When the 2018-19 Division I women’s college basketball season ended, the sport lost a few of its stars.
Gone are Arike Ogunbowale, Megan Gustafson, Asia Durr, Jackie Young, Kalani Brown, Sophie Cunningham and Katie Lou Samuelson. But some are returning. We’ll get to enjoy another year of Sabrina Ionescu, Lauren Cox, Kaila Charles, Crystal Dangerfield and Haley Gorecki.
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But as classes change over, as underclassmen get better, as freshmen come in and as players develop, other stars will rise. Your next favorite women’s college basketball player could’ve been buried on the depth chart last year, left out of the post-season, on a lesser-known team or still in high school.
Here’s five women’s basketball players who could have breakout seasons next year and become part of the sport’s next class of stars.
Nalyssa Smith, Sophomore - Baylor
As a freshman, Smith turned herself into a valuable rotation player for the Baylor Lady Bears, who wound up winning the national championship.
And while Smith didn’t start, Baylor likely would not have beaten Notre Dame for the title without Smith’s stellar play off the bench. When starting junior Lauren Cox got hurt in the third quarter, Smith came in and tallied eight points, four rebounds and a block over the next 11 minutes of play while also providing stout defense. She filled in admirably for Cox in the post, kept Baylor in the game and helped lead them to a national championship.
Smith started just one game as a freshman, but saw action in all 38, playing 15.3 minutes per-game. And in that limited amount of playing time, she averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per-game, which fifth best on the team in scoring and third best in rebounding. With Kalani Brown gone, those post minutes and scoring chances have to go to someone, and Smith is a prime candidate. She’ll be key as Baylor attempts to defend their crown next season.
Evelyn Adebayo, Senior - UConn
Fans of the Big South and the Ohio Valley Conference are familiar with Adebayo’s talents, but others might not be. The native of London, England averaged 18.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per-game this past season while playing for Murray State. She also shot 36 percent from three-point land and notched 19 double-doubles.
But next season, Adebayo will be rocking a UConn Huskies jersey. She’s headed to Geno Auriemma’s program as a graduate transfer. And with the departure of Napheesa Collier, she could be big for UConn, especially in the post and on the boards. At 6-foot-1, Adebayo can more than hold her own in the paint. She’s long been a solid rebounder, leading Gardner-Webb in the stat in the 2016-17 season, her first home in college basketball.
While UConn’s schedule is much tougher than what Adebayo faced at Murray State, she did pour in 28 points against Tennessee, 23 points against Illinois and 20 points against Kentucky. If UConn plans to extend their Final Four appearance streak next season, Adebayo could be crucial.
I am grateful and thankful to announce my commitment to play at UConn!! I thank God, and give All The Glory to him! I also thank my family, and everyone that has helped me and been a part of my journey! The grind continues, and I’m happy to be a Husky!! #BleedBlue 💙 pic.twitter.com/gAYSxkIR6e— Eveee (@_evelyna96) May 2, 2019
Haley Jones, Freshman - Stanford
You might not know Haley Jones yet, but you will.
Jones is the No. 1 recruit in the nation for the class of 2019, according to ESPN, and was awarded the Naismith Trophy as the Girls' High School Player of the Year. She played her high school ball at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, California and will play at Stanford next season.
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A 6-foot-1 wing, Jones can do a little bit of everything. She can dribble, finish with both hands, score inside and out and rebound. She scored 17 points in the Jordan Brand Classic and was named the game’s MVP in April. She was also a McDonald’s All-American. As a junior in 2018, she averaged 21.8 points, 10 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Jones has also played with Team USA, helping the U-17 squad win gold at the World Cup in Belarus.
Stanford made the Elite Eight this past season and could go a step further with Jones in the fold next year.
Janelle Bailey, Junior - North Carolina
Bailey was the only sophomore to make first or second team All-ACC this past season. She was second for the Tar Heels in scoring and first in rebounds with 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per-game. She also shot 75 percent from the charity stripe and totaled 22 blocks. UNC made the NCAA tournament, and Bailey was a big reason why.
As a junior, Bailey could be asked to carry more of a scoring load, as leading scorer Paris Kea graduated, and third leading scorer Stephanie Watts transferred to USC. With new head coach Courtney Banghart in the fold, Bailey could be placed in a new offense that better serves her abilities.
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The 6-foot-4 Charlotte, N.C. native was a finalist for the Lisa Leslie award last season and was selected to compete in the USA Basketball 3-x-3 tournament. If she gets better as a junior, she could lead the Tar Heels on a deeper post-season run.
Rhyne Howard, Sophomore - Kentucky
Howard was named national Freshman of the Year by the USBWA and ESPNW. The 6-foot-1 guard was awesome as a freshman, averaging 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She also shot 38.7 percent from three-point range and dished out 2.3 assists per-game.
The Wildcats came up short in the SEC tournament, but beat Princeton in the NCAA tournament before falling to N.C. State. While it was a loss, Howard poured in 21 points on N.C. State with a Sweet 16 bid on the line.
With Mississippi State and Missouri losing key players, the SEC could be a bit more open next season than it is most years. With another stellar season from Howard, Kentucky could be in the mix.
UK’s Rhyne Howard with the Game winner today at home vs Arkansas!!!— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 17, 2019
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.