Early entry into the NBA has allowed younger and younger players to dominate college basketball, but the game-changing freshman is far from a new phenomenon. From the first season freshmen were allowed on varsity teams in 1972-73, the best first-year players have been turning in top-flight performances.
Few college debuts in history have been as impressive as Kevin Durant’s arrival at Texas. He left no doubt about his NBA future after winning both the Wooden and Naismith awards in his only season in Austin.
Read on for a closer look at Durant and the rest of the best freshmen ever to appear on a collegiate court.
Providing the inside presence to complement Randolph Childress’ outside game, Rodney Rogers helped lead Wake Forest to its first NCAA bid in seven years (and start a string of seven straight seasons in the tournament).
The 6’7” Rogers averaged 16.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game in his freshman campaign.
As a pro, Rogers became more of a combo forward, hitting 34.7 percent from three-point range in his career. Mostly a reserve in the NBA, Rogers averaged 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game in his best season with the Clippers.
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Charged with the unenviable task of replacing Derrick Rose at Memphis, Tyreke Evans proved that he was an outstanding player in his own right. Evans averaged 17.1 points, 2.1 steals and 3.9 assists a game in his lone season with the Tigers.
Evans has done his best to turn the undermanned Kings into a viable NBA team. He’s averaging 19 points and 5.5 assists a game for his young pro career.
Mike Krzyzewski’s first big star recruit at Duke, Johnny Dawkins got a quick start on a career that saw him set a Blue Devil record (since broken) for career points.
The 6’2” combo guard averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game in his first season in Durham.
Never the scorer as a pro that he’d been at Duke, Dawkins was still an outstanding point guard. He averaged seven assists a game for two years as a Spur and one more with Philly before an ACL tear short-circuited his career.
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Tyler Hansbrough burst on the scene at North Carolina as the new star of a draft-depleted squad following the 2005 title run.
He averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a game that year to kick off a career that would end with the 12th-highest point total in NCAA history.
Hansbrough established himself as a valuable reserve for the Pacers last season. He’s continued his fine work off the bench this year, averaging 11.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game.
The engine of Dean Smith’s best Four Corners offenses, Phil Ford got off to a fast start as a Tar Heel. He led UNC to a surprise NCAA Tournament berth (its first in three seasons) while averaging 16.4 points and 5.2 assists a night.
Ford’s NBA career had a similarly auspicious opening as he averaged at least 15.9 points and 7.4 assists a game in each of his first three years with the Kings. He faded quickly, though, and was out of the league at 29.
Already 7’4” as a Virginia freshman, Ralph Sampson parlayed his extraordinary size into 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds a game. He led the Cavaliers to the 1980 NIT title, a prelude to a sensational career that would see him win a record three Wooden Awards.
Before injuries ruined his mobility, Sampson made four All-Star teams as a Rocket. In his prime, he averaged as many as 22.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game in the NBA.
Marvin Williams’ individual stats—11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game—suffered from playing on the nation’s best team. Williams’ length and raw athleticism made him a valuable contributor to UNC’s 2005 national championship.
Williams has given little indication of living up to his status as a No. 2 overall draft pick, but he’s held down a starting job for six of his seven NBA seasons. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds a game for his Hawks career.
Jared Sullinger’s arrival turned a very good Ohio State team into an outstanding one.
Sullinger’s 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game led the Buckeyes to a 24-0 start and a No. 1 seed, though Kentucky and its slew of freshman stars took them down in the Sweet 16.
Sullinger is putting up virtually identical numbers so far this season, and the No. 6 Buckeyes are off to another impressive start as a team.
Only time will tell, though, if he can lead Ohio State to its first national title since 1960.
Although Adrian Dantley put up impressive stats as a freshman—including averages of 18.3 points and 9.1 rebounds a game—the legacy of his first year in South Bend is concentrated in one game.
He played a key role in Notre Dame’s legendary 71-70 victory that ended UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak.
Dantley won a pair of scoring titles in a Hall of Fame career with the Jazz. Over 15 NBA seasons, he averaged 24.3 points and 5.7 rebounds a game.
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Like Kenny Anderson six years earlier, Stephon Marbury brought New York City swagger to Georgia Tech. He led the Yellow Jackets to the Sweet 16 while averaging 18.9 points and 4.5 assists a game.
To all appearances, Marbury’s roller-coaster career in the NBA is over after 13 years.
