By Chris Le
College recruiters have been spoiled the past two years. I’m talking Paris Hilton, My Super Sweet 16 spoiled. In 2007, college basketball witnessed the dominance of Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and Mike Conley, the latter two who may be question marks now in the NBA but played like the next coming of Bill Russell and Chris Paul in college. That first year corps—which also included Thaddeus Young, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Brook Lopez—looked like it wouldn’t be topped…until the very next year. The 2008 season welcomed an even deeper and more productive freshman class of Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Jerryd Bayless and Kevin Love (all one-and-dones), and budding superstars Blake Griffin, Austin Daye and Kyle Singler.
Compared to the past two classes, this year—like the economy—is experiencing a recession. Don’t expect the incoming crop to feature any All-American candidates, let alone the Player of the Year. Even the number of proverbial unpolished physical freaks (e.g. Anthony Randolph, Brandon Wright) is low, as only a handful of prospects are validly considered NBA-ready, or even look to possess the potential.
Granted, it might be a little unfair to compare any freshman class to the previous two. And it’s not to say that they’ll lack production. It’s just that these frosh are a little underwhelming.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF, Wake Forest – My favorite to win Freshman of the Year honors. I love this kid’s versatility. At 6’9”, 215 (with a 7’2” wingspan and upside to spare), Aminu will be all over the court. He can score from deep, off the dribble or in traffic—and he does it all smoothly and efficiently. I’ve been impressed since the second I saw him dominate against national powerhouse Helen Cox, outshining then top-ranked senior in the country Greg Monroe. Aminu heads possibly the nation’s top recruiting class and should make Wake Forest a serious player in the ACC. Needs to improve his strength and defensive consistency. Video Evidence. NBA Comparison: A more athletic Luol Deng.
Jrue Holiday, PG/SG, UCLA – The most polished and ready to contribute freshman in the country. His basketball IQ is as high as you’ll find in an 18-year-old. Offensive skills are highly developed and can score in a myriad of ways, whether to the rack or pulling up, but truly excels in the open court. Not sure about his point abilities, but with All-American floor general Darren Collison still running the offense, Holiday won’t have to worry about that. Video Evidence. NBA Comparison: Poor man’s Dwyane Wade.
Demar DeRozan, SG, USC – No O.J. Mayo? Not a problem. Meet Demar Derozan, the most explosive player to come out of high school in years. His hops are on par with that of the best NBAers. This kid from Compton can straight up jump out of the gym. Of course, having relied on his springs and quickness his whole life, he needs to improve his perimeter game and his left-hand handles. But he’ll be a dominant force right away just with his freakish athleticism. Figures to be a top-5 draft pick. Video Evidence. NBA Comparison: Vince Carter.
Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis – Evans, touted as the top player in his class since he was in junior high, has the requisite swagger and lack of conscience needed in a go-to scorer. And if Evans is anything, he’s a scorer…probably the best in this group of freshmen. Possessing top-notch body awareness, NBA-range and an extremely natural yet cerebral feel for the game, Evans makes for amazing scoring exhibitions and makes it look sickeningly easy. He won’t offset the loss of Rose and Christopher Douglas-Roberts but cushions the blow. Not as extraordinary on the defensive end. Won’t be as effective if he’s forced to play the point guard position. Video Evidence. NBA comparison: A smaller Tracy McGrady.
BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State – The Buckeyes tried to replace Oden with Kosta Koufos in 2008. That didn’t pan out as expected, but they’re getting closer with Mullens, who does just about everything well. He’s a legit 7-footer who can run the court, shoot and finish around the rim. That’s why he’s Rivals.com’s No. 1 prospect. Mullen’s potential, perhaps more than any other freshman, is through the roof. Needs to develop a mean streak, and though he’s enormously well-rounded, he’s not exceptional at any one aspect. Video Evidence. NBA Comparison: A more athletic Andrew Bogut.
I’m not so excited about…
Greg Monroe, PF/C, Georgetown – Ranked the 8th best prospect in the nation by both Rivals.com and Scouts.com. At 6’11, 254, he’s got the frame and strength to be a handful in the paint, especially as a rebounder. In high school, though, he wasn’t very keen of the low-block, almost shying away from it. When I saw him play, with his team down, he lacked intensity and didn’t demand the ball in crunch time. His face-up game and handles are nice, but he’s not exceptionally fast or athletic. I expect Monroe to struggle a bit. Video Evidence. NBA Comparison: Stronger but less athletic LaMarcus Aldridge.