By Chris Le
College basketball, for me, is about the freshmen. It’s the kids—and I can’t overemphasize kids—so precocious that they leave a mark on the national stage. It’s like witnessing a childhood Mozart fiddle with the piano or an adolescent Bobby Fischer pacing over a chessboard. An eighteen-year-old who commands the college game at an All-American level is a glimpse into the future—the NBA future.
Some prospects are obvious stars, indulging in the formality of the NCAA one-year policy; others have dormant potential ready to be realized; and then there are the “left field” prospects—unrecruited, no-star rating—who make a name with four years of hardwood elbow grease.
Either way, it’s fun to witness.
But I’m no Miss Cleo. I can’t foresee the ugly duckling turned swan three years down the road. But I know a stud when I see one. So here are the can’t miss prospects—the players who’ll make an immediate impact. Here are the best freshmen in the nation.
1. John Wall, PG, Kentucky – Wall needs to be seen, not described in words. “He’s incredible with the ball.” “He’s long, athletic, and possesses flair.” Such platitudes are insufficient. But I’m a writer, so when forced to use words this is how I best describe the freshman prodigy: Seeing him weave down the court, you forget that he’s dribbling a basketball. What do I mean by this? To start, Wall has never met anyone faster than him; his speed alone leaves you wondering how a basketball can keep up with him. He runs and spins and cuts through crowds like Barry Sanders on the gridiron, and somehow never loses court vision or control of the ball or his body. Get used to seeing him “Usain Bolt”-passed everyone and unleash southpaw tomahawk dunks or zip off-hand, wrap-around passes through traffic. Oh, and did I mention he’s right-handed? Ambidextrous to the max.
Wall, in short, will be a better freshman than both Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose. And he’s the best prospect I’ve seen since LeBron James. Enough superlatives for you? My only qualm is his predilection for mid-air passes. Which is, naturally, a sign of his creativity and visual acuity, but could also result in turnovers.
That being said, Wall will lead a stacked Kentucky team to an NCAA championship appearance—just before he becomes the number one overall pick in the NBA draft.
This video is straight FILTHY:
NBA Comparison: Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo
2. Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech – How good is Favors? He’s a better prospect than North Carolina’s Ed Davis, whose potential has every NBA scout up-tucking their woodies (Favors is a top-five lock, and maybe number two overall after Wall). Favors may be, by midseason, the best post-player in the ACC, and he’s only a freshman. Already equipped with a man’s body in a conference of young men, Favors could average a double-double adding two or three blocks for good measure. Everything is there—a quick first and second jump to block or rebound, the strength to overpower at both ends and a latent mean streak. All he needs to be an All-American is a legitimate go-to move on the block.
NBA Comparison: Josh Smith/Amare Stoudemire
3. Avery Bradley, SG, Texas – Bradley is a rare commodity in high school recruiting. He scores points in bunches, yes, and he can paint the ceiling during dunks. But those qualities aren’t rare; there’s a Vince Carter clone in every recruiting class. What differentiates Bradley—what has him looking more like an upperclassman than a frosh—is his developed mid-range jumper and his love for everything defensive. In high school, these tools are left on the shelf to collect dust in favor of one-on-one skills and reverse slams. Not so with Bradley. He’s got the condor’s wingspan and necessary tenacity of a lock-down defender, and he’s bouncy and ballsy enough to swat much larger opponents, head on, Dwyane Wade-style. And it seems he takes pride in making life miserable for the ball handler, as if he wants defense to be his hallmark. Like I said, a rare commodity in freshmen basketball. No one in this class goes harder, and because of that, Bradley has a chance to be special.
NBA Comparison: Defensive-minded Monta Ellis/Jerryd Bayless
4. Kenny Boynton, PG, Florida – Boynton is the best score-first point guard in the class. Hold that—qualification isn’t needed; he’s the best scorer. Period. The physical qualities are obvious. He’s strong enough to finish at the rim, skilled enough to execute the pull-up jumper. But more than anything, I love his demeanor. He carries himself like a scorer. He dribbles down the court with an air of “I’m scoring and—you know and I know—there’s nothing you can do about it.” I’m not a sports psychologists or Bill Simmons (who thinks he’s a sports psychologist), but Boynton has the look of being fearless in the clutch, heartless in closing out. On a Florida team now without Nick Calathes and devoid of an offensive threat, Boynton, who has range like Tiger Woods, could lead all freshmen in scoring.
NBA Comparison: Allen Iverson
5. Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinatti – You may be thinking “Why Cincinatti?” Why did a New York legend, who broke all state scoring records and earned a legit streetball nickname (“Born Ready”), choose Cincinatti over powerhouses North Carolina or Kentucky? The answer: Because he has a Kanye-like sense of entitlement, and top-tier programs didn’t dare touch him. This kid did, in fact, come from the same Lincoln High School as Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair—uh oh. But this is college ball, not the pros. A selfish me-first scorer can lead a team to relatively high heights, especially if it’s a talent like Stephenson. Selfish or not, the kid can play ball. Well, “kid” is a misnomer seeing how he’s 6’5”, 210 with a deceptively quick first step. He looks like a grown man, even if he has a child’s mentality.
NBA Comparison: Brandon Roy