Duke forwards headline college basketball’s freshman class

<p>
              FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2018, file photo ,Duke' R.J. Barrett (5) shoots against a Toronto defender during a college basketball exhibition game in Mississauga, Ontario. Barrett was the lone freshman included in the Associated Press preseason All-America team. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
            </p>

The unusual aspect of this year’s freshman class is that three of the very top guys signed with the same team and play similar positions.

Duke forwards RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson were rated among the nation’s top five prospects in their class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports .

“All three can play together, but they’re kind of all the same position — they’re primarily small forwards,” said Jerry Meyer, the director of scouting for 247Sports. “That’s one reason people were surprised Zion ended up at Duke. The narrative being built around why he wouldn’t go to Duke is they already had two elite small forwards.”

The early returns suggest they’ll make it work just fine. The trio is part of a loaded Duke freshman class that also includes guard Tre Jones, ranked 15th in the 247Sports Composite.

Williamson, Barrett and Reddish averaged a combined 70 points, 16 rebounds and 11.5 assists in the fourth-ranked Blue Devils‘ two preseason exhibition victories. Meyer is interested in seeing if Duke experiments with any lineups featuring four freshmen in which the 6-foot-7 Williamson defends the opposing team’s center.

“It would be kind of like the Golden State Warriors thing where you go small and play without a center sometimes, very similar to what Golden State does with Draymond Green,” Meyer said.

Here’s a rundown of some freshmen who should make a major impact this season. For the purposes of this list, we decided to limit ourselves to just one of the Duke newcomers.

RJ BARRETT, DUKE

Position: Forward. Height: 6-7.

Barrett was the lone freshman included in the Associated Press preseason All-America team . He’s the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in his class according to the 247Sports Composite. He also was the Gatorade national high school player of the year. Barrett was born in Toronto and helped Canada win a gold medal at the FIBA U19 Men’s Basketball World Cup this year, but he played high school basketball at Montverde (Florida) Academy. Barrett has averaged 27.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in two exhibition games.

“He has a great feel for the game,” Meyer said. “He can finish a play, can start a play, can make the assist pass, can make the hockey assist pass, get you rebounds. The key for him is outside shooting, and evidently that’s improving.”

CHARLES BASSEY, WESTERN KENTUCKY

Position: Center. Height: 6-11.

Bassey was the No. 7 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and the only college-bound player in the top 18 who chose a non-Power Five school. He averaged 19.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals last season at Aspire Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. Bassey had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a preseason exhibition victory over Campbellsville.

“He can be a dominant inside scorer and rebounder at any level,” Meyer said.

BOL BOL, OREGON

Position: Center. Height: 7-2.

Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, was ranked fourth in the 247Sports Composite. He’s from Olathe, Kansas, but played high school basketball at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. Bol averaged 20.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks his senior year at Findlay Prep.

“He can score from all three levels, and for someone that size, he really represents a lot of problems. He’s got a soft touch. We’ve got to move him around a little bit because physically he’s not real strong. You just can’t put him in the block and let him bang around,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “But he does move in there very well. He catches the ball well. I’ve been really pleased with his instincts and his ability to pass the ball.”

DARIUS GARLAND, VANDERBILT

Position: Guard. Height: 6-2.

Garland and teammate Simi Shittu are the first two McDonald’s All-Americans ever to sign with Vanderbilt. Shittu was ranked 11th and Garland 14th in the 247Sports Composite, but Garland could make the bigger impact as a point guard who should have the ball in his hands often. Garland helped Brentwood (Tennessee) Academy win four straight state titles. He averaged 27.6 points his senior year.

“He’s quick, can handle the ball. He can do everything you want a guard to do. He can get to the rim. He can be a distributor. He’s an outstanding shooter, has a pull-up game. He can defend,” Meyer said. “I think the question for him as a college freshman will be strength and physicality.”

ROMEO LANGFORD, INDIANA

Position: Guard. Height: 6-6

Langford was ranked seventh in the 247Sports Composite and was one of three finalists for the Gatorade national high school player of the year award. He scored 3,002 career points at New Albany High School to rank fourth in Indiana boys basketball history. Langford followed that up by scoring 19 points in the McDonald’s All-American Game.

“He’s a very polished player with the ball in his hands, can score any way you want,” Meyer said. “He has the physical tools to do everything as a shooting guard.”

NASSIR LITTLE, NORTH CAROLINA

Position: Forward. Height: 6-6.

Ranked third in the 247Sports Composite, Little helped Orlando (Florida) Christian win state titles each of his last two years in high school. He also was salutatorian of his senior class. Little was most valuable player of the McDonald’s All-American Game and the co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic. He scored 28 points in the McDonald’s game and 24 in the Jordan Brand Classic.

“He’s the full package for a combo forward,” Meyer said. “He’s a physical athlete, powerful and dominant inside around the basket but also can shoot the 3 and can stretch the defense some. He has a complete skill set.”