Thursday, October 17, 2013
Five frosh who'll make immediate impact
By Adam Finkelstein
The ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big East and AAC all held their annual media days this week, with the Big 12 and Big Ten scheduled to follow suit next week. That means we’re seeing a variety of preseason coaches' polls identifying the top teams, players and freshmen in each conference.
From a recruiting perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of the preseason polls is finding the discrepancies between our final ESPN 100 rankings and coaches’ expectations just a few months later.
Freshman Tyler Ennis will likely play big minutes at point guard for Syracuse.
The reality is that player rankings and preseason polls are projecting two different things, so sometimes the highest-ranked players coming out of high school aren’t the ones coaches expect to make the most immediate impact as college freshmen.
Our ESPN rankings are based on three weighted criteria: NBA potential, projected college impact and high school productivity. Preseason polls are only relevant to the second and have a narrower lens since they’re only considering the upcoming season and not the entire scope of a college career.
The other major difference between final recruit rankings and preseason college polls is the presence of variables. Opportunity and fit, both with style of play and current personnel, are exceptionally important when assessing how impactful freshmen can be in their debut season but aren’t relevant when calculating final rankings coming out of high school.
With those variances in mind, here’s a look at five college freshmen whose immediate impact should exceed their final ESPN 100 ranking in the Class of 2013.
James Young, Kentucky
Final ESPN 100 rank: No. 8 Young might have been the eighth-ranked prospect overall in the 2013 ESPN 100, but incredibly that made him only the fourth-highest ranked of Kentucky's incoming freshmen. After 10 days of practice, word is that Young has been among the most pleasant surprises in Lexington. We know about his size, length and sweet shooting stroke. But he has reportedly shown a far more versatile floor game thus far, utilizing his speed in the open floor, refusing to settle strictly for jumpers and showing tremendous potential on the defensive end of the floor. Coach John Calipari has even gone so far as to say that he has been the top standout for NBA scouts who visit practice.
Wayne Selden, Kansas
Final ESPN 100 rank: No. 14 Andrew Wiggins is the most celebrated prospect in a generation and nobody came on stronger in the Class of 2013 than big man Joel Embiid, and yet neither may be Kansas’ best freshman this season. Wiggins still isn’t totally comfortable in the limelight and Embiid is a classic late bloomer who is just beginning to tap into his ability. Meanwhile, there’s Selden -- the prototypical alpha male who has had the persona and charisma necessary to rise to a starring role since he was a freshman in high school. Selden's long-term upside might not equal that of Wiggins or Embiid, but don’t be surprised if the immediacy of his contributions overshadows both, especially early in the season.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Final ESPN 100 rank: No. 20 There might not be a freshman in America with more of an immediate opportunity that Ennis, but the cost of that opportunity is a trial by fire as he arrives at Syracuse as the only true point guard on the roster. While he might not have the same physical upside as some of the more explosive point guards in the class, Ennis' decision-making and reliability are about as solid as you’ll find. So while he will face some of the same struggles as most freshman point guards, it might not be to the same degree. Syracuse’s trademark zone defense will also help to save his legs a bit more, protecting him against the physical toll that immediate opportunities like his usually result in for most freshmen.
Devin Williams, West Virginia
Final ESPN 100 rank: No. 42 Like Ennis, Williams' impact will likely come in correlation to the level of his opportunity. West Virginia’s disappointing 2012-13 season was rooted in the fact that it didn’t get the type of production it expected at the point guard and post spots. Williams was brought in, along with fellow big man Elijah Macon, in hopes of rectifying the interior problems from Day One. Not only will he get the minutes necessary to do that, but he’s also uniquely prepared for this level of play both because of his extremely powerful college-ready body and his experience playing on the highest levels of both high school and AAU basketball with Montverde Academy (Fla.) and the Ohio Basketball Club.
Brandon Austin, Providence
Final ESPN 100 rank: No. 56 Austin was ranked outside the top 50 prospects in the ESPN 100 and yet he could end up being a candidate for Freshman of the Year in the Big East. While his jumper and left hand were substantial concerns coming out of high school, there was never any doubt as to his long-term potential if he could rectify those issues. He has made significant strides in those areas within the last six months, while also choosing a program where there is both opportunity and fit. Not only are there minutes available in the backcourt, but Providence is a system that pairs multiple long and versatile ball-handlers together. Combine that with a group of skilled bigs to open the lane up and Austin will have the freedom to be a playmaker without the burden of being the team’s primary ball-handler.