For those of us who follow the recruiting process, rankings aren’t always an accurate data point when measuring the likelihood of immediate success at the collegiate level. Sometimes, the biggest factor is player retention. Which freshman will be given an opportunity? Sometimes the biggest factor is “fit”. How does this new crop of talented freshman adapt to playing for a new coach in a new system? Sometimes it’s maturity. How do these first year players handle being away from home for the first time? How do they handle balancing their training and school work?
There are many factors which contribute to the immediate success of a particular freshmen class. It’s the reason rankings are more feel than they are science. Most of the 2013 class is now committed and the early entry date to declare for the NBA Draft is behind us. Armed with more information we look at 15 players ready to make an instant impact on College Basketball in the fall.
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15. JOEL EMBIID, Kansas (7-0, C)
There is no doubt Joel Embiid has the tools to one day be a lottery pick. The question is how quickly will he transform from prospect to player? Lately, there’s been enough evidence to suggest it’s going to happen faster than many expected. It feels like the calm before the storm. Embiid has the talent and opportunity to emerge as a one-and-done star for Kansas. Jeff Withey is gone and a vacancy in the middle is ripe for the picking. Embiid can protect the rim, rebound his area, and make shots out to 10 feet. As his feel for the game improves, the sky is the limit for the international big man. His freshman year might be similar to what we saw with Andre Drummond at Uconn. Early in the season he might even look like he’s running wind sprints while there is a high level basketball game going on around him. But eventually the light is going to come on. When it does, he’s going to shoot up this board.
14. NIGEL WILLIAMS-GOSS, Washington (6-0, PG)
Dave Telep calls him “Joe Flacco” due to his ability to affect the outcome of a game more than the box score. The Findlay Prep point guard will be asked to take a Washington team, which went 18-16, and turn them into winners. Not an easy task for a freshman point guard. The good news is that C.J. Wilcox decided to bypass the NBA and will return for his senior year. His skills don’t warrant being on this list but his pedigree and leadership should help the Huskies turn the corner from the Abdul Gaddy era.
13. ANTHONY BARBER, N.C. State (6-2, PG)
Lorenzo Brown declared for the draft and Rodney Purvis transfered. There is also talk Tyler Lewis might be next out the door.That would leave “Cat” Barber to run the show for State. Barber goes 0-60 as fast as anyone in the class. His presence should increase the tempo and likely the turnovers as well. While Barber is still learning to play the point, he might be more talented than any of the guys mentioned above. He’ll provide unique ball pressure and be able to guard either guard spot due to his quick feet and excellent length. Offensively he brings the ability to get in the gaps and get to the rim. How he’s able to emerge as a playmaker will determine his ability to ultimately reach his ceiling. Brown and Purvis leaving will expedite the learning curve and the expectation is that Barber will make the most of his opportunity.
12. MATT THOMAS, Iowa State (6-3, SG)
Fred Hoiberg has done a masterful job recruiting the kind of players that “fit” his style of play. Thomas is a Fred Hoiberg clone. He is a terrific catch-and-shoot guy, has a deadly one dribble pull-up, and can really move away from the ball. He can come off the curl going either way, understands spacing and how to get open. Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious both graduate. Look for Thomas to step in right away and score the basketball.
11. KEITH FRAZIER, SMU (6-5, SG)
Larry Brown needed a foundation recruit and he got one in Keith Frazier. The silky smooth two-guard with deep range will learn to play within a team concept, move without the basketball, and think the game through for 40 minutes. He’ll get on the job training from one of the best in the game, while being allowed to play through his mistakes. It’s a great situation for one of the most prolific scorers in the country. Look for Keith to average somewhere between 15 and 20 points a night.
10. ERIC MIKA, BYU (6-9, C)
BYU struck out with Jabari Parker but that doesn’t mean they won’t have star power in this year’s class. Mika is a foundation recruit who will make his living in the low post for the foreseeable future. Expect Mika to dominate his area and immediately become one of the best rebounders in the WCC. He has a wide body, a variety of post moves, and changes ends better than you’d expect. He’ll be a very difficult cover in the paint in what’s known to be somewhat of a vanilla conference.
