There are impact freshmen college basketball players and then there are freshmen who change the entire culture within their school's program.

Danville's Niveen Rasheed has become that kind of first-year wonder at Princeton University, a development that comes as little surprise to those who watched, coached or played with her at Monte Vista High for four years.

Ron Hirschman, Rasheed's former coach at Monte Vista, feels she's the best all-around girls basketball player he's seen in the East Bay the past two decades, a bold statement in an area that has produced such national luminaries as Courtney Paris and Jayne Appel. But Rasheed's instant Princeton success might begin to justify his claim.

"We kind of predicted it — Niveen put us on the map, and now she's doing the same thing at a higher level," Hirschman said. "That's what the kid capable of, and I still honestly believe some schools around our area made a big mistake on her. Princeton may have been a little bit lucky to get her, but good for them."

Indeed, Rasheed might be the best thing to happen to Princeton basketball in either gender since legendary men's coach Pete Carril stalked the sidelines. Consider:

  • Through her first 21 collegiate games, Rasheed leads the Tigers in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. She's second overall in the Ivy League in scoring and rebounding and first in steals.


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  • She has been the Ivy League's Rookie of the Week seven times and this past week was its Player of the Week after holding the league's leading scorer, Columbia's Judie Lomax, to 11 points. And Niveen's line? She had 27 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and five steals.

  • Princeton enters this weekend's action 19-2 overall, 7-0 in the Ivy League and winners of 14 straight, all program bests historically. The Tigers have an inside track on their first outright Ivy title since 1978 and are eyeing their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

  • Princeton has received votes in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls and before long might become the first Ivy League school to receive a top-25 ranking in either women's poll.

    In short, in her first year at Princeton, Rasheed is at the core of some pretty impressive firsts, but she isn't that shocked by her own quick transition or the meteoric rise of the program.

    "The pressure of being the first Princeton team in history to do certain things isn't really on our minds that much," she said. "It's a really good bonus, but I think we just expect that of ourselves. Even though we're a young team, we have really high goals."

    Third-year coach Courtney Banghart said the addition of Rasheed makes her motion offense sing, and she can't gush enough about her prize freshman.

    "Recruiting is a little bit like childbirth — you don't know what you have until you have it," Banghart said. "But having coached her now, Niveen could have played anywhere."

    How was it possible that Rasheed could wind up in a conference that doesn't offer athletic scholarships? Banghart said the opportunity to get a Princeton education is swaying more athletes than ever, particularly women, and noted that sophomore guard Lauren Edwards turned down a scholarship offer from Stanford last year.

    Banghart added that most Pac-10 schools, including Stanford and Cal, had the 6-foot Rasheed on their short lists but that her size probably would have restricted her to a wing position. At Princeton, she has more flexibility to utilize the full extent of her talents or, as Hirschman said, "just be Niveen."

    "Even though I play the '4,' I have a lot of opportunities to control the offense as long as I keep it moving," Rasheed said. "In high school, I think I relied more on raw athleticism, but now I have to stay more composed and disciplined to be a contributor."

    Banghart said Rasheed contributes in many ways.

    "She's quick off her feet to the offensive glass, she can score in the low block, she can score on the perimeter, she has a pull-up game, she can elevate and score over bigger players," she said. "She's just a really hard matchup because she can do a little bit of everything, and she's a great defender, too. The sky is really her limit because she has so many intangibles."

    One intangible is her devoted family, which used to bring large and loud contingents to Monte Vista games and is still doing so despite the tougher logistics at Princeton. Her brother in Miami makes almost every game, as does an older sister in New York. But her parents and other siblings have also traveled from California for more than half of her games.

    "My dad promised that the family would be just as supportive at Princeton, and I have to say they have held up their end of the bargain," Niveen said.

    It surely makes it easier when Rasheed is leading a great university to places even it's never been.

    Contact Carl Steward at csteward@bayareanewsgroup.com.