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Scott Procter Scott Procter BVM Sports Senior Editor/Journalist
DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow is the best freshman in women’s college basketball

DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow is the best freshman in women’s college basketball

CHICAGO (BVM) – Whether you know it or not, Aneesah Morrow has taken college basketball by storm. Coaching legend Geno Auriemma has taken notice, and so has Dawn Staley. 

“She’s incredibly good at everything,” Auriemma, the long-time UConn women’s head coach, said of Morrow after she dropped 30 points and 14 rebounds on the Huskies in January. “I don’t know that there’s another player in our league like that. I don’t know that there is another player in our league that plays like she plays. She has four more years to get better and better and better at it.” 

Staley, a five-time SEC Coach of the Year, used fewer words to describe Morrow, but she was no less accurate. 

“Beast,” Staley said in a tweet about Morrow after she recorded her 20th consecutive double-double of the season. 

It’s high praise for a freshman from two of the most prominent figures in women’s college basketball. The recognition is even more impressive when you consider that Morrow wasn’t even a top-100 recruit coming out of Simeon High School in Chicago.

“It means a lot to me,” Morrow said of the kind words from Auriemma and Staley. “I feel like I’ve always been the underdog and I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, especially being from Chicago; that’s how it is. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get the recognition that I deserve, considering all the hard work that I’ve put in.”

Morrow began to reap the rewards of her hard work before she even stepped foot on DePaul’s campus as an introverted freshman.

She led Simeon to a 35-2 record and the program’s first state championship on the girls side as a senior in 2020. For a basketball program known for producing NBA talent such as Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker, Talen Horton-Tucker and others, Morrow helped bring a championship to a school she nearly didn’t attend.

“At first, Simeon wasn’t my decision just because there wasn’t a winning tradition for women; I was actually considering going to Morgan Park,” Morrow said. “But I said, ‘Hey, why not go to a school where nothing has been done? If I win at Morgan Park, it’s something usual. But if you win somewhere else where nothing has happened before, it’ll bring a lot of attention and awareness to Simeon for its women’s basketball team.’

“I always want to be someone that’s inspirational to somebody else. Everybody doesn’t have the same opportunities and everybody isn’t given the same household so I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunities and blessings that I’ve been given to help others and inspire them to be great and go forth with their dreams.”

Morrow wasted no time taking advantage of her opportunities at the next level, opening eyes right away in her collegiate debut with a 31-point performance, the most by a DePaul freshman in her collegiate debut during head coach Doug Bruno’s 36-year tenure. This would just be the beginning of a record-shattering freshman campaign.

Named the Big East Freshman of the Week a record 13 times and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) National Freshman of the Week on five separate occasions, Morrow is a national finalist for three of the most prestigious awards in women’s college hoops: the John Wooden Player of the Year, the Naismith Trophy Player of the Year and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Sports Illustrated and The Athletic named Morrow as a Second Team All-American and she was The Athletic’s and Big East’s unanimous choice for Freshman of the Year.  

The All-Big East First Team selection enters the postseason as the nation’s leader in double-doubles (26), rebounds per game (14), total rebounds (434) and offensive rebounds per game (5.9). Her 23.5 points per game in Big East play this season is the highest freshman average in conference history (edging out Maya Moore’s 19.6 in 2007-08 for UConn), and her 15.3 rebounds per game in conference play is the highest average of any player in Big East history.

Bruno has made sure that Morrow shares the love with her teammates by way of a simple agreement: when Morrow earns an individual accolade, she must buy a teammate something.

“But it’s very hard for me right now,” Morrow said with a laugh. “At first, it was kind of cool, it was just Big East Freshman of the Week. But now, I’m getting national recognition.”

Morrow has broken 11 conference records in total, including most rebounds in a game (27), but the 6-foot-1 power forward saved her best performance for the regular season finale. She dropped 41 points, a new freshman record, and grabbed 18 rebounds during a 90-84 road win at Creighton.

But what most people don’t know about that herculean performance is that Morrow was dealing with tragedy at the time.

“I was having a lot of hardship going on throughout those weeks that nobody really knew about,” Morrow said. “Nobody really gets to see your personal life or anything like that on the basketball court. Sometimes I feel like it’s just what you do on the basketball court that some people care about.

“But I had a death in my family and it was very hard for me. My family was able to come to that game and just knowing that I lost a loved one and then seeing how I was able to have all my family come and support me, I felt like it was just me showing my gratefulness and receiving a blessing.”

Morrow hopes to receive another blessing in the form of a bid to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. DePaul (22-10) leads the nation in points per game (88.3) but a first round-exit at the hands of Marquette in the Big East Tournament has the Blue Demons squarely on the bubble.

“Of course I want to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Morrow said. “I feel like my team and I would be able to display our talent. But if not, and it’s a possibility that we go to the NIT, our goal is to win whatever tournament that we go into.”

DePaul will have a chance in whichever tournament it ends up in with the best freshman in the country. But soon enough, she won’t just be a freshman, the Chicago native will be one of the best athletes across collegiate sports. In fact, she already reminds at least one person of a man who led the city of Chicago through a legendary era. 

Bob Sakamoto spent 32 years as a sports writer at the Chicago Tribune, including four years as the beat writer for the Chicago Bulls, before joining DePaul as its Assistant Director of Athletics Communications in 2009. His coverage of the Bulls coincided with the beginning of Michael Jordan’s career and Sakamoto spent four years traveling around the country with Air Jordan. He wrote a pair of books on the Bulls’ legend, who often took Sakamoto into his confidence. 

Although Morrow is certainly not Jordan, the freshman evokes some of the same emotions in Sakamoto that Jordan did. 

“On a much lesser scale obviously, Aneesah is not Michael Jordan, nobody is, but I get the same kind of feeling inside of me that I’m on the verge of a breakout athlete,” Sakamoto said. “This is her freshman year and Michael’s rookie year was just unreal and unlike I’ve ever written about or seen before. Aneesah’s doing the same thing with me right now.”

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