Through the 1990s and early 2000s, being a first-team All-American required some experience on the college level.
David Stern changed that with the NBA’s age limit. From 1990 through 2006, there was not one freshman on the Associated Press All-American first-team. Since the age limit went into effect in 2007, there have been eight.
The odds are at least one freshman will make it on the team next season. These 10 should be on the preseason watch list.
By the time most of these five-star freshmen step foot on a college campus, we feel like we know their games and what they're capable of. So if you're looking for a guy who has potential to surprise, it would be Jarrell Martin.
Martin is not exactly an unknown—he was a McDonald's All-American—but he has only been playing organized basketball for two years. You would think he's yet to show all of his potential.
The Tigers also have the potential to be one of the surprise teams in the country with a frontline of Martin and Johnny O’Bryant III.
With Chris Walker and Patric Young, Billy Donovan will have his most talented frontcourt next season since Al Horford and Joakim Noah left for the NBA. It did take both Horford and Noah a year before they were stars in Gainesville. It’s also not a given that Walker will start right away as Donovan could go with either Will Yeguete or Casey Prather.
If it’s Walker in the starting lineup, Donovan could go back to a 2007-like approach when he emphasized getting his big men touches. It will be easier to play that way with shoot-first guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario no longer around.
Kentucky has so many pro prospects that there will only be so many shots to go around. Point guard Andrew Harrison could have as much say as anyone on who gets those looks. You know Harrison is not going to shut out his twin brother Aaron Harrison, who led their high school team in scoring.
By going to SMU, Keith Frazier could have the best chance of any of the top-tier freshmen of putting up huge numbers because he’s not surrounded by the talent of the guys who decided to play for the blue bloods.
The strength of Larry Brown’s team will be in the backcourt with Frazier and Illinois State transfer point guard Nic Moore. Brown could make SMU a popular destination if he’s able to help Frazier have a great freshman season.
The Hoosiers lost their top four leading scorers, and Noah Vonleh will likely take over Cody Zeller’s role as the go-to scorer.
It is set up that Vonleh as a freshman could put up even better scoring numbers than Zeller did as a sophomore. The advantage for Vonleh—or disadvantage, depending how you look at it—is that Indiana will have fewer scoring options.
Vonleh also has the ability to score from the perimeter. Zeller was successful at scoring off the dribble from the perimeter, but he lacked the range on his jumper that Vonleh has.
It’s no secret that scoring point guards have been successful right away in John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense.
Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight have all had great freshmen seasons. Only Wall was a first-team All-American—Rose made the third team in 2008.
Similar to Rose and Wall, the strength of Andrew Harrison’s game is getting to the paint. For the Wildcats to be great and keep everyone happy, Harrison may have to play the role of facilitator more than those two.
Jabari Parker’s offensive game is as ready as any of the incoming freshmen. Mike Krzyzewski also has a team that will be reliant on perimeter scoring.
The pressure on Parker should not be as great as the pressure that Andrew Wiggins will be under at Kansas or any of the top freshmen at Kentucky. The Blue Devils can lean on Rasheed Sulaimon, Andre Dawkins, Quinn Cook or transfer Rodney Hood to lead them on any given night.
But Parker is the most gifted scorer of the bunch. Once he catches up to the speed of the college game, he should be Duke’s go-to guy.
At 6’8” with the ability to score inside or out, Aaron Gordon fits the mold of several recent elite scoring freshmen. Both Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley come to mind.
It will be interesting to see how Sean Miller plans to use Gordon. It’s likely he’ll split time as a stretch 4 and at the small forward position, which is where he projects as a pro. Like Rick Barnes and Frank Martin, Miller would be smart to play Gordon at the 4-spot, as a guy with Gordon’s skill set is a matchup nightmare for most college bigs.
Seven of the last eight freshmen to be named first-team All-Americans by the Associated Press have been big men. Two of those players, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, played at Kentucky.
The challenge for Julius Randle (and any of the Wildcats) is getting enough touches to put up All-American numbers. Randle is not expected to make a defensive impact like Davis, so he’s going to need to put up big offensive numbers to be considered.
If the Wildcats live up to expectations, chances are that one of the freshmen ends up as an All-American. Historically, the best bet would be a big man, which gives Randle the best odds.
The opportunity Andrew Wiggins has is similar to Brandon Rush his freshman year at Kansas in 2005-06. Rush was the go-to scorer right away in Bill Self’s offense and led the Jayhawks with 13.5 points per game that year. Ben McLemore also led KU in scoring at 15.9 points per game last season.
Wiggins will have to put up numbers better than those to get All-American honors, but the point is that Self’s offense can cater to a talented wing.
The Jayhawks lost all five starters, which was the same scenario Rush had coming in. Self had to convince both Rush and McLemore to shoot more and be aggressive. With the hype surrounding Wiggins, there shouldn’t be a need to convince him to assert himself. If he puts up the numbers and the Jayhawks win enough games, the awards will follow.