College Basketball’s Impact Freshman
Unfortunately, there will be no Zion Williamson-level star to be found among this year’s freshman class.
Although the Class of 2019 has some exciting future one-and-done players who should contribute in college basketball this season it is hard to image any newcomer captivating the nation like Zion did last season at Duke.
But there are still plenty of names to keep an eye on.
Memphis could have their very own Fab Five this season as head coach Penny Hardaway looks like he is going to start all freshmen. Duke and Kentucky continued their decade-long recruiting war with two more solid classes filled with McDonald’s All-Americans. Others like North Carolina and Washington reloaded with multiple Burger Boys following last season’s NCAA tournament appearances.
Here’s a look at five of the biggest freshmen stars, five potential Trae Youngs (recruits ranked near the 20s who could explode) and five names ranked near the 50s and below who could emerge nationally this season.
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THE FIVE NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: On a team that could start five freshman for head coach Penny Hardaway this season Wiseman will be the one to keep tabs on. The 7-foot-1 lefty brings a rare combination of size, length, athleticism and skill. Some recruiting analysts believe Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the freshman class coming out of high school. Having previously played for Hardaway at Memphis East during his junior season of high school, Wiseman will be a rare elite recruit to play for a head coach he’s very familiar with.
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Taking over for Coby White after his outstanding freshman season, the 6-foot-3 Anthony could very well be the most productive freshman - if not the most productive player - in college hoops this season. The son of Greg Anthony, Cole’s unique ability to take over a game stems from his Westbrook-like ability to contribute in every facet of a game. A regular triple-double threat in high school, Anthony is bouncy around the basket and skilled as a scorer as his ability to go off the bounce creates offense for himself or others. On a Tar Heel team that needs Anthony to play heavy minutes, but doesn’t need him to do everything it’ll be fascinating to see how quickly Anthony can lead this team with the ball in his hands. Playing fast as Roy Williams like shouldn’t be a problem for Anthony.
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: When Edwards reclassified from the Class of 2020 and committed to Georgia it was a massive coup for Tom Crean. That’s because Edwards might end up being the best long-term player of the Class of 2019. Athletic and strong at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Edwards is a three-level scorer who easily plays above the rim or well behind the three-point line. Effortless as a scorer at times, Edwards can get it rolling as a shooter and he’s destructive off the bounce thanks to his strength and quick first step. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulldogs use Edwards this season. The guard could easily stay positioned on the perimeter or Georgia could opt to use Edwards as a forward in some small-ball scenarios.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: An absolute terror in the paint, Washington head coach Mike Hopkins deserves a lot of credit for getting the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Stewart in the door. That’s because Stewart has a chance to be an immediate All-American. A potential double-double machine, Stewart is a throwback type of big man who wants to mix it up and hang inside. Although Stewart has an improving skill level that has some placing him in the top five of mock drafts, his physicality will stand out for a freshman -- particularly in a league like the Pac-12. Coupled with another McDonald’s All-American in Jaden McDaniels and the Huskies have very high hopes for the freshman class.
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Other freshmen might be better pro prospects but the 6-foot-3 Maxey has a chance to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season. Likely logging heavy minutes next to Ashton Hagans in the Wildcat backcourt, Maxey was one of the elite scorers in the class as he made it look easy at times in the Nike EYBL. Maxey is capable of also handling the ball and running some offense and his intensity on the defensive end is solid for a noted scorer. Kentucky once again has a lot of talent and a deep recruiting class but Maxey will be the one counted on for the most production right away. Maxey was listed as an NBC Sports Preseason All-American.
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FIVE POTENTIAL TRAE YOUNGS
TRE MANN, Florida: A scoring guard with deep range and tons of potential, keeping this in-state product home was a big grab for the Gators. The 6-foot-3 Mann should really help Florida from three-point range as they struggled with consistency in that department last season (33 percent as a team). Mann is the type of aggressive heat-check guard who will let them fly. Few in the Class of 2019 could go on scoring runs like he could. With veterans inside like Kerry Blackshear and plenty of long and athletic wings around him, Mann has the ability to make a major impact right away -- particularly on the offensive end.
