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The Rookie Report: Hiedeman makes history, Han and Anigwe fight to establish themselves

This week’s under-the-radar rookies had historic outings, big games and showed shades of their college stardom.

Connecticut Sun v Atlanta Dream
Natisha Hiedeman made history on July 6 as the first player from Marquette to appear in a regular-season WNBA game.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

In this week’s Rookie Report, we’ll take a look at three under-the-radar rookies in very different scenarios:

  • Natisha Hiedeman, the Marquette product who made school history this week as she finally got WNBA minutes — and more.
  • Han Xu, the deservedly-hyped Chinese center whose playing time hasn’t been as plentiful as her skillset commands.
  • Kristine Anigwe, the NCAA record-setter who hasn’t had the chance to shine in the WNBA, though she’s received more playing time than ever lately.

Whether these players are WNBA locks or perhaps just enjoying an extended tryout, their recent contributions to their teams both mark personal milestones and possess larger historical context.

It’s a tough business making it in this league, shown this week by rookie Bridget Carleton being waived by the Sun in the move that brought Hiedeman to the squad, and the Liberty cutting veterans Tiffany Bias and Avery Warley-Talbert to make room for players returning from international duty.

But as far as players trying to make a name for themselves, these three are worth your time — check them out in their next games over the weekend:

Natisha Hiedeman, Connecticut Sun

WNBA: JULY 06 Minnesota Lynx at Connecticut Sun Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Although Natisha Hiedeman didn’t score in her long-awaited WNBA debut — a four-minute appearance on July 6 where she had a rebound, an assist and a steal — she still made history. The No. 3-leading scorer in Marquette history became the first Golden Eagle to play in a WNBA regular-season game, a feat almost two months in the making. Hiedeman was drafted by the Lynx 18th overall and immediately traded to the Sun, waived by the Sun and picked up by the Dream before returning to the Sun on July 3.

The big news, though: Given 19 minutes on Wednesday, Hiedeman exploded for 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-for-2 from three-point range. She also added two rebounds and two assists. On a day where the Sun’s starters just couldn’t get the offense going, Hiedeman’s contributions were essential to keeping the game close.

See her play: The Sun host the Mercury tonight at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

Han Xu, New York Liberty

Las Vegas Aces v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

Han Xu didn’t waste her first playing time in four games, tying her career-high of seven points and setting a new career-high with three rebounds in the Liberty’s loss to the Aces on July 7. In both of her seven-point games this season — two of the three times she’s been given double-digit minutes, with the third time resulting in six points — Han has showed her range and converted a three-pointer.

The 6-foot-9 center has been underutilized to be sure, but with more roster shuffling to come as the team welcomes back its EuroBasket participants, perhaps Han will fit into more of the team’s rotations down the line.

See her play: The Liberty take on the Sky tonight at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN3/WNBA League Pass).

Kristine Anigwe, Connecticut Sun

Connecticut Sun v Atlanta Dream Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sun haven’t relied on their rookies much this season — and for the first part of the season, it didn’t seem like they needed to. Their successful start meant that NCAA superstars like Kristine Anigwe have struggled to make their mark on the team. Anigwe played in just her tenth game of the season on Wednesday, the lowest on the team aside from Natisha Hiedeman (who just joined) and Layshia Clarendon (who is injured).

But Anigwe seems to be on the up-and-up, playing double-digit minutes for the third straight game in her last time out. And while she hasn’t quite found her consistency as the prolific rebounder she established herself as at Cal, she’s still grabbed 11 of them in those last three games. With her own innate skill, as well as the privilege of playing alongside the WNBA’s best rebounder in Jonquel Jones, Anigwe is in a good position to improve dramatically over the course of the rest of the season — should she keep getting on the court.

See her play: The Sun host the Mercury tonight at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2).