9. WAYNE SELDEN, Kansas (6-5, SF)
Ben McLemore put his name in the draft, leaving a vacancy on the wing for the Jayhawks. Selden doesn’t have McLemore’s talent or ability to score the basketball. What he does have is a physical presence and toughness which should become contagious to his teammates. Selden gets to the rim at will and should make a living on the free throw line as a freshman. His perimeter game is a work in progress, but he is making strides. As a freshman Selden will play major minutes and bring the kind of energy and toughness that coach Self will appreciate. He’ll be dominant in space and is capable of being a shutdown wing defender. Offensively, picture something similar to Dion Waiters. If he’s able to stay in his lane and continue to attack the basket, Wayne will finish the year on this list where he started: One of the 10 best freshman in America.
8. AARON HARRISON, Kentucky (6-5, SG)
It’s hard to imagine that the No. 1 shooting guard in America is living in the shadow of his brother, but that seems to be exactly what’s happening with the Harrison twins. Don’t be foolish and overlook the often forgotten twin. Aaron Harrison is an equally tremendous fit for the dribble drive as his brother. Just look at the success Doron Lamb had playing in the system. Now picture a more polished, more explosive, and equally competitive two-guard in the same mold. Boom. Ladies and Gentleman. I present Aaron Harrison.
7. AARON GORDON, Arizona (6-7, SF)
On pure talent, Gordon would be No. 2 on the list. It doesn’t take long watching Gordon to become completely enamoured with his motor, athleticism and power. He’s a Blake Griffin clone with a skillset that’s further along at the same stage. He’s an efficient offensive scorer and the second-best overall athlete in the class. But a big part of being an instant impact freshman is opportunity and fit. Gordon’s decision to attend Arizona creates more questions about his opportunity and where he fits in than it provides answers. Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley will return for their sophomore seasons in the Arizona frontcourt. So how will Gordon fit in? Gordon is motivated to prove to NBA scouts that he is capable of becoming a full-time wing player. In fact, this was perhaps the deciding factor in his recruitment. Strictly from a numbers standpoint, having Gordon play out on the wing makes sense. But will the transition from the post to the wing be as smooth and dominant as everyone expects it to be? Gordon is currently a matchup nightmare at the four and at his most effective when he plays the game from the inside-out. Pulling Gordon away from the rim and forcing him to handle it and shoot it from the perimeter gets away from what makes him special. Teaching him to make decisions and react instinctively out on the wing just seems like it might take more time than people are willing to wait. There’s no question Gordon has the skillset and motor to become the alpha male in Tuscon and put together a truly special freshman year. I believe in Gordon’s talent. I really do. What makes me nervous is that Aaron grew up playing for the Oakland Soldiers; the same AAU club that produced Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson. I just don’t see Gordon stepping into that mix and becoming the go-to guy. A position change. Playing with guys he grew up idolizing. Add it up and it makes me question whether he’ll be as consistently productive in year one as the six guys ahead of him on the list.
6. TYLER ENNIS, Syracuse (6-2, PG)
Michael Carter-Williams declared for the draft and Brandon Triche has exhausted his eligibility. That means coach Boeheim will be forced to lean on Canadian freshman Tyler Ennis to drive the Syracuse offense. Tyler is a perfect fit for the high screen and roll and should be able to make the appropriate reads from day 1. Tyler is the best pick and roll point guard in high school basketball and always reacts based on what the defense gives him. His ability to find the mismatch and exploit it will be a calming influence on a team looking to establish a new identity. He may not have the ceiling of MCW, but he will be just what the doctor ordered for a team looking to make a repeat visit to the Final Four.