Despite his reputation as an overrated locker-room cancer, he averaged 20-plus points and eight-plus assists a game in six different seasons with Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix and New York.
The prohibitive favorite for this season’s national Freshman of the Year honors, Anthony Davis has been the best of several sensational first-year Wildcats. The 6’10” Davis is averaging 13.1 points and a team-high 10.2 rebounds a game for No. 2 Kentucky.
Davis’ most impressive credential, though, are the 4.6 blocks he’s averaging to lead the nation. If he maintains that pace, he’ll be the first Kentucky player of any age to lead the nation in rejections.
With plenty of help from outstanding classmates like Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. turned in one of the best performances in history for a freshman point guard.
He averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 assists a night as the Buckeyes made it all the way to the NCAA title game.
Conley has improved his numbers every year of his NBA career, averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 assists a game for the Grizzlies last season.
He’s even become a dangerous three-point shooting threat, knocking down 37.8 percent of his treys.
A precocious athlete who averaged 10.5 rebounds a game at all of 6’6”, Quentin Richardson was a bigger factor as a scorer as a DePaul freshman. He poured in 18.9 points a night, including 34.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Although Richardson’s defensive inadequacies have prevented him from being more than a role player as a pro, his extraordinary shooting touch has kept him on NBA rosters.
He drained 100 three-pointers in a season as recently as 2009-10, though the Magic haven’t given him much playing time in the last couple of years.
A spindly 7’6”, Shawn Bradley was a solid all-around center who averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game in his lone season at BYU.
What took him to another level was the 177 shots he blocked at a rate of 5.21 a game—the second-best total (and fourth-best average) for any freshman ever.
Though he was a disastrous bust as a No. 2 overall pick, Bradley wasn’t a terrible NBA player.
He blocked more than three shots a game in each of his first six seasons (split among Philly, New Jersey and Dallas) and averaged as many as 13.2 points and 8.4 rebounds a night as a pro.
Revered by Syracuse fans for the half-court buzzer-beater that knocked off No. 16 Boston College at the Carrier Dome, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington was a New York City streetball legend who proved to be a brilliant college point guard.
His showtime moves and soft shooting touch helped him set a school record for points by a freshman (averaging 14.4 a night) and dish out 6.2 assists a night, becoming—in 1983-84—the first frosh ever to lead the Big East in that category.
Washington’s college success came in spite of his subpar athleticism, but that weakness caught up with him as a pro. A lottery pick of the Nets, he lasted just three seasons in the NBA with a career average of only 3.8 assists per game.
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After missing the NCAA tournament for six years in a row, Maryland fought its way to the Sweet 16 behind freshman star Joe Smith.
He put up nearly identical numbers to the ones that won him the Naismith Award the next season, averaging 19.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
Smith never lived up to his No. 1 overall position in the 1995 draft, but he was a solid NBA power forward.
At his best, he averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game with the Warriors, though he also turned in effective seasons with Minnesota and Milwaukee in a 16-year career.
The best pure distributor of John Calipari’s extraordinary string of freshman point guards, John Wall averaged 6.5 assists a night for Kentucky. He could score a little too, contributing 16.6 points a game while leading an Elite Eight run for the Wildcats.
With 16.4 points and 8.3 assists a night, it’s hard to imagine Wall wouldn’t have been Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t been competing with fellow No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin.
He’s putting up impressive numbers again this season, but he still can’t get the 1-11 Wizards out of the Southeast cellar.
A standout for Israel’s junior national team, Nadav Henefeld made his lone season of college ball count. His average of 3.7 steals per game is a UConn record, and his 138 total steals are a national record for a freshman.
Henefeld turned out to be an early one-and-done star, opting to turn pro not in the NBA but with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He spent his entire 12-year career with the team.
Although he had to wait for his sophomore year to become a national champion, Isiah Thomas was sensational in his Indiana debut. The first freshman ever named first-team All-Big Ten in 1979-80, Thomas averaged 14.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals a game.
Thomas became an NBA superstar as the leader of Detroit’s Bad Boys teams. His Hall of Fame career featured two championships and 9,061 assists (the seventh-most in league history).
The Marshall Thundering Herd don’t get to recruit a lot of one-and-done talent, but Hassan Whiteside bucked that trend. Whiteside blocked a national freshman record 182 shots, the fourth-highest total in NCAA history.
The seven-footer hasn’t yet figured out the transition to the pros, having played sparingly for the D-League’s Reno Bighorns. In seven games this season with the team, he’s blocking 3.3 shots a game but pulling down a disappointing 6.7 boards a night.
