NCAA: Relying On Freshmen
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Enjoy Them While They’re There: There’s a saying about freshmen, made famous by former Marquette head coach Al McGuire, that the best thing about them is they become sophomores. That’s still true in most cases, except for now in college basketball most of the top freshmen go pro rather than sticking around for their second year of eligibility.
That makes it extremely important that the coaches who recruit these potential one-and-done players get the most out of them in the short time that they have them. In today’s day and age it’s almost a certainty that if you recruit a top ranked kid, you’re very unlikely to have him for four years.
Nobody is more renowned for their work with first year players than Kentucky’s John Calipari. Year after year he sees his top freshmen bolt for the NBA, yet he bounces right back the next year with another talented class that comes in with the goal of surpassing what the previous class did.
Making their way to Kentucky to join the Wildcats this year are five star recruits Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer. The four of them form what could be one of Calipari’s greatest classes ever. Davis and Teague are already projected as lottery picks in the 2012 draft and it won’t take Gilchrist or Wiltjer long to start getting similar love.
With the return of Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones this is Calipari’s best opportunity to win the National Championship that has eluded him his entire career. The chances of the core of this team sticking together is very slim, so the pressure is on to make it happen this year.
Plus, it’s important to factor in that the players aren’t the only ones getting interest from the NBA. Calipari is too, and he’s not going to be able to say no much longer.
Coach K of Duke has turned down the NBA on numerous different occasions, but is quite accustomed to losing underclassmen early in their careers to the league. He saw his freshman point guard Kyrie Irving leave most recently as he was the top overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He also lost Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, two of the program’s all-time greats, to graduation.
Luckily for Coach K, though, he has one of his better classes in recent memory incoming. It’s headlined by Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who is quickly going to make a name for himself. Capable of playing both on and off the ball, Rivers is going to make a huge instant impact as a freshman. He’s currently projected as a top five pick, meaning if he plays good enough this could be his only season as a Blue Devil.
Joining Rivers at Duke this season are Michael Gbinije, Quinn Cook, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee. They’re going to have the chance to play a lot as freshman and depending on how productive they are they too could end up on the draft radar with a lot to consider at the end of the year.
As reliant as Duke and Kentucky are going to be on freshman, no single program in the country is going to count on their first-year guys as much as St. John’s. Steve Lavin is putting his mark on the program by bringing in a massive nine man recruiting class, six of which are going to be true freshmen. Norvel Pelle, D’Angelo Harrison, Maurice Harkless, Dominique Pointer, Jakarr Sampson and Amir Garrett are all ranked in the top 100 nationally and viewed as the group who will help take the Red Storm to new heights. If they stay together for more than a year they could become the team to beat in the Big East, but that’s a big if.
Other teams who have to have strong play from their freshmen to win are Louisville, Texas, Xavier, Pittsburgh and Kansas.
Richmond Sets Himself Back: Life hasn’t been easy for former Illinois forward Jereme Richmond over the last year. He was extremely underwhelming during his first and only season with the Fighting Illini, failing to live up to the high expectations that came with being Mr. Basketball in his state and a McDonald’s All-American.
Rather than sticking around and trying to make it work at Illinois, or even transferring to a different school, Richmond decided to declare for the 2011 NBA Draft. With the misguided support from his inner circle, Richmond felt certain that he would get drafted.
During the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago he went on a campaign to clear his name after some questions about his character arose when he was suspended late in the year at Illinois for unspecified reasons. While he was somewhat successful at the time, his lackluster performances in workouts negated any boost his stock may have gotten from it.
Richmond went undrafted. And now, after this most recent incident, Richmond is unlikely to gauge any interest from the NBA anytime soon.
On Monday Richmond was arrested on charges of aggravated battery, aggravated assault and unlawful use of a handgun – all felonies. Richmond was also charged with domestic battery and two counts of disorderly conduct. These charges stem from an altercation with a female.
In order to work his way into the league Richmond needed to prove to NBA teams that they made a mistake in passing him up. Step one would have been finding a place to play overseas, or trying out for a team in the D-League. Getting arrested and facing three felony charges like this is only going to take him off of the league’s radar completely. It was going to be tough for Richmond to make it before, now it’s nearly impossible. He’s going to really have to make some life changes if he has any hopes of getting back on the right track.
World University Games Team Announced: Over the next few weeks Purdue head coach Matt Painter, along with Butler’s Brad Stevens and Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, will lead 12 collegiate players in their pursuit of a gold medal in the World University Games. The tournament officially gets underway this Saturday in China and will be completed by the 22nd. The United States are considered the favorites going into the event since many of the international teams’ top players play professionally, not collegiately. However, they were upset just two years ago so they cannot take any team lightly. Here’s a look at who is representing the U.S.:
Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame, Sr.) 6’8, 235 lbs. Forward – Productive and versatile forward who has plenty of experience. A knockdown shooter from distance.
Marcus Denmon (Missouri, Sr.) 6’3, 185 lbs. Guard – An efficient scorer who really gets after it defensively. Consistent in the way he plays.
Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh, Sr.) 6’2, 190 lbs. Guard – Good scorer and shooter. In charge of handling the reins at the point guard position.
Draymond Green (Michigan State, Sr.) 6’7, 230 lbs. Forward – A matchup nightmare for the opposition. Capable of doing everything on the basketball floor.
JaMychal Green (Alabama, Sr.) 6’8, 228 lbs. Forward – The best low post player on the team. Must carry the load inside the paint on both ends of the floor.
Scoop Jardine (Syracuse, Sr.) 6’2, 190 lbs. Guard – Provides experience and leadership at the point guard position. Will have to adjust to not playing zone defense for the first time in years.
John Jenkins (Vanderbilt, So.) 6’4, 215 lbs. Guard – Explosive offensively with the purest jump shot on the team. Has to be aggressive.
Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara, Sr.) 6’5, 205 lbs. Guard – Has spent most of his career under the radar, but is one of the NCAA’s best kept secrets. Very skilled offensively.
Greg Mangano (Yale, Sr.) 6’10, 240 lbs. Center – Glue guy inside who will be asked to do the dirty work like setting screens, taking charges and cleaning up the glass.
Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota, Jr.) 6’8, 240 lbs. Forward – Relentless post player who plays with infectious energy. Will look to make his presence felt in categories other than scoring, like Mangano.
Ray McCallum (Detroit, So.) 6’1, 185 lbs. Guard – The youngest player on the squad. A true playmaker who runs his team but can also play off of the ball.
Darius Miller (Kentucky, Sr.) 6’7, 228 lbs. Guard – The utility player who will be used in a number of different ways. His ability to play with everyone should earn him minutes.
Yannis Koutroupis is a senior NCAA and NBA analyst for HOOPSWORLD. You can follow him on Twitter.