College Basketball’s Impact Freshmen

Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics
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The recent trend in college basketball dictates that five-star freshmen are potential one-and-done players who have a chance to be a major impact at the college level right away.

This season will be no different.

In fact, this is one of the deepest freshmen classes in terms of five-star talent over the last 20 years. While there are no LeBron or Kevin Durant megastar type of prospects, this year’s crop of freshmen should be a major boost to college basketball.

Since the class includes so many dynamic lead guards who will be given the ball right away, it will be especially fun to track those dudes this season.

Helpful hint for college basketball fans looking to watch the best freshmen: stay up late for the Pac-12 — or set your DVR — because Duke and Kentucky aren’t the only programs with freshmen to watch this season.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon |Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

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TEN NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: These are the studs, the best players in the class, the guys that are going to be at the top of draft boards and in the all-american conversation all season long.

1. Markelle Fultz, Washington: No freshman might be asked to do more than this 6-foot-4 guard who will be given the ball for a young Washington team. Fultz went from missing the varsity team at DeMatha as a sophomore to now being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as he combines an advanced scoring acumen with ridiculous amounts of perimeter skill. With deep range, crafty ball handling, slick passes and a unique style of play, Fultz will have plenty of highlight-reel plays this season.

2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Stepping into an ideal situation at Kansas is the 6-foot-7 Jackson as he’ll join Frank Mason and Devonte Graham to form one of the country’s best perimeter defenses. An alpha male who isn’t intimidated by the spotlight, Jackson is a ridiculous athlete who can score, rebound, pass and defend. Unlike Andrew Wiggins, who was timid at times during his freshman year, Jackson should be charged up to go right away and his production could be the key to a potential Kansas title team.

3. Dennis Smith, N.C. State: It’s going to be fascinating to see how the 6-foot-2 point guard looks this season after he enrolled early last season to help recover from a torn ACL. If the preseason videos and hype are any indication, Smith could be the most important freshman in the country and he has a lot of weapons at his disposal. An expert in the pick-and-roll or operating in transition, Smith is going to have some huge dunks this season. Some are saying he’s the Pack’s most talented freshman since David Thompson.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | SECMid-Majors

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)

4. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Already dealing with an early-season foot injury, that shouldn’t do much to slow down this talented 6-foot-8 St. Louis native. The next big Duke wing who can score and rebound, Tatum has an advanced feel in the mid-range and he excels at getting to the free-throw line and putting up points. A plus athlete who is smooth with the ball, Tatum could have the ball in his hands a lot this season if Duke can’t find consistent options to handle the point.

5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: An absolute wizard with the ball, the 6-foot-5 Ball is one of the best passers to enter college basketball in years. A triple-double threat who will rifle deep outlet passes and crisp cross-court feeds, Ball makes offense easy for others and the deep range on his jumper help. Although he has a funky-looking release on his jumper, Ball shot it well in high school and it made him nearly unguardable with his passing skills. If Ball can help the Bruins defensively, that would be a huge bonus for a team that needs stops.

6. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: It comes as no surprise that John Calipari is bringing in freshmen reinforcements and the 6-foot-9 Adebayo is the most physically gifted of the group. A powerful athlete who can finish with authority and rebound in traffic, Adebayo could be Kentucky’s most productive player this season. Since he’s a potential double-double threat and the team’s top rebounder, Adebayo will get a ton of minutes, but it’ll be interesting to see how much he protects the rim and how deep his shooting range extends.

7. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: A potential two-way terror at lead guard, the 6-foot-3 Fox is one of the fastest players in the country and could be unstoppable in transition. Defensively, Fox takes a lot of pride in being a shutdown guy, as his on-the-ball ability could make the Wildcats a tough team to score on. Shooting range and consistency is going to be the big thing with Fox. A streaky shooter, Fox is tough to contain off the dribble because of his quickness and burst, but he has to prove that he can make open jumpers.

8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo is going to need a lot from the powerful 6-foot-6 Bridges as this versatile forward could be a matchup nightmare. At 225 pounds, Bridges is more physically developed than a lot of freshmen wing forwards and that enables him to score around the rim and rebound at a high level. If Bridges shows that he’s capable of hitting three-pointers, he’s going to be tough to defend as a small-ball four, since the Spartans are so depleted in the front court.

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

9. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Florida State had plenty of offensive firepower last season but the 6-foot-10 Isaac is probably a better fit with this roster’s personnel. Since Isaac is a good rebounder with a face-up, perimeter-oriented skill set, he should give the Seminoles some tough lineups this season since he’s more of a natural fit with players like Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon. It’ll be interesting to see how Isaac finds his offense, since Rathan-Mayes and Bacon can dominate the ball so much.

10. Harry Giles, Duke: The wildcard on this list because of his knee injuries, the 6-foot-10 Giles is a potentially special player if he’s fully healthy and ready to go. With a high skill level, a history of winning (two gold medals with USA Basketball) and some elite skills like rebounding, Giles could be the Blue Devils’ most talented NBA prospect, but he doesn’t have to have huge success right away because of the team’s frontcourt depth. Don’t be surprised if the nation is buzzing about a healthy Giles come March.

FIVE POTENTIAL D’ANGELO RUSSELLS: Here are five players ranked outside the top ten that might play their way onto an all-american team or into the NBA Draft lottery.

1. Jarrett Allen, Texas: Shaka Smart was able to convince the McDonald’s All-American to stay in-state as Allen gives the Longhorns a valuable two-way center. Allen should be the key Texas frontcourt player on a team that will be smaller and athletic around him.

2. Marques Bolden, Duke: The center chose Duke over Kentucky and his ability in the post gives the Blue Devils an extra insurance policy for Harry Giles. Bolden has soft touch, a 7-foot-9 wingspan and should command a lot of defensive attention.

3. Malik Monk, Kentucky: A freak athlete at guard, Monk was a streaky scorer in high school with an ability to play well above the rim. During his freshman season, don’t be surprised if Monk has some huge scoring nights but consistency has been an issue. If Monk improves his perimeter jumper, he could be the Wildcats’ most productive freshman in the scoring column.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players | Preseason Top 25

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics

4. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Arizona has a glut of guards who will command the ball, but this 6-foot-11 forward from Finland can really shoot and he could give the Wildcats a ton of unique lineups and spacing this season.

5. Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Snubbed from many of the big-name spring all-star games, Heron is the most important recruit Bruce Pearl has brought in. The 6-foot-4 wing is physically gifted and athlete and should be an impact on both ends of the floor.

FIVE MORE NAMES THAT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT IN MARCH: They may not be the superstars, but these guys will be relevant in the tournament.

1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: The point guard should split minutes with Tum Tum Nairn early in the year, but if Winston is able to make jumpers with more consistency he could see more time and close games.

2. Alterique Gilbert, UConn: A McDonald’s All-American who is explosive despite his 5-foot-11 size, Gilbert could earn quality minutes if the Huskies play two-guard lineups that allow Gilbert to be a playmaker.

3. Kyle Guy, Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t had a lot of freshman scorers like Guy and the McDonald’s All-American could be a key rotation player and spark plug off the bench. Guy has to fight through a crowded backcourt to earn minutes.

4. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: The Ducks return a lot of talent and experience at guard but don’t be surprised if this point guard challenges for more minutes. The 6-foot-1 Pritchard is a good long-range shooter and ball handler.

5. Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: We know the Bearcats can get stops, but the 6-foot-5 Cumberland can really score as he’s comfortable taking jumpers from all over the floor. If Cincinnati needs scoring they might turn to the four-star wing.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.