Two days ago, I attended the 2022 Big East Media Day held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before my colleagues and I entered the arena, the Big East preseason awards were released. There were some handed out that I expected, such as Adama Sanogo winning the men’s Preseason Big East Player of the Year, but there were others that surprised me as well.
The one that stood out the most belonged to the recipient of the women’s Preseason Big East Player of the Year Award, which went to UConn’s Ayanna Patterson. Not even she expected to win this honor, despite her success in high school and special abilities.
“It caught me by surprise,” Patterson commented. “Just for me to be thought of as the Preseason Freshman of the Year is pretty cool and I am pretty blessed that I got the opportunity.”
Patterson becomes the third consecutive Husky to take home the preseason honor since they rejoined the Big East in 2020, joining current teammates and former No. 1 recruits Paige Bueckers (2020) and Azzi Fudd (2021) in winning the preseason award.
I felt shocked when I first heard the news, but I eventually realized that she has the necessary skills to receive this honor again at the end of the season. Although my women’s basketball beat partner Stratton Stave wrote about Patterson earlier this year, I want to focus more on why she will win the Big East Freshman of the Year Award when it is all said and done.
Patterson is one of three players in head coach Geno Auriemma’s recruiting class, joining Ice Brady and Ines Bettencourt. Patterson is a five-star recruit from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was ranked fourth overall in the 2022 class and a McDonald’s All-American after averaging 25.8 PPG and 11.8 RPG.
The one thing that makes Patterson unique is her ability to dunk. Although she did not get the chance to do so during the dunk contest at First Night last Friday due to a lingering ankle injury, she has the spring in her step to get up to the rim and send the crowd into a frenzy. Her ability to dunk and presence around the basket should lead her to become the next big thing in Big East women’s basketball.
“She is just superhuman,” forward Dorka Juhasz said about Patterson. “I have never seen a women’s player jump that high.”
With Bueckers out for the season after tearing her ACL and the Huskies losing three experienced stars to the WNBA, Auriemma noted that every player on the team has to step up rather than wait for development. This especially rings true on defense, where the Huskies have to turn up the intensity despite winning the last two Big East Defensive Player of the Year Awards.
“Right now, I can be the best rebounder and defender we need on the team,” Patterson said. “If I get to do that, I am going to go out and do that every day.”
Although UConn’s frontcourt is rich with talent from Aaliyah Edwards to Aubrey Griffin to, Juhasz, Auriemma believes that Patterson is ready to leave her mark on the program right from the start.
“Ayanna has skills that no one else on our team has athletically,” Auriemma explained. “In terms of just purely what she can do physically, it is different than anybody else on our team.”
There are two things stopping her from winning the award. The first is injuries, which prevented Fudd from displaying her true potential and taking home the Big East Freshman of the Year Award last season. The second is the other freshmen in the conference that could make an impact on their team right from the get-go.
There are a few competitors who want to win the once-in-a-lifetime honor. The first is Georgetown’s Kennedy Fauntleroy, a four-star guard from New Hope Academy in Maryland who ESPNW’s HoopGurlz ranks 75th in the 2022 class. During her junior season, Fauntleroy averaged 16.4 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 boards a game while shooting 38.3%. The Hoyas lost leading scorer Milan Bolden-Morris, but Fauntleroy could see productive minutes off the bench in a four-guard rotation.
Next is Marquette’s Emily La Chapell, a four-star guard from Appleton, Wisconsin who ranks 77th in the class. Playing under her father, Joe, La Chapell became the school’s all-time leading scorer while averaging 20.5 PPG and 7 RPG in her senior year. La Chapell’s strength is on defense, as she was named to the Fox Valley Association’s all-defense team four times. The Golden Eagles’ secret to success is defense, and having a guard like La Chapell with that much versatility in her game could lead to her getting critical minutes off the bench.
The third and final contender is DePaul University’s Madisen Wardell, a forward from Southfield, Michigan, who ranks 95th in the 2022 class. Wardell averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game during her junior season, which shows her abilities as an all-around player. When she signed with the Blue Demons during National Signing Day in 2021, head coach Doug Bruno highlighted her ability to dominate the boards and control the inside game. She plays the same position as defending Big East Freshman of the Year Aneesah Morrow, but if those two are on the floor at the same time, who knows how much trouble the other team is in.
There are several factors that could come into play throughout the season, whether it is the emergence of an unranked recruit, injuries or results that differ from expectations. Until that happens, Patterson’s extraordinary ability to throw down the hammer will lead her to become the Huskies’ second Big East Freshman of the Year winner in three years.