A year before leading the best NCAA tournament run in Davidson history, Stephen Curry established himself as one of the great pure shooters ever to play college ball.
Curry scored 21.5 points a game while setting a freshman record with 122 three-pointers made.
Curry’s sensational shooting has carried over to the NBA, much to the satisfaction of Golden State. He shot .442 from long range and led the league in free-throw accuracy (.934) while averaging 18.6 points and 5.8 assists a night last season.
An agile 6’10” power forward, Eddie Griffin arrived at Seton Hall with plenty of hype. He made good on his publicity, averaging 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 blocks a game in his lone season with the Pirates.
A lottery bust of epic proportions, Griffin was a competent rebounder with an appalling shot, dogged by a reputation for selfishness and immaturity.
His pro career ended with his release from Minnesota during his fifth NBA season, just months before the tragic car crash that took his life.
With Larry Hughes leading the offense, the Saint Louis Billikens recorded just the third NCAA tournament victory in their history in 1998. Hughes averaged 20.9 points a game, while also piling up 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals a night.
Hughes has battled injuries throughout his pro career, but when healthy he’s an effective scorer and devastating defender who once averaged a league-leading 2.9 steals a game for the Wizards.
He’s barely gotten off the bench for the Magic this season, playing a mere 8.7 minutes a night over three games.
Although his offensive game was still a work in progress in his first collegiate season, Alonzo Mourning was an immediate force in the paint.
Along with 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds a night, he blocked 169 shots to become the first freshman to lead the nation in that category in 1988-89.
Mourning would go on to lead the NBA in blocks twice in his brilliant career. He averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a game over 15 pro seasons.
For all of Allen Iverson’s well-earned reputation as an offensive force, he was also a sensational defender who averaged 2.9 steals a game as a Georgetown freshman.
Of course, he also provided plenty of offense for the Hoyas’ Sweet 16 run, averaging 20.4 points and 4.5 assists a game on the season.
Iverson’s superlative NBA career is probably over (he hasn’t played since 2009-10), starting the clock on a sure-fire Hall of Fame induction.
He led the league in scoring four times and steals three times, earning MVP honors while leading the 2000-01 76ers to the NBA Finals.
Unheralded when he joined the Ramblers, 6’9” center Kenny Miller made sure he didn’t stay anonymous very long. With an average of 13.6 boards per game (fifth-best for a freshman all-time), Miller became the first frosh to lead the nation in rebounding in 1987-88.
After his brilliant start, though, academic troubles wrecked Miller’s college career. He played only the one season at Loyola and never made it to the NBA.
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Although he arrived at Texas as an exceptionally poor scorer, T.J. Ford still made the Longhorns one of the nation’s most dangerous offenses.
His 8.3 assists a game in 2001-02 were the second-best mark all-time for a freshman and made him the first (and still only) first-year player to lead the country in that category.
After three fine seasons as a Pacers reserve, Ford signed with San Antonio last month. He hasn’t seen a ton of action behind Tony Parker, but he is averaging 3.8 assists a game off the bench.
Shaquille O’Neal’s freshman-year averages at LSU—13.9 points, 12 boards and 3.6 blocks per contest—are impressive enough, but they don’t tell the real story of his individual dominance.
A better indicator might be his first triple-double (of a record-tying six in his career): 20 points, 24 rebounds and 12 blocks against Hank Gathers’ legendary Loyola Marymount team that averaged 122.4 points a game.
Months after his retirement, the only real question about Shaq is where he ranks among the greatest players of all time.
He won four championships and placed in the league’s all-time top 10 in field-goal percentage (a record .582), offensive rebounds (4,209), blocked shots (11,252) and points (28,596).
Although 6’10” Shawn James didn’t do a lot of scoring for the Huskies, he more than made up for it on the defensive end. James’ 5.44 blocks a game were a national freshman record and the eighth-best figure for any player in Division I history.
James later transferred to Duquesne, where he was among the victims of a 2006 campus shooting. He went undrafted and never played in the NBA, but is currently playing overseas.
With fellow New York transplant Ernie Grunfeld, Bernard King led some of the greatest teams in Vols history. The 6’7” scoring machine averaged 26.4 points and 12.3 rebounds a night in his first season in Knoxville.
King remained a first-class scorer at the pro level, averaging 22.5 points a game for his career. He made four All-Star teams with Golden State, New York and Washington, winning the 1984-85 scoring title with the Knicks by averaging 32.9 points a night.
