- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

For the first time in a while, prepare to see a relatively bear freshman market in college hoops.

After the institution of the NBA’s minimum age requirement following the 2005 draft, college basketball enjoyed perhaps the most impressive two-season freshman explosion in the history of the sport.

From Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in 2006-07 to last season’s bumper crop of can’t-miss talents Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, freshmen have made an impact in the college game like never before in the last two years. They have established new statistical standards, earned first-team All-America honors and played a major role on three of the last eight Final Four teams.

This season, however, likely will mark a sharp departure from that trend.

“This [freshman] class looks a lot more like the groups we were getting before the minimum age requirement in that it lacks obvious superstars,” said Rob Harrington, the editor and lead recruiting analyst for PrepStars.com. “When you watched guys like Beasley or Rose or Durant, you saw that jaw-dropping ability every time they took the floor. I didn’t see that with anyone in this class. Brandon Jennings might have been the closest, and that’s why he ended up on top of our rankings.”

But Jennings decided to spend his mandatory one-year, post-prep apprenticeship playing for pay. The 6-foot-1 point guard and one-time Arizona commitment signed with Lottomatica Roma of the Italian Serie A League Italy in July.

So which of this season’s newcomers will prove to be the bluest chip? Though there doesn’t seem to be a Durant or Beasley in the bunch, here’s a closer look at the consensus top-10 freshmen in the land and a best-guess performance forecast.

BUY

Jrue Holiday, UCLA

Joining Darren Collison and Josh Shipp in arguably the nation’s strongest backcourt, the 6-3 Holiday is reminiscent of Dwyane Wade with his quickness, athleticism, high basketball IQ … and somewhat suspect jumper.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player who could fill up a box score like Jrue,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

As if to prove Howland’s point, Holiday yielded 12 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six steals as the Bruins routed Cal Baptist 86-58 in an exhibition game Monday.

Holiday possesses the dynamic skills to make players around him better and push the Bruins to a fourth consecutive Final Four appearance.

Samardo Samuels, Louisville

Few other freshmen in the nation will be the centerpiece of an elite team like Samuels, a big man likely to remind many Big East fans of a slightly taller (6-8, 245) version of Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair. The Jamaica native probably lacks the size to play in the post in the NBA or the skills to play on the wing, but he’s likely to torment Big East teams for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.

“I think the biggest adjustment Samardo has to make this season is how to play effectively without fouling,” Pitino said at last month’s Big East media day. “He’s just such an aggressor. As a coach, you don’t want to curb that because that’s part of what makes him so special.”

DeMar DeRozan, USC

The 6-7 forward already boasts NBA-ready strength and explosiveness as a slasher/scorer with an above-average jumper. DeRozan has coach Tim Floyd’s green light and is likely to lead the nation’s major-conference freshmen in scoring.

Said Harrington: “I rank for college, not the NBA, but I definitely think DeRozan would be a clear No. 1 if I was ranking on NBA readiness.”

HOLD

Scotty Hopson, Tennessee

This long-armed slasher has the misfortune of playing on a team that already has one of the nation’s premier swingmen in junior Tyler Smith. Not a pure shooter, the 6-7 Hopson could have trouble carving out a niche on a Volunteers team loaded with talented wings.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest

Aminu (6-9, 215), who has a 7-4 wingspan, lacks the outside shooting and ball-handling skills to thrive on the perimeter and doesn’t have the bulk to dominate on a block already anchored by sophomore James Johnson.

Greg Monroe, Georgetown

This Louisiana native was ranked at the top of his class for the bulk of his prep career because of his size (6-10, 250) and ball-handling and passing skills. Many analysts agree that while Monroe might have the most upside of any player in the class, his passion and intensity seem lacking.

“Monroe is a genuinely nice kid who happens to be 6-10 and extremely gifted,” Harrington said. “Unlike the majority of elite-level players, he’s not obsessed with the notion of the game as a business. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but he hasn’t developed that ultracompetitive, cold-blooded streak yet. … I think it would do him a world of good to stay in school for at least two years. Because much like [former Georgetown star] Jeff Green, who had a similar personality, he’s the kind of guy who could grow into that take-charge role and become a real monster.”

Ed Davis, North Carolina

A 6-9 lefty with a solid midrange face-up game, Davis needs to add considerable weight to his frame (215 pounds) before becoming a major factor on a team as loaded as the Tar Heels. With 2008 consensus national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough out for the first several weeks of the season, don’t be surprised if freshman center Tyler Zeller (7-0, 220) makes more of an instant impact.

Kemba Walker, Connecticut

This classic New York point guard won’t have the chance to showcase his playmaking skills fully until senior A.J. Price leaves.

SELL

B.J. Mullens, Ohio State

An outstanding athlete with soft hands, the 7-foot Mullens will have to increase his thin repertoire of post moves and improve his defense and intensity to become the Buckeyes’ third straight one-and-done big man (Oden, Kosta Koufos).

Tyreke Evans, Memphis

The Philadelphia gunner has yet to prove he’s capable of sharing the ball.

“The knock on Evans is that he’s always been a shoot-first, shoot-second player,” Harrington said. “That is obviously the complete opposite of Rose, whom [John] Calipari almost had to force to score. Evans is already a sensational scorer, but does he have the rest of it? Can he be a team guy?”

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