Skip to main content

The Best Freshman Seasons in College Basketball History

Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

So much for the “Year of Readiness.”

As major conference commissioners float the idea of ending freshman eligibility — an idea deemed obsolete in the 1970s — freshmen are continuing to dominate the college basketball scene.

Kentucky, the national championship favorite, is filled with impact freshmen, as usual. And one of the two players in serious contention for National Player of the Year, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, is also a freshman.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spoke of this new push for freshman ineligibility as a “year of readiness.”

As far as we’re concerned, these freshmen — whether they were one-and-done or completed their four years of eligibility — were plenty ready from the moment they stepped on campus.

Image placeholder title

1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky 2011-12

Stats: 14.1 points, 9.8 rebounds

His case for top freshman: John Calipari is known for his work with great freshman point guards, but the best player he coached in college may be a forward. Carmelo Anthony was an NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Durant was the consensus Player of the Year, Derrick Rose was the No. 1 overall draft pick, and Greg Oden was the National Defensive Player of the Year. Davis did all of that. Before Davis, the last player of the year, Tournament MVP and No. 1 draft pick was Kansas’ Danny Manning in 1988 — when he was senior.

Image placeholder title

2. Kevin Durant, Texas 2006-07

Stats: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds

His case for top freshman: In the first season impacted by the NBA’s rule to require draftees to be a year removed from high school, Durant showed what a new breed of precocious freshmen could do in college. In his only college season, Durant was the only player in the country to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding — he finished fourth in both. Despite Durant’s prolific season, his play didn’t translate to postseason success. Texas lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to USC, led by another freshman, O.J. Mayo.

Image placeholder title

3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse 2002-03

Stats: 22.2 points, 10 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Some freshman-led teams have come close, but Anthony became the first rookie since Pervis Ellison in 1986 (Louisville) to lead his team to a national title. Anthony was a second-team All-American in his only college season, but none were better in the NCAA Tournament. Anthony was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, helping Jim Boeheim to his first national championship. In the final against Kansas, Anthony scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. A game earlier in the national semifinal against Texas, Anthony had 33 points and 14 rebounds.

Image placeholder title

4. Chris Jackson, LSU 1988-89

Stats: 30.2 points, 2.5 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, turned in one of the all-time best freshman seasons nearly two decades before it became commonplace for first-year players to rewrite record books. Jackson averaged 30.2 points per game, which remains a Division I freshman record.

5. Jahlil Okafor, Duke 2014-15

Stats: 18.2 points, 9.6 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Okafor, another Chicago native, has a chance to pull off a similar season as Davis, and he’s in a two-man race for National Player of the Year with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. He’s a contender to be the top player taken in the NBA Draft. As for the national championship, Okafor may have to go through Kentucky to win it. Even if none of that happens, Okafor remains the best post player in the college game in years.

Image placeholder title

6. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma 1982-83

Stats: 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Tisdale was the forefather to the great freshmen of the 2000s. It’s fitting, then, that his name is on the National Freshman of the Year award. In 1983, Tisdale was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American while also earning Big Eight Player of the Year honors. He accomplished both feats again as a sophomore and a junior.

Image placeholder title

7. Kevin Love, UCLA 2007-08

Stats: 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds

His case for top freshman: During better times for Ben Howland at UCLA, the coach relied primarily on veterans. Love was the exception during the Bruins’ run of Final Fours. Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding in the Bruins’ last of three consecutive appearances in the national semifinal. He also finished the season with 23 double-doubles; Michael Beasley is the only other freshman to amass more. Love was a consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year, one of only two freshmen to earn the honor.

Image placeholder title

8. Michael Beasley, Kansas State 2007-08

Stats: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds

His case for top freshman: A year after Durant lit up the Big 12, Beasley did the same a year later. Beasley set a Big 12 single-season record by averaging 26.2 points per game, breaking Durant’s record of 25.8. Beasley finished with 13 30-point games, the most for any Big 12 player in a season (Durant had 11). Beasley’s 28 double-doubles also set a national freshman record. Like Durant and Texas, Beasley and Kansas State failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Wisconsin in the second round.