Duke's Jahlil Okafor leads another talented group
College basketball is down one superstar freshman, but the game, as usual these days, won’t lack for electrifying first-year talent.
Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play professionally in China rather than navigate the NCAA eligibility waters at SMU. That’s unfortunate for SMU coach Larry Brown, who would have given the Mustangs a rare NBA lottery pick talent to play at that level.
As usual, the bluebloods have their share of stud freshmen. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UConn and, of course, Kentucky make the list of impact freshmen, but there are a few appearances by the likes of UNLV and Seton Hall this season.
Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-8, 240-pound big man will provide KU with a physical presence in the paint.
Daniel Hamilton, G/F, UConn
Shabazz Napier is gone, but hopes are high for Hamilton to be UConn’s next star. He’s a lanky, athletic wing with a multi-faceted game who should give the Huskies a scoring boost.
Justin Jackson, G/F, 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 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.
Stanley Johnson, G/F, Arizona
Arizona trades out one star freshman (Aaron Gordon) for another in Johnson, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Johnson figures to be more of an offensive threat than Gordon. The 6-5, 225-pound swingman will be a threat to score from all over the court.
Kaleb Joseph, G, 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.
Tyus Jones, G, 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 standout freshman center.
Kevon Looney, F, UCLA
UCLA was thin in the frontcourt last season, but that may not be the case anymore with the arrival of Looney, a 6-9, 208-pound power forward. Of course, without Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, the Bruins will need help everywhere. UCLA is counting on Looney, the No. 11 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, to contribute on the boards and in the post.
Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
John Calipari may need to get creative to keep Lyles, Karl Towns and the rest of his big men happy. Lyles’ natural position may be power forward, but he can also play small forward. Lyles, though, may be off to a slower start as he missed Kentucky’s tour of the Bahamas in early August while recovering form a procedure on his left leg.
Jahlil Okafor, C, 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 6-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that could make him one of the top true centers in quite some time.
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in the 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
Kentucky may have been loaded in the frontcourt even without this freshman class. Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee all return, meaning perhaps Towns won’t be quite as prolific as recent Kentucky freshman big men. Still, he’s a 6-11, 250-pound forward who can stretch a defense.
Myles Turner, F, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolstered their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner in the spring. He gives the Longhorns a 6-11, 240-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
Tyler Ulis, G, Kentucky
With guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison back, Ulis won’t be asked to score from the backcourt. That’s no problem. He’s much better as a distributor, and his vision will be an asset to another loaded Kentucky team.
Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV
Vaughn, one of the final big-name prospects to sign last year, elected to stay close to where he played in high school at Findlay (Nev.) Prep. He’ll be part of a new starting five at UNLV and will have plenty of opportunities to flourish at the 2 or the 3.
Isaiah Whitehead, G, Seton Hall
Seton Hall’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2000, Whitehead joins a backcourt that already includes Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina. Whitehead, at 6-4 and 210 pounds, should add scoring punch to a team that ranked 123rd nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.