Big West women’s basketball freshmen set to make an impact

KNOXVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 24: A basketball goes through the net before a college basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and the South Carolina Gamecocks on February 24, 2019, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 24: A basketball goes through the net before a college basketball game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and the South Carolina Gamecocks on February 24, 2019, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Several talented freshmen are set to take the court for their respective teams.

With the 2019-20 college basketball season officially underway, freshmen across the country are getting their first taste of playing at the next level.

In the Big West Conference, there are quite a few talented freshmen from the Los Angeles area who are hoping to make impacts for their teams this season. In each of their cases, their teams suffered some major casualties in the form of graduating seniors.

The defending Big West champions, the UC Davis Aggies, lost their starting backcourt of Kourtney and Karly Eaton. But the Aggies could be looking to Evanne Turner to help mitigate the losses somewhat.

Turner was a standout guard at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. She played under Stan Delus, one of the top high school and AAU coaches in Southern California, and in her four years at Etiwanda, the Eagles never lost a Baseline League game going a perfect 40-0.

More from Big West

She was named the league MVP last year as a senior in a season that saw her put up 22 points per game, five rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Now, she’ll join a backcourt that includes upperclassman Katie Toole, Makaila Sanders, and Mackenzie Trpcic, and fellow freshman Campbell Gray all vying for playing time.

Turner knows how important the Eaton sisters were to the Aggies, and she’s hoping that she can bring that same level of intensity and competitiveness.

“I feel like I can bring another level of aggressiveness on defense for sure. And just making sure that I can attack the basket too,” Turner told High Post Hoops. “Both the twins did that really well, and I want to be able to keep that going and to bring my own style too.”

Under head coach Jennifer Gross, UC Davis has consistently been one of the top teams in the Big West for the past several years. The Aggies have made the NCAA Tournament twice under her leadership since 2001, and they’ve compiled a 269-194 record.

Turner is aware of the winning culture that has been established at UC Davis, and she’s hoping that she’ll be able to add to that.

“I’m looking forward to just making sure that I go out there and play as hard as I can,” Turner said. “It’s just making sure that I help my team in every single way possible, making sure I’m not a dud on the court and that I keep making sure we have that winning culture.”

About 285 miles south of UC Davis, down the California Coast, is another freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who is hoping to make an immediate impact.

Leslie Hunter joins a Mustangs squad that is very heavy in the backcourt. During her time at Chaminade High School in West Hills, CA, Hunter was one of Southern California’s top point guards. She made an impact right away as a freshman when the Eagles won the CIF Open Division state championship in 2016.

Hunter committed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo early in her senior year of high school, and she cited the campus environment and team culture that head coach Faith Mimnaugh has installed as a major factor that influenced her decision.

“Just the atmosphere. Right when I got there, the girls were friendly so that was extra welcoming,” Hunter told High Post Hoops. “It was just really nice. Everybody treated me like family, and the academics was the main thing too.”

Hunter has the ability to play both guard positions. She’s incredibly quick in the open court and can get to the rim with ease. She’s able to create her own shot on the perimeter and she has good court awareness with the ability to make plays for her teammates.

The Mustangs are very guard-heavy this season with most of them being upperclassmen so it remains to be seen what Hunter’s playing time might look like. Should she get the opportunity, Hunter is confident in what she can bring on the court.

“Defense and energy, I think those are the two main things that I can bring to them. My shooting too,” Hunter said. “I’m just looking for us to push ourselves as a team, to play the best we can, and to get the farthest we can get.”

At Cal State Northridge, the starting guard positions seem to be set with senior Hayley Tanabe and sophomore Jordyn Jackson, but off the bench, there appears to be room for minutes from freshman point guard Deja Williams.

Williams arrives from a storied program at Long Beach Poly High School. She was named the Moore League MVP in her junior year as well as making the second team All-CIF. As a senior, she was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American roster.

She played under legendary coach Carl Buggs, and she sees some early similarities between him and CSUN head coach Jason Flowers.

“When I went there [CSUN], I just knew automatically,” Williams told High Post Hoops. “When I talked to coach, his coaching style is very similar to Coach Buggs and very similar to my dad. I felt like I was at home.”

Throughout her high school career, Williams was one of the best defensive players in the Los Angeles area. She got playing time right away in CSUN’s season opener at home against USC on Nov. 5. She had 11 points and two assists and showed solid poise in running the offense as a young player.

Although she’s only a freshman, she believes that the leadership skills she developed while at Long Beach Poly will be something she can carry over to the Division 1 level.

“I can bring my leadership and my IQ,” Williams said. “I feel like I know basketball very well and I can bring that to the table. As a freshman, I can lead either off the bench or starting. I just feel like I bring leadership.”

And then about five hours offshore from the California mainland, at the University of Hawaii, the Rainbow Wahine are looking for the answer to replacing Tia Kanoa.

Kanoa was the catalyst for last season’s team that made it all the way to the Big West championship game and put a scare into UC Davis. But luckily for Hawaii, they may have her replacement already on the roster with freshman point guard Nae Nae Calhoun.

Calhoun starred at JW North High School in Riverside, CA where she was a standout scorer and defender as well as a true point guard. She amassed over 1,000 assists throughout her high school career. She was named to the First Team All-CIF and First Team All-Inland Valley League during her senior campaign that saw her average 18 points per game and eight assists.

She knows that taking Kanoa’s place will be no easy task, but she’s up for the challenge.

“I’m going to try to do everything she did last year,” Calhoun told High Post Hoops. “That’s lead the team, get everybody involved, and just try to bring the leadership that she brought.”

In Hawaii’s exhibition game against Hawaii Pacific and their season opener against San Diego State, Calhoun was the starting point guard. Against Hawaii Pacific, she put up nine points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting 50 percent from the field. She followed that up with three points, three rebounds, and three assists against San Diego State.

She’s confident in what she brings to the table and seeing the Rainbow Wahine get so close to the conference title last season, she’s hoping she can help push them over the top this year.

“My strengths would be putting people in the right positions to score, and getting to the basket,” Calhoun said. “I want to get a championship. Any freshman wants to lead their team to a winning season.”

And as the season progresses, it will be interesting to watch the development of these freshmen and to see how big of an impact they have on their teams’ postseason hopes.

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.