Depth, star power for incoming freshman hoops class
Get ready to learn some new names as the college basketball season tips off this week.
The 2015-16 season was billed as ''the year of the senior,'' but newcomers figure to take center stage this season with the arrival of a talented and deep freshman class.
Jerry Meyer, the national director of scouting for 247Sports, calls the incoming freshman class the best since the 2007-08 season, which featured eventual NBA all-stars Derrick Rose, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.
''I would be surprised if this class doesn't eventually produce multiple NBA all-stars when it's all said and done,'' said Eric Bossi, the director of basketball recruiting at Rivals.
That represents a major change from last season, when experience was emphasized. Four of the five first-team selections on the AP All-America team last year were seniors: Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, North Carolina's Brice Johnson and Michigan State's Denzel Valentine.
The starting lineups in last season's NCAA championship game between Villanova and North Carolina included four seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and only one freshman. The nation's most celebrated freshman was LSU's Ben Simmons, who became the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft but failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
This year's freshman class features much more depth.
''I wouldn't put anyone on that Ben Simmons level – I really think Ben Simmons is an exceptional talent – but I think there's a bunch of guys just a step below,'' Meyer said.
As usual, freshmen could make the biggest impact at No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kentucky.
Duke's six-man freshman class has four of the nation's top 15 prospects, according to composite rankings of recruiting websites compiled by 247Sports . That group includes forwards Harry Giles (No. 2) and Jayson Tatum (No. 4), guard Frank Jackson (No. 13) and center Marques Bolden (No. 15).
''As everyone can see, these guys are already talented,'' Duke senior forward Amile Jefferson said. ''They already have the tools and the gifts that God gave them to be really good basketball players.''
Tatum has a sprained foot and Giles underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last month that kept both players out of Duke's preseason exhibitions. Bolden is expected to miss Duke's first two regular-season games because of a leg injury.
Kentucky's John Calipari landed five of the nation's top 24 prospects, according to the 247Sports Composite. The new Wildcats include guards De'Aaron Fox (No. 6) and Malik Monk (No. 11) and forwards Edrice ''Bam'' Adebayo (No. 9), Wenyen Gabriel (No. 14) and Sacha Killeya-Jones (No. 24). They combined for 78 points Sunday in a 156-63 exhibition blowout of NAIA Division II school Asbury.
''His fan base hears every year about that crop of young guys, and about every other year they've been as good as advertised,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ''This is another special group. This could be another Karl Towns-type group.''
Meyer noted Adebayo ''is going to bring something to the table that Kentucky was woefully missing last year as far as physical play inside and explosiveness.''
Meyer added it's ''arguably the best'' class John Calipari has brought to Kentucky, though Calipari himself is reluctant to compare.
''It's hard to think back,'' Calipari said. ''All I can tell you is it's a very smart group – a very driven, wired group, a competitive group.''
But the freshman talent is spread around.
No. 3 Kansas has guard Josh Jackson, rated as the nation's No. 1 prospect in his class by the 247Sports Composite. No. 16 UCLA, attempting to bounce back from a rare losing season, has added guard Lonzo Ball (No. 3) and forward T.J. Leaf (No. 18). Florida State has forward Jonathan Isaac (No. 8) and No. 12 Michigan State adds forward Miles Bridges (No. 12).
Bridges averaged 26.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in Michigan State's two exhibition games.
''I think he can be one of the more versatile players that we've had since Jason Richardson,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ''He shoots it pretty good. He's stronger than most freshmen. He's a man-child in that respect. He's a power jumper. But he's been an incredible kid. Sometimes your top-10 or 15 players are full of themselves. He's been as humble and hard-working and coachable a kid as I've had.''
Ball leads a bumper crop of point guards that also includes Fox, Washington's Markelle Fultz (No. 5) and North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. (No. 7).
Ball and Leaf posted double-doubles in UCLA's exhibition victory over NAIA school The Master's University. Smith averaged 23 points and 5.0 assists in North Carolina State's two exhibition games. Isaac averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in Florida State's two exhibitions.
Those early performances lend some credence to the notion this freshman class could live up to its considerable billing.
''In terms of guys who are going to make significant impacts as freshmen, it's definitely going to be one of the top three or four classes of the last 16-17 years,'' Bossi said.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org
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