Predicting Which 5-Star Freshmen Will Live Up to the Hype in 2013-14 Season
Being rated as a 5-star recruit puts a prospective college basketball player on the fast track to a great career, but the praise comes at a price. Five-star freshmen face enormous expectations, and sometimes—whether they're stuck behind returning stars or need to adjust to the pace of the college game—even the best aren’t ready to excel right away.
One big name who faces a particularly tough road next season is Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. The high-flying forward lit up the McDonald’s All-America Game, but he’s joining a deep frontcourt whose best players have had to wait their turn to carry the team after being anointed as 2012’s prized recruits.
Read on for more on the challenge facing Gordon and the rest of ESPN’s 5-star prospects for the 2013 class, with an eye to whether each of them will play up to the expectations that come with the 5-star label.
22. Zak Irvin, Michigan
Central casting’s version of a John Beilein player would look an awful lot like Zak Irvin. The Wolverines freshman has good length for his position (a 6’6” SF) and a first-class catch-and-shoot game with ample three-point range.
The problem for Irvin, though, is that Beilein recruits a lot of players who fit this mold, and last year’s success story (Nik Stauskas) is still holding down the small forward job.
Irvin will be effective, no doubt, but he won’t get the touches to rack up 5-star stats as a freshman.
21. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, like his older brother Rahlir (who just graduated at Temple), is a physical small forward who specializes in defense. He’s a terrific rebounder, too, but his offensive game has yet to catch up to those assets.
It’s tough to make an immediate impact as a glue-guy type (Hollis-Jefferson’s best role), but doubly so in a frontcourt as crowded as Arizona’s.
The low post will be occupied with bigger, more skilled scorers, leaving the freshman’s subpar jump shot on full display.
20. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Tyler Ennis certainly won’t be able to say he didn’t get his chance to be a star. With Michael Carter-Williams off to the NBA and Brandon Triche having graduated, the Ontario native instantly becomes the best player in a thin Syracuse backcourt.
On the plus side, Ennis has an impressive supporting cast up front, a group headlined by star senior C.J. Fair. The freshman is a playmaker more than a scorer, and he’ll have an ample supply of weapons to feed.
19. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
At the McDonald’s All-America Game, Nigel Williams-Goss posted a game-high six assists. That’s a pretty good preview of the freshman’s pass-first style, one that let him shine in Findlay Prep’s stacked lineups.
Unfortunately for Williams-Goss, Washington isn’t nearly as talent-rich as his old high school program.
Backcourt mate C.J. Wilcox, a top-tier scorer, will help, but the Huskies’ overall lack of offensive punch will force their new floor general to shoot more than is good for him.
18. Isaiah Hicks, North Carolina
One of North Carolina’s biggest weaknesses last season was a lack of legitimate big men after James Michael McAdoo. That vacuum provides a prime opportunity for Isaiah Hicks, a mobile, 6’8” power forward with explosive leaping ability.
Hicks’ dunking is his best weapon right now, making the fast-break-happy Tar Heels a wonderful fit. He’ll also be able to rebound with little pressure to score in the half court, thanks to the return of the sweet-shooting McAdoo.
17. Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
The good news for Rysheed Jordan is that he’s joining a Red Storm squad very much in need of a bona fide point guard. Swingman Sir’Dominic Pointer led last year’s team with an ugly 2.8 assists per game.
Unfortunately, Jordan’s skill set—focused as it is on running the fast break—is not suited to succeeding early in a Big East that’s still packed with physical defenses.
Even the return of scorers D’Angelo Harrison and Jakarr Sampson won’t be enough to make up for Jordan’s shaky half-court game in this conference.
16. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Bobby Portis is about to get the rare opportunity to step in as a freshman and become the hands-down best player on a major conference team. The top returning Razorback (Coty Clarke) scored just 7.6 points per game last season.
However, that lack of returning talent is also going to be a serious obstacle for the freshman power forward. With no viable backcourt to set him up, even Portis’ versatile offensive game won’t be enough to put up big numbers against SEC defenses.
15. Austin Nichols, Memphis
With his polished offensive game, Austin Nichols should be an outstanding complement to bruising Shaq Goodwin in the Memphis frontcourt. Tarik Black’s decision to transfer to Kansas even frees up tailor-made playing time for the freshman.
Nichols will also benefit from an experienced backcourt led by veteran PG Joe Jackson. The Tigers’ ball-sharing style may eat into his numbers some, but the Tennessee native has a great opportunity to show what he’s got in his college debut.
14. Wayne Selden, Kansas
Wayne Selden could hardly have picked a better year to arrive at Kansas. The Jayhawks are replacing all five starters, and Selden becomes the natural heir apparent at shooting guard for a talent-heavy roster.
Even better, he’ll be playing alongside a promising PG (Naadir Tharpe) who got valuable postseason experience last March.
Selden may not have the jump shot of predecessor Ben McLemore, but his other offensive skills (especially in getting to the rim) will be regular features of the KU attack next season.
13. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
As Indiana reassembles its frontcourt after getting rocked by graduation and NBA defections, Noah Vonleh is the obvious piece to build around.
The 6’8”, 220-pound freshman has the size and shooting touch to make an outstanding replacement for the graduated Christian Watford at PF.
Vonleh will also benefit from the precision passing of rising sophomore PG Yogi Ferrell, who knows how to make jump shooters look good.
The freshman will have an inevitable learning curve in the black-and-blue Big Ten, but the conference’s relative paucity of elite 4-men will help him on that score.