5. NOAH VONLEH, Indiana (6-9, PF) (New Hampton School, NH) (Mass Rivals)
When Cody Zeller gave Tom Crean and his staff a commitment in 2011, it was perhaps the single biggest moment in Indiana successfully transitioning through the rebuilding process. Zeller wasn’t the first recruit to sign on the dotted line for Coach Crean, but he was the most important. The commitment of Noah Vonleh may not be remembered in the same historical context, but it may very well become as important. The Hoosiers are losing four starters: Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. No big deal, just 52.1 points per game. While Zeller was the building block responsible for revitalizing the program and leading them to the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it’s Vonleh who will have to shoulder the expectations of sustaining it. Can he do it? Vonleh has a rare combination of length, athleticism and skill. He’s a versatile offensive player who’s capable of making shots facing the rim, beating his defender off the dribble, or making a play with his back to the basket. Think Chris Bosh with less length and more bounce.
4. JULIUS RANDLE, Kentucky (6-9, PF)
When it comes to evaluating how this year’s group of post players will impact the landscape of college basketball, there’s Julius Randle and everybody else. Julius has a combination of motor, power and skill that can’t miss at the next level. While Andrew Harrison‘s ability to stabilize the point guard position will have a bigger impact on Kentucky, it’s Randle’s who has the chance to be coach Cal‘s most reliable player. If Calipari can convince Randle to dominate his area and not drift to the perimeter, Randle has a chance to become the most dominant collegiate four man he’s ever coached. Randle has the tendency to go through long stretches where he wants to show off his overall package. While it’s impressive and genuine, the Cats already have enough perimeter scoring. Cal was able to convince Anthony Davis to stay in his lane and focus on what makes him special. If he’s able to do the same with Randle, Kentucky will be even more dangerous in the post than expected.
3. ANDREW HARRISON, Kentucky (6-5, PG)
The recent success of one-and-done point guards playing for Calipari has been well documented. Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague have solidified Kentucky’s place as the modern day Point Guard U. But success isn’t guaranteed just because you’ve been handed the keys to the dribble drive. Ryan Harrow struggled to find success last year, and as a result Kentucky found itself in the NIT. So what should Big Blue Nation expect from Andrew Harrison? At 6-5, Harrison has the size, strength and first step to get to the rim and score. He also has the ability to create and knock down shots and stretch the floor. His ability to score should be felt immediately, but what makes Andrew special is his ability to score while keeping everyone else involved. He’ll have plenty of talent and a plethora of egos to keep engaged. How he’s able to find the appropriate balance between scoring and distributing will be a direct reflection of just how special this Cats group can become. He has the talent and pedigree to lead Kentucky to the Final Four. Anything less will be viewed as a disappointment. How that pressure to produce weighs on Andrew is the biggest question facing the most talented group of freshmen in college basketball history.
2. JABARI PARKER, Duke (6-7, SF)
Unlike Wiggins, evaluating Jabari isn’t an exercise in dreaming about what he can become. It’s more about dissecting what he can already do. Jabari has the most complete skillset and highest basketball IQ among his peers. His versatility as a scorer will be essential on a Duke roster that graduates it’s top three scorers. The Blue Devils are losing Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry; meaning the scoring burden is going to fall on Jabari. Jabari should step into Ryan Kelly’s role and not miss a beat. He can stretch the defense, make plays off the dribble, operate as a passer out of the high post, and finish in transition. It should be the perfect storm for Parker as a freshman. Duke has a lot of holes to fill and Parker has the kind of versatile skillset to plug most of them.
1. ANDREW WIGGINS, (6-8, SF)
There is no question Wiggins has the highest ceiling of anyone in the incoming freshmen class. He’s essentially a 6-8 shooting guard with a 7-0 wingspan. Andrew possesses elite athleticism, can score the basketball at all three levels, and defends four positions on the floor. He can change the game in more ways and exploit a wider variety of matchups than anyone since LeBron. Wiggins has a nose for the rim and his second jump is explosive. He operates baseline as well as any prospect since Carmelo and has a perimeter game that’s growing daily. Defensively, Andrew has quick feet, takes good angles, and takes pride in locking someone up. Despite the fact that being the only player on the list uncommitted makes his fit at the next level unknown, Andrew possesses the kind of rare DNA that only comes around once a decade. He’s the most unique seven-month rental of the one-and-done era and thus a no brainer for the No. 1 spot on this list.
Who do you think will have the biggest impact on college basketball next season?
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