Wall, Henry lead strong freshman class
The 2006 freshman class, led by player-of-the-year types Kevin
Durant and Greg Oden, was considered one of the best in college
The next year, along came Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, Eric
Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Everyone thought:
Wow! Now that’s GOT to be the best class ever.
Hold on just a second.
After relatively benign 2008 class – at least by standards of
the previous two – this year’s rookie crop has a chance to become
the best yet.
There’s Xavier Henry leaping opponents in a single bound at
top-ranked Kansas and John Wall doing it all at Kentucky. Texas
point guard Avery Bradley has been tougher to catch than a
hummingbird, and there’s Tiny Gallon scoring and minding the basket
at Oklahoma. Derrick Favors has used his pteradactyl-like wing span
to dominate at both ends for Georgia Tech.
That’s just the start with this year’s class. And, thanks to the
Internet and a game that seems to get younger every year, more like
this could be on the way.
“That class with Blake, Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Love, all those
guys, that’s best one I’ve seen,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said.
“But this one’s really good. There’s been some really good classes
and you’re going to see it more and more.”
There was a time, not too long ago, when coaches rarely though
of starting a freshman, much less make them the focal point of a
team. In the days of Wilt Chamberlain, freshmen weren’t even
allowed to play.
So when Pervis Ellison led Louisville to the 1986 national
championship as a freshman, it was a Haley’s Comet-like occurrence.
When Carmelo Anthony cut down the nets with Syracuse in 2003, it
was still treated with how’d-he-do-that awe.
Even a few years ago, coaches were still worried about relying
too much on players a few months removed from their senior
“You don’t want to put a guy in a situation where he has never
been through pressure and now if he doesn’t perform well, he’s a
primary reason – in most people’s eyes – why your team isn’t
successful,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “There are
Wall is one.
The 6-foot-4 guard has been an unstoppable, mesmerizing force so
far this season, a blur who can go baseline to baseline – wall to
wall? – as fast as anyone in the game. He helped beat North
Carolina, the hometown team that spurned him, then held an
electrifying Garden party against Connecticut at New York’s famous
Wall averages 18.1 points, 7.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 steals
and at least two ankle-turning crossovers per game.
“There’s nothing you can do about him,” UNC-Asheville’s D.J.
Cunningham said after Wall had 12 points and 14 assists in a
Wildcats’ rout. “He does whatever he wants.”
So does Henry.
The son of two former Jayhawks, Henry plays with the confidence
of a veteran, stroking in 3-pointers with ease. He leads the
nation’s No. 1 team at 18 points per game, is shooting 55 percent –
mostly from the perimeter – and recently leaped completely over
Alcorn State’s 6-foot-4 Keith Searcy, inducing a traveling
The rest of the country captivated, Henry yawns. He expected to
do this all along.
“I just play within what our team does,” Henry said after
scoring 31 points in a rout over La Salle. “We have great big men,
so it’s easy points when we throw it inside. I just pick my
With so many other freshmen playing prominent roles this season,
the exception is rapidly becoming the rule.
Gallon is a shooting guard in a power forward’s body, 6-foot-9,
296 pounds of touch and talent. He’s averaging 11.9 points and 9.3
rebounds while trying to follow Capel’s urgings to be more
Bradley has been a whirling dervish for the nation’s No. 2 team
and plays alongside another talented freshman, J’Covan Brown,
Texas’ third-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game.
Favors and his 9-foot wingspan have overcome some early-game
overeagerness to average 13.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocked
shots for the 22nd-ranked Yellow Jackets.
Then there’s Washington’s Abdul Gaddy, Syracuse’s Brandon
Triche, and Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton
alongside Wall in Lexington. The list seems to go on and on, and
the freshman fad isn’t likely to end soon.
Kids with even the slightest bit of talent are identified and
groomed from middle school. Television and the Internet make them
stars before they learn to drive, help them understand pressure
beyond playing in a dingy gym in front of two dozen people.
There’s little need for a grace period when freshmen arrive on
campus – they’re ready to go.
“There’s so much more exposure for these kids,” Capel said.
“The mindset of these guys is so much different than it was 10-15