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NCAAW: Mikaylah Williams, Juju Watkins headline freshmen to watch in 2023-24

From LSU’s Mikaylah Williams to USC’s Juju Watkins to Duke’s Jadyn Donovan, get to know some of college basketball’s freshest faces ahead of the 2023-24 season.

Trojan HoopLA
Expected freshman sensation Juju Watkins is introduced at USC’s Trojan HoopLA event.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

While there are tons of reasons to get excited about the fast-approaching college basketball season, the opportunity to watch a highly-regarded freshman class take the court for the first time is near the top of the list.

Here are some—but by no means all—of the freshmen we’re looking forward to seeing on the collegiate hardwood:

Mikaylah Williams & Aalyah Del Rosario (LSU)

The program that ended last season No. 1, brought in the No. 1 transfer class and begins this season No. 1 also is welcoming the No. 1 recruiting class to Baton Rouge, headlined by No. 1 recruit Mikaylah Williams. Williams, in short, is starting her college career at the very, very top, and she has the tools to stay there.

It might sound like a cliché, but Williams does not look like a freshman. Both physically and emotionally, she not only is prepared for the rigors of college basketball, but also for the challenge of contributing to the reigning national champion. At 6-foot-0, Williams profiles as a modern big guard, capable of running the offense or getting buckets off the ball. When opponents are preoccupied by the likes of Angel Reese, Hailey Van Lith, Aneesah Morrow and Flau’jae Johnson, Williams is equipped to take advantage. With her size, strength and skill, Williams also possesses the versatility needed to fit into the various lineup configurations concocted by head coach Kim Mulkey.

Yet, LSU had the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class not just due to Williams, but also because of a player who seems perfect for a Kim Mulkey program: Aalyah Del Rosario.

At 6-foot-6, Rosario is poised to put her name in the lineage of elite bigs coached by Mulkey, from Brittney Griner to Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox to Angel Reese. Considering Mulkey’s preference for big, bruising bully ball, Rosario should eventually emerge as a featured player for the Lady Tigers. Although a traditional big, she has modern flavors to her game, with the ability to pass out of the post and hit the 3-ball.

Juju Watkins (USC)

Juju Watkins is the avatar of the new-age college athlete, arriving at USC with a number of high-profile NIL deals. With a new ride to go along with her Nike partnership, expect Watkins to prove that she’s worth the hype, as her on-court exploits soon should overshadow her off-court earnings.

More than her fellow freshmen, the 6-foot-2 guard will have the opportunity to show off the extent of her game as the primary player for a USC team that enters the season ranked No. 21. An individual offensive dynamo with a combination of speed and skill that allows her to score at all three levels, Watkins also will benefit from the pro-style offensive sets devised by head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who served as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2019 to 2021.

Hannah Hidalgo (Notre Dame)

Notre Dame might claim the nation’s most intriguing backcourt when Hannah Hidalgo shares the floor with Olivia Miles (who is expected to start the season on the sideline with the lingering effects of the knee injury she suffered in the Irish’s final regular-season game). While Miles is one the nation’s craftiest creators, the 5-foot-6 Hidalgo is a bundle of buzz. She can be the speed to Miles’ sauce for the No. 10 Irish.

Off the bounce, Hidalgo can burst by any defender and loft a feathery floater or zip all the way to the basket, where she is capable of finishing around bigger bodies. Her improved shot, including from 3, makes her dribble-drive game even more threatening. On defense, she will stick with opposing ball handlers, executing the kind of constant-pressure defense that will please head coach Niele Ivey.

Jadyn Donovan (Duke)

Even when on the court with other highly-touted players—whether at the McDonald’s All-American game or competing for Team USA at this summer’s FIBA U19 World Cup—Jadyn Donovan’s athleticism stands out. She’s elite, with top-tier quickness, fluidity and agility. But she’s not just an athlete, she’s also a hooper. While her athleticism allows her to make rare plays, especially on the defensive end, the 6-foot-0 guard also has the midrange shooting stroke and court vision needed to contribute consistently to a winning team.

Donovan should be able to make an instant impact for an unranked Duke team that saw a lot of offseason roster turnover. And after Donovan hears some of head coach Kara Lawson’s stirring speeches, her play might exceed her already sky-high ceiling.

Zoe Brooks (NC State)

WNBA fans may remember Zoe Brooks from 2022 All-Star weekend, when she teamed with Sabrina Ionescu to win the Skills Challenge. Since then, the 5-foot-10 guard has been in the lab, sharpening her already-refined skill package and improving her fitness level so that she’s ready to get buckets—and lots of them—at the next level.

With her craft and quickness, Brooks can get to her shot at any spot on the floor. She also possesses the strength and stability needed to absorb and finish through contact. However, Brooks doesn’t only get it done on one end of the floor; she also makes plays on the defensive end. At NC State, which enters the season outside the top 25, Brooks will partner with Saniya Rivers, forming a dynamic, two-way backcourt for head coach Wes Moore.