- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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On paper, some of the nation's most talented players heading into the 2006-07 season are underclassmen. That includes this season's freshmen. A year after Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Tennessee's Candace Parker ignited the game with their debuts, Connecticut's Tina Charles headlines the class of 2010.
A look at the group's top 10 players:
PRESEASON ALL-FRESHMAN FIRST TEAM
Tina Charles, Connecticut, 6-4, C (Jamaica, N.Y., Christ The King)
The latest phenom from a program that already has produced superstars Sue Bird and Chamique Holdsclaw, Charles was the consensus 2006 national prep player of the year. Charles, who led Christ The King to back-to-back national high school titles her last two seasons, is a dominating forward who can dunk and the freshman I'm most looking forward to seeing play.
Amber Harris, Xavier, 6-5, F (Indianapolis, Ind., North Central HS)
Ranked among the top five prospects by three major recruiting publications (including No. 1 by Blue Star Index), Harris is reminiscent of former Tennessee Lady Volunteer and current Houston Comet post Michelle Snow. Not only can Harris dunk, but she's long, athletic, agile and can elevate. She's not playing for as high-profile a program as some others on this list, but she just might be the best overall player of the class right now.
Delaquese "Dee Dee" Jernigan, Rutgers, 5-11, G (East Chicago, Ill., East Chicago HS)
Though fellow Scarlet Knights freshman Epiphanny Prince probably received more national recognition over the past year, Jernigan might be the real gem in coach C. Vivian Stringer's star-studded five-member freshmen class. Jernigan is great off the dribble and a good rebounder, and she already possesses a strong body and a nice outside shot.
Jayne Appel, Stanford, 6-4, F/C (Pleasant Hill, Calif., Carondelet HS)
The MVP of the McDonald's High School All-America All-Star Game in San Diego, Appel might remind Cardinal fans of Stanford senior Brooke Smith. Appel has nice step-through moves and countermoves and is a good rebounder and passer. She has a solid face-up shot from 15 feet and in, and she is a good athlete. Appel ranks third all-time in California with 680 career blocks and fifth in career rebounds with 1,707.
Brittainey Raven, Texas, 6-0, G (Fort Worth, Texas, North Crowley HS)
Last season, injuries dashed the Longhorns' high expectations. But their real Achilles' heel was the lack of a legitimate point guard. Raven should solve that problem this season. Equally impressive handling the ball and shooting it, Raven also is explosive off the dribble and will get after you defensively. And somehow, she has a smile on her face the entire time.
Note: Jacki Gemelos, a freshman at Southern California who ranks eighth all time in girls prep scoring in the state of California (her 3,162 points ranks ahead of the likes of Diana Taurasi), would have been the fifth pick to the first team. However, after suffering a torn ACL, Gemelos will redshirt this season.
PRESEASON ALL-FRESHMAN SECOND TEAM
Jessica Breland, North Carolina, 6-3, F (Kelford, N.C., Bertie HS)
Breland doesn't stray far from the Tar Heel prototype: She is long, athletic and very coachable.
Amanda Thompson, Oklahoma, 6-0, F (Chicago, Ill., Whitney Young HS)
The Sooners are loaded but get even deeper with the addition of this explosive player who already has a college body. Thompson is also excellent off the dribble-drive and is a great passer and shot-blocker.
Allison Hightower, LSU, 5-10, G (Arlington, Texas, Juan Seguin HS)
This incredible scorer -- Hightower finished with 2,182 points in three high school seasons (21.6 points per game) -- is great in the open court.
Epiphanny Prince, Rutgers, 5-9, G (New York, N.Y., Murry Bergtraum HS)
The Scarlet Knights have always been known for their defensive prowess. But coming in, Prince's name is synonymous with offense -- she broke Cheryl Miller's 24-year-old, single-game national scoring record in October 2005 with 113 points (on 54-of-60 shooting, including four 3-pointers). Prince averaged 42.1 points per league game as a senior.
Morghan Medlock, Southern California, 6-1, G/F (Pasadena, Calif., Narbonne HS)
A versatile rookie, Medlock is a big rebounder who also has the skills to handle the ball.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
19dBonnie D. Ford