The ACC may again be the home of the nation’s top freshman, only this time, there may be little room for debate.
Duke’s Jabari Parker and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis took turns as the nation’s most decorated freshman. At the same time Kansas’ duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid weren’t that far behind.
The freshman of the year award eventually went to Parker, though. The award may stay at Duke once again thanks to the arrival of center Jahlil Okafor and the departure of challenger Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU to China. Okafor, then, may be unquestioned.
Okafor won’t be the only impact newcomer in the ACC and not the only one from Duke. Our series looking at the top new faces around college basketball, continues with the ACC with a look at the top freshmen, transfers and players returning from injury and academic issues since last season.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Duke has not had a ton of great big men in recent years, Mason Plumlee’s senior season notwithstanding. Now, Duke will have not only one of the top freshmen in the country at center, but also an elite player with a skill set that has become increasingly rare. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that will make him one of the top true centers in quite some time. His combination of size and skill makes him an All-America contender and a likely one-and-done.
2. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant was playing the best basketball of his career when he was sidelined after 12 games. Though he was averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists and shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, Grant didn’t have his academics in order and was removed from the team for the remainder of the season. Notre Dame went 8-4 with Grant and 7-13 without him, missing the postseason for the first time under Mike Brey. There’s no guarantee of an NCAA bid when Grant returns, but it may be impossible without him.
3. Angel Rodriguez, Miami
Transfer from Kansas State
Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-foot-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that wow 27 games.
4. Trevor Lacey, NC State
Transfer from Alabama
Trevor Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.
5. Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph will be Syracuse’s fourth point guard in four seasons and its second freshman in a row. Expectations are high after the run of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. Joseph, though, won’t have the supporting cast his predecessors enjoyed.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke
The other half of a package deal with Jahlil Okafor, Jones gives Duke a point guard to compete with Quinn Cook. The senior didn’t start the final 10 games of the season, so Jones could play alongside Cook or supplant him at times during the season. Jones is known for his court vision, and he already has chemistry with Duke’s star center.
7. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
Rathan-Mayes, a high school teammate of Andrew Wiggins, was slated to be an impact freshman last season before he was declared academically ineligible. The guard is ready in 2014-15 to deliver a much-needed scoring punch to a Florida State team that ranked ninth in the ACC in points per possession.
8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
North Carolina’s signing class contains three top-30 prospects, all at positions where they will have to fight for playing time at point guard (Joel Berry) and small forward (Jackson, Theo Pinson). Jackson is the highest ranked (No. 9) in the 247Sports Composite and he may be the best shooter of the group, giving him a leg up on a team that shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
9. Sheldon McClellan, Miami
Transfer from Texas
McClellan will join Rodriguez for an all-transfer backcourt that should have Miami back in postseason contention. McClellan averaged 13.5 points per game for a bad Texas team, but he had a similar KenPom offensive rating (104.1) to Rodriguez (107.1).
10. Durand Johnson, Pittsburgh
Returning from injury
Johnson was averaging 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game off the bench through the first 16 games before a torn ACL ended his season. His recovery will be closely watched, but when healthy, the 6-6 forward could be a key weapon from long range for the Panthers.