It’s never too early to keep an eye on potential Naismith Player of the Year winners. The Atlanta Tipoff Club presents the annual award to a player who achieves “great success on the court” in a vote of media members. It has been presented on the women’s side since 1983.
There are two players in Division I who have won the award previously and are in position to win it again. Here are seven players, and a few honorable mentions, who are on the preseason shortlist as favorites to win.
Caitlin Clark, Iowa
Senior, 6-foot guard
2022-23 stats: 27.8 ppg (47.3 FG%/38.9 3FG%/83.9 FT%), 7.1 rpg, 8.6 apg, 1.5 spg
Clark is the reigning Naismith Player of the Year after leading the nation in assists and finishing second in points. She can pull up and score from nearly anywhere in the half court and sees the court like few others in the nation. Her back-to-back 40-point games in the NCAA tournament were the first in history and one of them was against previously undefeated South Carolina in the Final Four. The junior already holds myriad records, including a Big Ten mark of 11 triple-doubles. She trails all-time leader Sabrina Ionescu’s 26.
She’ll enter her senior campaign without her favorite pick-and-roll pal, Monika Czinano, a 2023 WNBA Draft pick, but the school has a history of strength at the center position. The last repeat Naismith winner was UConn star Breanna Stewart, who won three straight from 2014-16. Brittney Griner (Baylor), Seimone Augustus (LSU), Diana Taurasi (UConn), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee), Dawn Staley (Virginia) and Cheryl Miller (USC) all won back-to-back awards.
Angel Reese, LSU
Junior, 6-3 forward
2022-23 stats: 23 ppg (52.5/—/70.8), 15.4 rpg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg
Reese led LSU to a national championship in her first season with the team after transferring from Maryland. She earned first-team All-America honors and the NCAA tournament Greenville Regional MVP. Her 6.4 offensive rebounds per game led Division I as did her 34 double-doubles in 36 games.
Many knocked her 2023 candidacy for Player of the Year awards because of the lack of high-caliber competition LSU scheduled in its nonconference slate. By the end of the tournament, the SEC proved stronger than many judged in the season. She’ll have frontcourt help from transfer Aneesah Morrow.
Paige Bueckers, UConn
Redshirt junior, 6-0 guard
2021-22 stats (17 games): 14.6 ppg (54.4/35.3/71.4), 4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg
Bueckers entered UConn as a heralded potential No. 1 draft pick who was pegged to potentially match Stewart’s four championships in four years. In 2021, she became the first freshman in the then-39-year history of the award to win it. Three freshmen have won on the men’s side.
As a sophomore in ’21-22, she missed time with a tibial plateau fracture and torn meniscus in her left knee. But she came back to lead UConn to the Final Four and championship game in her hometown of Minneapolis. Ahead of last season, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same leg and missed the entire season. Bueckers was fully cleared in August and head coach Geno Auriemma told reporters it was “the best she’s ever been, the strongest she’s ever been, the fittest she’s ever been.”
Two players have won multiple Naismith awards that weren’t back-to-back. Clarissa Davis, an All-American for Texas, won the 1987 and ’89 Naismith awards. She sustained a knee injury that kept her out of the ’88 season. Maya Moore won in 2009 and 2011. Her UConn teammate, Tina Charles, won the year in between.
Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
Fifth-year senior, 6-6 center
2022-23 stats: 18.2 ppg (55.8/—/72.2), 10.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 2.4 bpg
Kitley, a Naismith finalist last season, opted to return to Virginia Tech for an additional year after leading the Hokies to their first Final Four. She was a projected top-10 pick in the WNBA Draft.
Kitley is a two-time ACC Player of the Year and will anchor a team that returns three of its starters from that semifinalist squad. She is the Hokies’ all-time leader in points, field goals, blocks and double-doubles. She was one of three players in 2022-23 to average at least 18 points and 10.5 rebounds, along with Reese and Morrow.
Cameron Brink, Stanford
Senior, 6-4 forward
2022-23 stats: 15.1 ppg (48/—/84), 9.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 3.47 bpg
Brink has steadily improved since winning the national championship with Stanford as a freshman in 2021. She won the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year award as a junior and was a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2022. Her nearly 3.5 blocks per game ranked third last season and she’s learned how to be a better defender without fouling as much.
The forward will be the mainstay of the Cardinal in its last season in the Pac-12. She is the only senior, though Hannah Jump stayed as a graduate student.
Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana
Graduate student, 6-3 forward
2022-23 stats: 22.3 ppg (68/—/71.5), 7.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.87 bpg
Holmes became the first Hoosier to earn a first-team All-American honor by the Associated Press last season. She is one of the most efficient shooters in Division I and set a career high in points (33) in February against Ohio State. Holmes was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Indiana is poised to be one of the Big Ten’s best again this season, returning guards Sara Scalia, Yarden Garzon and Sydney Parrish.
Alissa Pili, Utah
Senior, 6-2 forward
2022-23 stats: 20.7 ppg (59/42.6/79.7), 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1 spg
Pili burst onto late-season watch lists for the Wooden and Naismith awards. She scored a career-high 33 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament as Utah reached the Sweet 16. The Utes, who finished as surprise runners-up in the Pac-12 tournament, lost to LSU by three.
She is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year in her first season at Utah after transferring from USC. Utah head coach Lynne Roberts returns nine players, including every player who started a game last season. It will be a big boost for Pili’s Player of the Year candidacy to have the familiarity.
Honorable mentions: Azzi Fudd (UConn), Morrow (LSU), Cotie McMahon (Ohio State), Kamilla Cardoso (South Carolina)