12. Chris Walker, Florida
Chris Walker isn’t about to be handed a starting job when he arrives at Florida, considering the presence of returning stalwarts Patric Young and Will Yeguete up front. However, the 6’10” freshman has a great chance to earn one with his roof-raising athleticism.
One of Walker’s greatest strengths is his shot-blocking ability, which gives him a leg up on the more experienced Yeguete at power forward.
Whether starting or coming off the bench, he’ll also immediately become the Gators’ best fast-break finisher with his long reach and sensational dunking ability.
11. Jarrell Martin, LSU
The biggest step so far in Johnny Jones’ rebuilding project at LSU was landing prize recruit Jarrell Martin. The mobile 6’7” PF has the potential to step in right away as the Tigers’ leading scorer, even playing alongside veteran center Johnny O’Bryant.
Martin will benefit even more from LSU’s experience at point guard, where Anthony Hickey will provide welcome support on both ends of the floor.
The SEC isn’t going to be an easy place to be a power forward this season, but Martin should be able to prove he belongs among the conference’s best.
10. Kasey Hill, Florida
Florida’s playing style is an optimal fit with Kasey Hill’s skill set. The 6’0” freshman loves playing at top speed, excels at running the fast break on offense and has the hands to create turnovers on defense.
Unfortunately, all those descriptors also fit incumbent PG Scottie Wilbekin.
The two will likely play together at times in next year’s backcourt, but it’s hard to see Hill coming off as an elite floor leader while sharing the ball with the rising senior (unless Wilbekin’s latest discipline issues eat into his playing time).
9. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Kentucky’s only effective guard last season was Archie Goodwin, and he’s off to the NBA. That leaves the starting SG job on the national title-contending Wildcats wide open for Aaron Harrison.
The 6’5” youngster is a versatile scorer whose numbers won’t suffer much from the crowds Kentucky’s big men will draw in the paint.
Harrison will also be playing with a point guard who knows his game backward and forward: twin brother Andrew, himself one of the most promising recruits in the country.
8. James Young, Kentucky
James Young has an excellent case for being the best pure athlete in the 2013 recruiting class. He’s not half bad from a skill standpoint, either, boasting impressive ball-handling ability for a small forward and a plus shooting touch.
However, Young has the bad luck to be diving into the most crowded position battle in college hoops.
Kentucky has at least two returning players (Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer) who could see minutes at SF even if no other freshmen join the fray, and that means limited touches and limited stats for Young.
7. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
The best offensive center and one of the best post scorers in the freshman class, Dakari Johnson is a terrifying matchup on the block. He combines a 6’10”, 250-pound frame with a terrific set of post moves and a nice shooting touch.
Amazingly, though, Johnson isn’t even the biggest center on the Wildcats roster.
That would be 7’0”, 244-pound rising sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, whose experience and phenomenal athletic ability leave him squarely in the starting job and Johnson set to spend a year in his shadow.
6. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Jeff Withey, the center Joel Embiid will be replacing at Kansas, developed into an elite defensive weapon in spite of his lack of top-drawer athletic ability. Athletic ability is nearly all Embiid has going for him as a freshman, but it’ll likely be enough.
The rangy Cameroonian stands 6’11” with tremendous quickness and leaping ability, making him a first-rate shot-blocker and rebounder even without much polish to his game.
He won’t do a ton of scoring, but he could (as Chris Obekpa did for St. John’s last year) jump in and challenge for the national lead in blocks as a freshman.
5. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Andrew Harrison is ready to take his place among the best point guards in the nation, even before his first collegiate dribble. The 6’5” Texan can score, pass, handle the ball, read a defense and shut down opposing floor leaders.
He’ll also have a terrific opportunity to show off all those skills in the perpetual spotlight of a national championship contender. Kentucky’s wealth of frontcourt talent (plus Harrison’s twin brother Aaron in the backcourt) will make every pinpoint pass count.
4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The MVP trophy Aaron Gordon took home from the McDonald’s All-America Game was hardly a surprise by game’s end. Gordon’s dunk-filled 24-point performance showed the speed and power that are going to make him a top-notch college forward.
They’re not, however, going to do it in 2013-14.
Gordon doesn’t yet have the skill set to excel at small forward (where he may have to play), and he won’t get many touches down low with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley back for their sophomore years.
3. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Kentucky’s logjam in the frontcourt is going to be an issue for many of the ‘Cats’ freshmen, but not Julius Randle.
The 6’9”, 225-pound PF is the best pure scorer among John Calipari’s plethora of forwards, and that’s going to mean plenty of playing time even in this lineup.
Randle has an exceptional low-post game for a freshman, and he can face up and knock down the occasional jumper as well. Look for him to lead the Wildcats in scoring as the SEC’s top freshman.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Even last year, talented as Duke was, the Blue Devils would’ve loved to have Jabari Parker on the roster. A 6’8” SF with great perimeter rebounding (and defensive) ability would’ve really helped an undersized pool of wings.
Now, with the senior leaders of 2012-13 gone, Parker will be a huge part of Duke’s scoring and passing games in addition to his other contributions.
He’s got the kind of basketball IQ that Mike Krzyzewski loves, so there won’t be any issue with him being able to stay on the floor as a freshman even if he hits few bumps adjusting to ACC play.
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Entering last season, Kansas’ biggest concern was whether it could find a go-to scorer. That won’t be a problem this year, because Andrew Wiggins is ready to step in and do a pretty good impression of soon-to-be lottery pick Ben McLemore.
The 6’7” Wiggins can score inside and out with equal facility while also providing plenty of rebounding from his SF spot. He’ll be the top three-point threat on the roster, too, making him that much tougher to guard.