Several rookies coming off of the bench are helping their teams find success
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Making an impact right away as a player at the college level is extremely difficult. Freshmen have a steep learning curve. They have to figure out new systems and roles, transition to a more physical and faster pace of play, and discern how to best mesh with their teammates. Coming off the bench and quickly providing value is an added challenge. Substitutes need to immediately adjust to the flow of the game, bring in renewed energy and intensity, and apply lessons from what they’ve heard or seen from the sidelines. Below, we highlight a few first-year players who’ve successfully figured out how to accomplish all of this, and we take a look at what they believe has helped them do it so early in the season.
Raegan Beers, Oregon State
Many may not be surprised to see Beers finding success at the college level so quickly. Among her many other accolades, the 6-foot-2 forward from Colorado came to the Beavers as a McDonald’s All-American and was No. 10 in ESPN’s 2022 class recruiting rankings. During her first nine games, she’s come off of the bench and averaged 21.9 minutes, 13.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and a 62.5 field-goal percentage, helping her team compile a 6-3 record and earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors during the third week of the season. Beers is also one of just two freshmen in the country to average at least 10 points or better on 60 percent shooting from the field.
When asked what has helped smooth her transition to the college game, Beers attributed it to the solid relationships she’s built with her teammates and coaches as well as asking questions when something isn’t clear. Bringing good energy into games has also been critical.
“Having good energy when coming into the game is super important for me,” Beers said. “Celebrating my teammates helps me bring tons of energy. There is nothing more fun than watching your teammate drop a dime or make a three. It energizes me and helps me play to the best of my ability.”
Bella Fontleroy, Baylor
Fontleroy is another freshman who seems to have adjusted to the college game with ease. Although the Bears have several experienced and talented guards, the 6-foot guard from Missouri is making a tremendous impact off the bench. Fontleroy is averaging 21.5 minutes, 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and a 49.3 field-goal percentage this season, which has helped her team to a 7-2 record and a No. 19 ranking in the latest AP Poll. After putting up her first double-double early last week, Fontleroy earned Big 12 Freshman of the Week honors for the second time this season.
Fontleroy credited the intensity level of the Bears’ practices and the strength and conditioning work she’s been doing as what has helped her adapt to the physicality and pace played at the college level. And when it’s time to check into a game, she focuses on rebounding, making hustle plays, taking charges, and knocking down open shots. To ensure she brings good energy off the bench, Fontleroy also shared what’s been working for her.
“Staying locked in on the bench and following the game so that I am aware of what is happening on the court and game flow,” Fontleroy said. “This is important so that you can instantly match the intensity when you get in. Even though you are not physically in the game, it’s important to stay mentally sharp so that when your number is called you can make an impact.”
Kailyn Gilbert, Arizona
Gilbert came to Arizona as one of its four freshmen in the top 100 in ESPN’s 2022 class recruiting rankings, and she’s done a phenomenal job of adding value right out of the gates. Coming off the bench, the 5-foot-8 guard from Florida is averaging 15.6 minutes and 9.5 points, and she’s shooting 45.8 percent. When the Wildcats’ starting point guard Shaina Pellington was out with an injured ankle, Gilbert played 28 minutes, scored 25 points, and pulled down four rebounds against California Baptist, which helped her earn the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week during the last week of November.
Gilbert credited the rigor of training and her high school basketball team’s schedule as a couple of the things that helped her transition to the college level. She also discussed how the work that goes into being a good player sometimes takes a toll, so she makes sure to prioritize her sleep and nutrition so she feels energized when she comes into a game. When asked what she tries to focus on or learn while she’s waiting to get subbed in, Gilbert offered valuable advice.
“Seeing the different opportunities to capitalize on with scoring or playing defense,” Gilbert said. “But the main thing is just staying in the moment.”
Mackenzie Hare, Marquette
Even with the Golden Eagles’ experienced guards and deep roster, the 5-foot-9 guard from Illinois has been able to make her mark coming off the bench, averaging 17.9 minutes and 8.2 points through her first 10 games. Hare’s confidence in taking shots and ability to provide an extra offensive threat has helped her team compile an 8-2 record.
Hare noted that adding more strength and conditioning and stepping up her nutrition helped her transition to the pace of play and increased physicality at the college level. When asked how she makes sure she brings the right energy to the game once she checks in, Hare offered an advantageous mindset.
“Doing whatever I can to help my team in the moment,” Hare replied. “Just having the mentality to go as hard as you can for however long you are in. And also celebrating your teammates, which gives the team energy.”