Now that we're in a time where players can't jump right into the NBA Draft after high school, the quality of freshmen playing college basketball is perhaps higher than it's ever been. While freshmen have been eligible since 1972, they rarely became the focus of their teams, with Michigan's Fab Five and Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony serving as two noteworthy exceptions.
Since 2006, however, college basketball has seen some truly remarkable players--OJ Mayo, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans--grace its arenas for a year before moving on to NBA paydays. Sure Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Amare Stoudemire have been able to build highly successful NBA careers without spending a day in a college gym. But for all of these successes there are the notable cases where a year or two in college may have better prepared a player physically, mentally, and emotionally (Kwame Brown) or prevented a player from falling completely off the radar (James Lang).
This influx of talent, combined with the fact that it's of a short-term nature, means that freshmen have a greater role in college hoops than ever before. Freshmen are often expected to contribute immediately, particularly if they enter with high expectations or are filling the sizable shoes of players who have graduated or moved onto the professional level. Recruiting, however, can be a crapshoot, which is why I don't spend an awful lot of time talking about it here. But now that the dust has settled for the most part, it's time to talk about who are expected to be the impact freshmen this season. (There are still eligibility issues out there, for example, the ongoing cases of Renardo Sidney at Mississippi State and Lance Stephenson at Cincinnati, who seems a bit closer than Sidney to actually suiting up.)
After the jump, I'll present my three preseason All-Frosh teams, starting with the 3rd team. While the players on the 1st team all could have been high picks last June in New York, the players on the other two teams are more than capable of making a significant impact this season.
3rd Team All-Freshman
Kenny Boynton, 6-2 G (Florida): Boynton is expected to fill a lot of the void left by the departed Nick Calathes. Boynton is an excellent shooter, with a nice, if inconsistent jumper and the ability and willingness to drive into the lane and deliver floaters and layups. He's also a tenacious defender, which is something that should quickly endear him to Billy Donovan. While Boynton is an experienced shooting guard, expect him to work on his ballhandling skills so he can play the point.
Keith Gallon, 6-9 F (Oklahoma): At 6-9 and 300 pounds, Gallon is naturally nicknamed "Tiny." But Gallon isn't your typical big man. He's got adequate ballhandling skills and isn't just a threat to score inside. Gallon has an actual, legitimate outside game. His weight is an issue, and his conditioning will have to improve so he can better adjust to longer college games.
Jordan Hamilton, 6-7 G/F (Texas): Hamilton didn't play during his senior year of high school, but that didn't stop him from being considered the star of the Longhorns' class, at least until Rick Barnes signed Avery Bradley (more on him in a minute). Hamilton averaged almost 28 points and 11 boards a game in his final season at Dominguez Hills HS in California. Hamilton provides the Horns with an excellent scoring option, who obviously is willing to do the dirty work on the boards.
John Jenkins, 6-4 G (Vanderbilt): Jenkins was the leading high school scorer in the country last year, averaging 42.5 points per game. He's an aggressive scorer who can shoot from outside, but prefers driving to the basket. Jenkins can be the Commodores first real outside scoring threat since Derrick Byars.
Mouphtaou Yarou, 6-9 C (Villanova): The Wildcats were a fairly small, guard-oriented team last season, yet still made the Final Four. Yarou is an athletic big man who can rebound and play good defense, and has becoming more of a scoring threat, particularly with his back to the basket. High school teammate Isiah Armwood also joins him at Nova, but Yarou may be a bit more physically ready to play inside at the Big East level.
2nd Team All-Freshman
Abdul Gaddy, 6-3 G (Washington): Gaddy originally planned to go to Arizona, but Lute Olson's retirement changed his plans. He decided on the Huskies, keeping him close to home. Gaddy will be yet another tenacious defender and fearless scorer for Lorenzo Romar, complementing backcourt mates Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton.
John Henson, 6-10 F (North Carolina): Henson was a McDonald's All-American last season. Even though he went to high school in Tampa, he has deep Carolina roots. Henson should be an offensive force for the Tar Heels, which is essential for a team seeking to replace Tyler Hansbrough, the ACC's all-time scoring leader. However, he only checks in at 185-190 pounds. meaning he'll have to bulk up a bit to be a true force defensively.
Ater Majok, 6-10 F (Connecticut): Majok will finally suit up for the Huskies after the first semester is complete. He had eligibility issues on both the academic and amateurism fronts. The native of Sudan (who ended up in Australia) is not your prototypical big man. Majok possesses a strong perimeter game, but will have to work on his post presence.
Michael Snaer, 6-5 G (Florida State): Last year's California player of the year, Snaer is expected to fill the scoring void left by the departure of Toney Douglas. Snaer averaged 28 points per game last season, so he should be able to fill that role nicely. However, the big question in Tallahassee is whether he will be as good of a defender as Douglas.
Lance Stevenson, 6-6 G/F (Cincinnati): Stevenson could be the player who puts the Bearcats back in the NCAA picture. The all-time leading scorer in the state of New York averaged almost 29 points and 10 rebounds a game last season. Stevenson will be expected to repeat those numbers in Cincy, provided he's ruled eligible.
1st Team All-Freshman
Avery Bradley, 6-3 G (Texas): Bradley led his high school, Findlay Prep in Nevada to a perfect season last year. Bradley lived in Dallas during 2002 and 2003, a fact that influenced his choice. Bradley is an impressive defender, has a good jump shot, and can finish inside. The knocks on him are that he's not a great ballhandler or three-point shooter, but Bradley more than makes up for this with the other aspects of his game, and his work ethic.
DeMarcus Cousins, 6-11 F (Kentucky): Cousins was one of John Calipari's recruits at Memphis who followed the coach to Lexington. He, fellow recruit Daniel Orton, and current Wildcats Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson will combine to be one of the most formidable frontcourt units in the country. Cousins is a good ballhandler, a capable offensive threat both inside and outside of the paint, and strong enough to do the real work defensively inside.
Derrick Favors, 6-10 F (Georgia Tech): Favors is probably why Paul Hewitt is still coaching the Yellow Jackets. Arugably the top incoming freshman, he was a player worth waiting for. Despite the hype, Favors plays a simple game, doing a little bit of everything, not just scoring. He's an excellent defender, rebounder, and shot blocker, who should cause a lot of problems in the ACC in what should be his only year in the conference.
Xavier Henry, 6-6 G/F (Kansas): The Jayhawks have never had a player who entered the NBA Draft after his freshman year, but Henry will likely break that run. Henry plays on the wing and is an excellent perimeter shooter who is certainly capable of driving inside. He originally committed to Memphis, backing out when John Calipari went to Kentucky, ending conditional letters of intent. Xavier's brother, CJ, a former #1 draft pick of the New York Yankees, joins his brother in Lawrence.
John Wall, 6-4 G (Kentucky): Wall's recruitment was a fairly lengthy process, and in the end, he spurned pretty much every other major program in the country and the NBA Draft, and picked the Wildcats. Wall, an excellent ballhandler who averaged 21 points a game during his senior year of high school, selected Kentucky because of the high level of responsibility Calipari places on the point guard position. Wall is often compared to Derrick Rose and will hope to better Rose's accomplishment of leading his team to the National Championship game as a freshman.
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the other group of newcomers on the college basketball scene, the transfers of 2009-10.