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Luol Deng joined a loaded Duke team and made it even better in his one season in Durham. A key part of the Blue Devils’ 2004 Final Four run, Deng averaged 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.
Deng has been a terrific sidekick for Derrick Rose since the latter arrived in Chicago. He’s averaged 16 points and 6.4 rebounds a night in his seven seasons (and counting) as a Bull.
A first-team All-American with 17.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game, Kevin Love led the Bruins to their third straight Final Four appearance. His total of 415 boards on the season is the second-best figure all-time for a freshman.
Love’s star turn last year with the Timberwolves appears to have been the real deal. A season after leading the league with 15.2 rebounds a game, he’s averaging 14.6 (with a career-high 25 points a night) in the early going in 2011-12.
You don’t set the Division I career assists record without a fast start. Bobby Hurley opened his four years at Duke with a national freshman record of 288 assists (7.6 per game).
After one of the greatest careers in college hoops history, Hurley never got a real chance at the NBA.
A car accident during his rookie year left him a shell of the player who led Duke to two national titles, and he averaged just 3.3 assists a game over five pro seasons.
If only he had been a better free-throw shooter, Derrick Rose might have carried Memphis to the first national championship in school history.
As it is, he led the Tigers to the title game with averages of 14.9 points and 4.7 assists a night before missed free throws (by him and his teammates) let Kansas force overtime and capture the championship.
The defending NBA MVP looks to be well on his way to leading another brilliant season for the Bulls. He’s averaging what would be a career best with 8.7 assists a game for a Chicago team that’s jumped out to a 12-3 start in 2011-12.
A member of the first class of freshmen eligible for varsity play in 1972-73, Pete Padgett proved he was more than ready for college ball. His average of 17.8 boards a game is still a freshman record (by a margin of 3.6 over second place) 40 years later.
Despite his impressive performance at Nevada, the 6’8” Padgett was only a sixth-round draft choice of the Hawks. He never played in the NBA.
Although the 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds Patrick Ewing averaged as a freshman paled in comparison to his later numbers, his presence in the middle turned the Hoyas into a national contender.
Thanks in large measure to Ewing’s shot-blocking—the stat wasn’t official at the time, but he’s credited with 3.2 rejections a game—Georgetown made its first Final Four since 1943, losing to Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels in the national championship.
Although Ewing’s Knicks never matched the title he won at Georgetown, his individual performance in the NBA was phenomenal. He posted nine consecutive seasons of at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game in a 17-year Hall of Fame career.
With averages of 11.9 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds a game, Derrick Coleman was one of several surprise stars who led the Orangemen (as they were then called) to the 1987 title game.
Although he missed a key free throw that set up Keith Smart’s buzzer-beater in that contest, it’s hard to fault Coleman for a loss in which he set the school’s tournament record with 19 rebounds in a game.
While he couldn’t live up to his exceptional collegiate promise, Coleman wasn’t as bad a pro as his reputation suggests.
His best seasons came with the Nets—who spent a No. 1 overall pick on him—for whom he made an All-Star team and never averaged worse than 18.4 points or 9.5 rebounds a game in five years.
One of a long line of homegrown point guards to arrive at St. John’s with ample fanfare, Omar Cook justified the hype.
In his lone season with the Red Storm, he averaged 15.3 points and 2.3 steals a night while setting a national freshman record with 8.7 assists per game.
Cook was a failure in the NBA—lasting just 22 games—but he turned out to be a terrific D-League point guard. In four seasons with Fayetteville, he averaged 7.4 assists a contest.
In his first season at DePaul, Mark Aguirre led the Blue Demons to the second (and most recent) Final Four appearance in school history in 1979. He previewed his Naismith Award-winning sophomore year with freshman averages of 24 points and 7.6 rebounds a night.
Aguirre kept right on scoring in the NBA, averaging 20 points a game over his 13 pro seasons. He won two titles as a reserve on the Bad Boys Pistons, but was more effective with the Mavericks, where he made three All-Star teams.
If it weren’t for Pete Maravich’s untouchable legacy, Chris Jackson might be remembered as the greatest scorer ever to play for LSU. While also averaging 4.1 assists a game, Jackson set a national freshman record with 30.2 points a night.
Jackson—who would later change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf—went on to play nine strong NBA seasons with the Nuggets, Kings and Grizzlies.
He led the league in free-throw shooting twice—including a 95.6 percent figure that ranks second in NBA history—while averaging as many as 19.2 points and 6.8 assists a game.
