NCAA: Freshmen Struggles
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
No matter what high school a freshman comes from, how good his AAU team was or how good he may look in offseason workouts, the possibility for a slow start always remains. Even the most surefire players have taken some time to adjust to the level of play at the collegiate level. For most it’s a culture shock, something completely different than what they’re used to and have experienced for the past four years.
We’ve seen several freshmen like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Florida’s Bradley Beal and Baylor’s Quincy Miller perform like All-Conference veterans out of the gates, but several other first-year student-athletes are failing to live up to the hype that they came with here in the early going of the season. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, though, and in our latest NCAA notebook we take a look at what five heralded freshmen need to do in order to avoid having a disappointing collegiate debut.
Andre Drummond (UConn) – Averaging four points, four rebounds and two blocks a game.
From a physical standpoint few players, none of which he’s run into yet, can match up with Drummond. He has a combination of size, strength and athleticism that has NBA teams considering him as a strong candidate to be the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, if there is one. However, up to this point he’s been producing at a mediocre rate for his Huskies.
It’s important to note that Drummond does impact the game in a big way just by being on the floor. He demands attention on the offensive end and is constantly on the minds of the opposition defensively. It’s on that end of the court that he’s had the most success so far. He can do far more than he has up to this point, though.
Drummond is only playing 15 minutes a contest, partially due to the foul trouble he’s been getting himself into. Nursing a broken nose and sporting a protective mask hasn’t made life any easier for him either. Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun undoubtedly plans to make him a bigger part of the rotation, but first he’s going to have to do all of the things he asks from an effort and execution perspective while avoiding ticky-tack fouls. The guard play for UConn has been dominant so far, even without Kemba Walker. Once Drummond gets into his groove, they’ll be even scarier to try and matchup against. He’ll have plenty of easy opponents to build his confidence against over the next few weeks leading into Big East play, when things will get significantly more difficult.
Austin Rivers – Averaging 12 points, one rebound and two assists a game.
As Rivers will probably be the first to attest to, he can play much better than he has so far. The 12 points he’s scoring a game may look nice on the surface, but he’s been far from efficient in getting them. He’s shooting a subpar 37% from the field right now and 33% from distance. Nearly half of those points are coming from the free throw line, where he’s getting to seven times a contest while knocking down 71% of his attempts.
It’s hard to overstate the massive changes that Rivers is having to make to his game under Coach K, who became college basketball’s All-Time leader in wins with 903 this week. Previously Rivers was allowed to do as he pleased with the green light to shoot whenever he saw fit. That’s not the case with Coach K, he’s having to play within the confines of the offense with talented guards who warrant a lot of touches as well. He’s also being asked more of defensively than he ever has.
Rivers is a gamer with a great basketball pedigree. His best days are not far ahead. Once he fully understands where his opportunities come in the offense his efficiency will rise and so will his overall production. What he can’t do, though, is get caught up in articles like this that point out that he’s failing to live up to expectations. Forcing the issue is the wrong thing to do right now. He solely needs to do what is necessary for Duke to win games, not worry about his individual statistics.
LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State) – Averaging nine points and five rebounds.
For all the praise and hype that Nash received coming out of high school, those involved in the Texas basketball scene knew he was going to have some growing pains to start out. Nobody has ever doubted his potential, but billing him as NBA-ready from anything other than a strength standpoint was premature.
Nash’s body is the only thing that is NBA-esque right now. His game, especially out on the perimeter, has a long ways to go in terms of development. Where as in high school Nash was always a man amongst boys who was allowed to back his way down and isolate smaller defenders without a shot clock, now he’s going up against people who can handle his strength. So, he’s being forced to rely on his ball handling and shooting, which are not his strong points.
Nash’s shooting percentages are woeful. Inside the arc he’s hitting at a 31% clip, beyond it he’s made just 1-of-6 and at the free throw line he’s only connecting at a 42% rate. It’s up to Coach Ford to help develop his all-around game and make him the lottery pick that he has the potential to be, but it’s going to take some time.
Josiah Turner (Arizona) – Averaging three points and two assists a game.
In the last 59 minutes of Wildcat basketball Turner has not seen the floor. He did not play as a result of Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s decision on Sunday night against Ball State, due to off the floor issues. You can’t say that Miller didn’t know what he was getting himself into as Turner, a highly-ranked recruit, came with some character red flags.
Miller is doing him a favor right now, though, by not catering to him and bending over backwards for him like some high school and AAU coaches did. If Turner is going to become a successful pro he has to learn how to conduct himself and do what is required. That means getting to workouts on time, staying positive on the bench and putting in the necessary time on his game.
Miller recruited Turner to run his offense and become a star, not rot on the bench. When Turner matures things will start going better. Until then, he’s going to remain in the doghouse as a spectator. What he has to do is clear, it’s just all about whether or not he’s willing to do it. If he’s not, Miller won’t hesitate to tell him to go find somewhere else to play.
James McAdoo (North Carolina) – Averaging five points and three rebounds a game.
In previous championship runs, North Carolina has had dynamic freshmen forwards Ed Davis and Marvin Williams come off the bench. Both of them were critical to their success as they thrived in the sixth man role. With John Henson and Tyler Zeller inside, McAdoo is going to have to learn to do the same. So far, he’s off to a rocky start in his first stint as a reserve in his career.
Many NBA scouts and general managers consider McAdoo to be the second-best prospect on the Tar Heels, only behind top-overall-pick candidate Harrison Barnes. Unfortunately for McAdoo, potential doesn’t earn minutes in Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams rotation.
McAdoo is logging just 13 minutes a night. Like Drummond, he’s battled some issues with foul trouble. And, Henson and Zeller are awfully tough to take off of the floor right now with the way they are playing. McAdoo is simply going to have to bide his time, be patient and ready when Coach Williams calls on him. He’s going to be needed some nights more than others, but he can’t let that affect the way that he plays when does get in and the way that he prepares on a day-by-day basis.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat on Friday November 18th at 11 am est. Get your questions in here.