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Led by Anthony Davis, Marcus Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, Kentucky ended the notion that freshman-laden teams couldn’t win a national championship.
Granted, the group in Kentucky was one of the best rookie classes in college basketball history with David and Kidd-Gilchrist being selected Nos. 1 and 2 in the NBA Draft. There likely won’t be a class that strong in the country this season, but plenty of prominent programs are counting on freshmen to rebuild or reload.
Of course, John Calipari has another star-studded class coming to Kentucky, led by Nerlens Noel. On the other side of the country, UCLA is counting on Shabazz Muhammad and Ryan Anderson to 1.) pass NCAA eligibility standards and 2.) lead the Bruins back to national prominence.
And at Indiana, the addition of Cody Zeller as a freshman last season was only the start. The Athlon preseason No. 1 team added Yogi Ferrell, listed below, to a veteran mix ready to contend for a national title.
Here’s a look at the top 10 freshmen who could shape the national and conference landscapes:
TOP 10 IMPACT FRESHMEN FOR 2012-13
Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
The highest-rated recruit ever to sign with Pittsburgh, Adams will be asked to be a factor on both ends of the court for the Panthers. The native of New Zealand is still relatively new to the game, so there might be some growing pains early in the season, but he has the size (7-0, 210) and athleticism to be a dominant big man in the Big East.
Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA
Anderson will team with guard Shabazz Muhammad to give Ben Howland two of the elite freshmen in the nation. Anderson, who played for legendary prep coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony (N.J.) High School, is a swingman who boasts a true inside-outside game. Anderson can knock down the perimeter jump shot but is at his best when taking the ball to the basket.
Related: Arrival of Muhammad, Anderson leads makeover at UCLA
Brandon Ashley, F, Arizona
Fellow Arizona freshman big man Kaleb Tarczewski received more hype through the recruiting process, but don’t be surprised if Ashley makes a bigger impact this season for the Wildcats. At 6-8, 230 pounds, Ashley can play both forward spots, though he likely will see most of his minutes at the 3. He should be one of the most productive players in the Pac-12.
Isaiah Austin, C, Baylor
The 7-footer from Arlington, Texas, will be one of the best big men in the Big 12 in ’12-13. His game has few weaknesses, if any. He has the skills to play on the wing but has the size to be a dominant player around the basket — both offensively and defensively. It will be a surprise if he doesn’t average a double-double for a Baylor team that had three frontcourt players taken in the first 38 picks of the 2012 NBA Draft.
Yogi Ferrell, G, Indiana
Ferrell is a true point guard who will be a great facilitator on an Indiana team loaded with weapons. The Indiana native has range out to 3-point line, but don’t expect him to be a high-volume shooter. His job will be to penetrate the defense and find the open man. Big man Cody Zeller will be the biggest beneficiary of Ferrell’s arrival in Bloomington.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
Harris is a shooting guard from Indiana who does just about everything well on the court. He isn’t an elite outside shooter, but he is a threat from behind the arc. Harris will thrive on the defensive end for Tom Izzo’s club right away.
Shabazz Muhammad, G, UCLA
UCLA managed to keep Muhammad, the No. 1 player in the class according to some, away from the likes of Kentucky and Duke. The left-handed swingman is adept at getting to the rim and scoring in traffic, and he shines on the defensive end. This was a huge get for Ben Howland, who is trying to return UCLA to elite status on the national scene.
Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
Noel will replace Anthony Davis as the shot-blocking machine on the back end of the Kentucky defense. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he will get his share of points on dunks and put-backs. His decision to sign with UK over Georgetown instantly made the Wildcats a threat to repeat as national champs.
Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina
Paige will have an opportunity to slide into the starting point guard spot vacated by Kendall Marshall. A 6-1 lefthander, Paige averaged 28.4 points per game as a senior at Linn-Mar (Iowa) High School and played in the McDonald’s All-American Game. He suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in the spring but is expected to be 100 percent by the time practice starts.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford signed an elite talent from Texas for the second straight season. Smart will join forward LeBryan Nash, a rising sophomore, to give the Pokes two of the top players in the Big 12. Smart is a combo guard who is regarded as a tremendous leader. Opposing coaches have raved about Smart.
Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
8. Ohio State
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
19. Notre Dame