In Jason Kidd’s first season as a Golden Bear, he turned around a largely moribund program and led the team to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1960.
That 1992-93 season saw Kidd average an eye-catching 7.7 assists per contest while setting a national freshman record with 3.8 steals a night.
Coming off his first NBA championship, Kidd has shown that he isn’t quite done yet. Even this year, at age 38, he’s dishing out 4.7 assists a game for the Mavs (though it’s a far cry from the 10.8 assists a night he once averaged for Phoenix).
Joining a team loaded with upper-class talent, Kenny Anderson became an immediate star who led the first Final Four run in Georgia Tech history in 1990.
With scorers like Dennis Scott to feed, Anderson averaged 8.1 assists a game while also scoring 20.6 points a night himself.
At his best, Anderson was a superb NBA point guard who averaged as many as 18.8 point and 9.6 assists a game.
He played for eight different teams in a 14-year career, most effectively with New Jersey (where he was drafted No. 2 overall and made his only All-Star appearance).
Despite a wrist injury that delayed the start of his season, Greg Oden led Ohio State to the NCAA title game as a freshman. In his only year on campus, the seven-footer averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game.
If Oden could ever stay healthy, he’s got loads of potential as an NBA center. He’s played exactly 82 games in his pro career, averaging 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over that time.
As one might expect from the namesake of the Basketball Writers Association’s National Freshman of the Year Award, Wayman Tisdale made quite a splash in his first season in Norman.
With averages of 24.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a night, the 6’9” Tisdale became the first freshman ever named a first-team All-American by the AP.
Tisdale was never quite the rebounder as a pro that he’d been at Oklahoma, but he was a fine NBA power forward nonetheless.
In a dozen pro seasons (mostly with Indiana and Sacramento), he averaged as many as 22.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
A year before he led Michigan State to the NCAA championship that turned March Madness into must-see TV, Magic Johnson dominated as a freshman for the Spartans. He averaged 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game and carried his team to the Elite Eight.
Magic’s incomparable NBA career came as no surprise after his college heroics. While leading the Showtime Lakers to five NBA titles, he racked up absurd career averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game.
No discussion of elite freshmen would be complete without a mention of Michigan’s Fab Five, the all-first-year starting lineup that took the Wolverines all the way to the 1992 national championship game.
The leader of that squad was center Chris Webber, who averaged 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game.
Webber became perhaps the best passing big man in NBA history, averaging 4.5 assists a game or better in eight different seasons.
He had his best years with the Kings, leading the league in rebounding once, while scoring as many as 27.1 points a night.
The Big 12 has seen its share of explosive freshmen, but Michael Beasley left no doubt that he belonged with the best of them.
Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a night in his lone season with the Wildcats, setting a national freshman record with 28 double-doubles.
Beasley has disappointed so far at the NBA level, averaging just 6.4 rebounds a game in his best season.
He did break through as a scorer for Minnesota last year with 19.2 points a game, but is unlikely to match it this season while missing time (at this writing) with a sprained foot.
Pervis Ellison’s arrival at Louisville provided the final piece to the Cardinals’ national championship puzzle in 1986.
He won Final Four MOP honors that season—the first freshman to do so in 40 years—and averaged 13.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a night on the year.
The 6’9” Ellison became a valuable NBA center…when he could stay on the court. In one of his few healthy seasons, with Washington in 1991-92, he averaged 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a night.
In retrospect, it’s kind of astonishing that Kevin Durant couldn’t lead the Longhorns past the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The first freshman ever to win the Naismith or Wooden Awards—and he got both—Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds a game on a Texas team that also boasted current Bobcat standout D.J. Augustin in the backcourt.
It wouldn’t be any surprise to see Durant win his third straight scoring title this season, but his real interest will be making his first NBA Finals. He’s off to a great start, as the Thunder have opened the 2011-12 season with an 12-2 record.
Other freshmen have won national championships, but none have carried a title team like Carmelo Anthony.
Melo scored 22.2 points and grabbed 10 rebounds a game in a season that saw him earn Final Four MOP honors for the first national champions in Syracuse history.
After successfully forcing a trade to the Knicks last season, Anthony may want to rethink his plan for NBA domination.
His individual numbers are brilliant as ever (25.5 points and 4.3 assists a game to lead New York in both categories this year), but the team is a disappointing 6-7 and hardly looking like a viable title contender in the foreseeable future.