over Baylor. UConn enters the season at No. 2 with No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit Azzi Fudd now teaming up with Bueckers.
2) Caitlin Clark (Iowa Hawkeyes)
Clark had the best statistical season out of any player in the Power 5. Bueckers deserved all the accolades she received and was obviously on a loaded UConn team that didn't need her to score more than 20 points per game, but we cannot ignore Clark’s eye-popping numbers and the fact that they came against Power 5 competition. Clark led the nation with 26.7 points per game and added seven assists and 5.9 rebounds. She showed incredible range on her 3-point shot and had some clutch moments of her own. She had 35 points, seven boards and seven assists in Iowa’s NCAA second-round statement win over Kentucky and played well against UConn in the Sweet 16 when she had 21 points.
Clark is on pace to replace Megan Gustafson as Iowa’s GOAT by the time her career is over. The Hawkeyes enter the season at No. 9.
3) Charlisse Leger-Walker (Washington State Cougars)
Though she may seem like a distant third to the two players above her on this list, Leger-Walker was one of the most exciting freshmen in the country last year and deserves to be ahead of the big-name recruits below her on the list. She was not included in the Hoop Gurlz Top 100 for 2020, then proceeded to finish third in the Pac-12 in scoring (18.8 points per game) behind only No. 3 WNBA Draft pick Aari McDonald and WNBA Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere, both seniors at the time. Leger-Walker received quite a few assists from her sister Krystal and made quite a few clutch plays en route to leading the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament.
4) Diamond Johnson (NC State Wolfpack)
Johnson reached double-figure scoring in all but two games for Rutgers last year and scored as much as 26 twice. She was second to current WNBA player Arella Guirantes in scoring on the Scarlet Knights. Now Johnson, a scoring guard, will team up with pass-first point guard Raina Perez at NC State and give the No. 5 Wolfpack a good chance to improve upon a Sweet 16 trip last year.
5) Kamilla Cardoso (South Carolina Gamecocks)
Cardoso averaged a very solid 13.6 points and eight rebounds as a freshman for an NCAA Tournament team in Syracuse. She also had 2.7 blocks per game, making her elite at that aspect of the game and 16h in the nation. Cardoso may not carry as much of a load for No. 1 South Carolina as she would have is she had stayed at Syracuse, but expect her to be a key part of what the Gamecocks do. She forms a formidable frontcourt duo with Aliyah Boston.
6) Maddy Westbeld (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
Westbeld shared ACC Rookie of the Year with Cardoso after leading Notre Dame with 15.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Her play was really solid all-around as she could score inside and went 19-of-49 from beyond the arc. She truly did outperform quite a few players ranked high that her (No. 20) on the Hoop Gurlz 100. Notre Dame missed the tournament, but it is picked to finish sixth in the 15-team ACC this year. We’ll see if Westbeld can help the Irish climb back toward greatness.
7) Angel Reese (Maryland Terrapins)
Reese was the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2020, behind only Bueckers. She went down with a foot fracture in Maryland’s fourth game of the season and didn’t return until Feb. 13. From there she had a solid season, averaging 10 points to aid Maryland’s amazing offense. She also registered six boards and 1.3 blocks per contest. The injury left her with only half a season to get used to the college game. But she showed off some spectacular inside moves and touch, which complemented the perimeter scoring of Ashley Owusu, Diamond Miller, Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby. We’ll see if Reese can expand her talents move out on the perimeter more as well.
8) Cameron Brink (Stanford Cardinal)
Brink, like Reese, had a lot of expectations entering 2020-21. She was third on the Hoop Gurlz 100. Of course, Brink got what mattered most to anyone and that was a national championship. She was a key contributor too, averaging 9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks (15h in the nation, just ahead of Cardoso). Look for Brink to play an even bigger role this year. With Kiana Williams graduated, she’ll need to step up in the scoring department.
9) Aaliyah Edwards (UConn Huskies)
Edwards could be a sleeper. She plays for a loaded UConn team so her numbers aren't through the roof, but she showed a ton of potential as a freshman. UConn fans were very happy with what she brought to the team and she was a key part of the Final Four run. She was fourth on the Huskies with 10.7 points per game and second with 5.7 rebounds. She averaged 18 points through the team’s first three NCAA Tournament games.
10) Te-Hina Paopao (Oregon Ducks)
Paopao missed the entire NCAA Tournament with a foot injury and her Ducks were lucky to make the Sweet 16 without her. I thought based on her highlights that she had a chance to be a Top 5 freshman last year and she still has the potential to be a Top 5 sophomore. She shot just under 40 percent from beyond the arc last year so she can be a sharpshooter. And when it came to assists, she averaged 4.4. She’s just a great all-around guard. We’ll see if she can improve upon 10.2 points per game.