C.J. WALKER, Oregon: Bouncy, shot-blocking forwards have thrived for the Ducks in recent seasons as they hope the 6-foot-8 Walker can follow in the footsteps of players like Jordan Bell and Kenny Wooten. Walker is more of a wing than those two but he still provides rim protection and ability to defend multiple spots on the floor. With an improving jumper, Walker is particularly intriguing because of a high motor and a willingness to do the little things. If Walker can show more on offense than activity plays around the basket then he could have a big impact right away.
ISAAC OKORO, AUBURN: After making a run to last season’s title game, the Tigers are looking to the 6-foot-6 Okoro to earn some key minutes right away. A multi-position athlete who could make a huge impact on the defensive end, Okoro is the type of shutdown defender who can capably lock down four spots. Auburn’s trapping scheme should help Okoro make a lot of plays in transition as he’s one of the best open-floor players in the class as well. Although Okoro isn’t as polished offensively as some on this list, he has a chance to make a huge impact if he shows a steady perimeter jumper.
JAHMIUS RAMSEY, Texas Tech: Guards at Texas Tech have been known to make giant leaps the past few seasons thanks to Zaire Smith and Jarrett Culver both getting picked in the first round. The Red Raiders are hoping the 6-foot-4 Ramsey can be the next in line to make an immediate impact. Staying in Texas for school, Ramsey has a chance to make an impact at both guard spots right away. More inclined to score at the high school level, Ramsey can also set up others as he’s at his best attacking the basket. On a team that will need some newcomers to step up, Ramsey should have the ball in his hands quite a bit as he’ll be asked to do a lot.
DE’VION HARMON, Oklahoma: The Sooners don’t have much experience returning in the backcourt from last season, paving the way for the 6-foot-1 Harmon to come in and play right away. One of the toughest perimeter defenders in the class, the lefty also make an impact on offense where he can run a halfcourt offense or score on his own. With a massive wingspan, Harmon is problematic on the perimeter as he’s drawn favorable comparisons to a recent Big 12 legend in Jevon Carter.
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FIVE NAMES THAT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT NATIONALLY
JALEN WILSON, Kansas: Wilson isn’t the typical five-star prospect that Kansas has grown accustomed to over Bill Self’s tenure. But there’s still a big need for the 6-foot-8 wing to potentially join a thin Jayhawk rotation this season as they try to get back on top of the Big 12. A former Michigan recruit who flipped his commitment following John Beilein’s NBA departure, Wilson gives Kansas some floor spacing as his perimeter jumper and ability to score is his calling card. Wilson doesn’t need to have a huge freshmen season for Kansas to be a contender but his emergence could make them that much more dangerous.
CASEY MORSELL, Virginia: It isn’t typical for freshmen to log heavy minutes for Virginia but Tony Bennett might not have a better choice after losing Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy early. The 6-foot-3 Morsell comes with typical prerequisites that are required of a successful Cavaliers guard. Morsell is competitive, tough and willing to defend as the D.C. native is one of the top two-way guards in the class. Although Morsell isn’t going to do anything flashy he can be a steady presence for a Virginia lineup desperately seeking a new identity this season.
KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: At 7-feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, Cockburn is the highest-ranked Illinois center since Meyers Leonard. Impossible to move out of the paint, Cockburn isn’t the most athletic big man, but his bruising style and soft touch should fit in well in the Big Ten. Cockburn’s addition to the Illini rotation also allows for promising sophomore big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili to play at the four, giving Illinois a premier post offense if the duo shares the floor. Defensively, Cockburn should also help with some rim protection as he’s solid as a positional post defender.
TRE MITCHELL, UMass: A rare top-100 recruit for the Atlantic 10, the 6-foot-9 Mitchell should be one of the league’s better post players as head coach Matt McCall looks to get the program back on track. A gifted offensive weapon who can score in the post or also face up with the jumper, Mitchell will be a major piece for the Minutemen to build with this season. A potential four-year player, Mitchell isn’t an elite athlete. But he should command some double teams and give UMass an immediate credible threat in the post.
ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul: One of the highest-ranked DePaul recruits of the last decade, the 6-foot-7 Weems will have a huge impact on the Blue Demons. A versatile wing forward who can do a bit of everything, Weems should fit in nicely with a DePaul frontcourt that features an underrated talent in Paul Reed. Weems is skilled enough to handle the ball and initiate some offense while remaining rugged enough to defend multiple spots and rebound.