Ranking the 10 Most Impressive College Basketball Debuts in the Past Decade

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Impressive College Basketball Debuts in the Past Decade

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    O.J. Mayo of USC and Michael Beasley of Kansas State
    O.J. Mayo of USC and Michael Beasley of Kansas State

    The performances of Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Duke's Jabari Parker in their first college games suggest they will be the stars many expected. Their debuts measure up rather favorably to some of the most impressive college basketball debuts over the past decade.

    No players in that span can match the 52-point performance by Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain in 1956 or the 56-point game by UCLA's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) in 1966 or the 48 points scored by LSU's Pete Maravich in their first varsity college games as sophomores when freshmen were ineligible.

    But there were some impressive debuts between the 2003-2004 season and the 2012-2013 season. The 27-point showing by Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony and the 26-point effort by Florida freshman Matt Walsh, both in 2002, fall just outside our self-imposed 10-year time frame.

    In considering the most impressive debuts in the past decade, production was the primary criterion, although the circumstances and quality of the opponent were also factors.

    We start our countdown of the 10 most impressive debuts of the past decade with eight performances that rate honorable mention. That's followed by one joint-performance that deserves to be noted.

Honorable Mention

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    Here are eight impressive college debuts that could easily be included in our top 10:

    -- Kentucky's John Wall (pictured here) scored 19 points and hit a game-winning 15-foot jumper with 0.6 seconds left in a 72-70 victory over Miami-Ohio in 2009.

    -- Minnesota's Kris Humphries collected 26 points and 15 rebounds in the Gophers' 78-67 win over Missouri-Kansas City in 2003.

    -- UCLA's Kevin Love had 22 points and 13 rebounds in a 69-48 victory over Portland State in 2007.

    -- Texas' Kevin Durant had 20 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of action in a 103-44 win over Alcorn State in 2006.

    -- North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough made 9 of 12 shots while scoring 21 points in 28 minutes in 2005 in an 83-80 triumph over Gardner-Webb.

    -- Duke's Luol Deng scored 21 points with eight rebounds in a 67-56 win over Detroit in 2003.

    -- Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe had 24 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes in a 75-59 win over Morehead State in 2009.

    -- Tennessee's Scotty Hopson had 17 points on 3-for-6 three-point shooting in just 19 minutes in a 114-75 victory over Chattanooga in 2008.

Special Joint Recognition: Tiny Gallon/Steve Pledger, Oklahoma

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    Keith "Tiny" Gallon
    Keith "Tiny" Gallon

    The performance of either Keith "Tiny" Gallon or Steve Pledger alone in their debuts would not have earned them a spot on this list. But what they did together as freshmen in Oklahoma's 95-71 victory over Mount St. Mary's gets them a spot as a joint entry.

    Gallon had 18 points and 15 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action in his first college game on Nov. 14, 2009.  Pledger played just 19 minutes off the bench and took only nine shots, but he finished with 21 points. He was 8-for-9 from the field, including 4-for-5 on three-pointers.

    They overshadowed the work of the Sooners' established star, Willie Warren, who had 15 points in the game.

    Pledger was unable to maintain his scoring rate, finishing the season averaging 6.2 points per game.

10. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

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    Deshaun Thomas was not a starter or the focus of attention in his first game for Ohio State on Nov. 12, 2010.

    Another freshman, Jared Sullinger, was the higher-rated recruit and the player most Buckeye fans were watching that night. Sullinger certainly performed well with 19 points and 14 rebounds, but people left talking about Thomas.

    Seconds after entering the game, Thomas made a splash by dropping in a three-pointer.  He ended up with 24 points, hitting 10 of 16 shots, including 2-for-3 on three-pointers, while collecting eight rebounds in just 20 minutes of court time in a 102-61 victory over North Carolina A&T.

9. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee

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    Jarnell Stokes' production in his college debut would not seem to warrant inclusion on this list. However, the circumstances surrounding his first college game made it impressive.

    Consider this timeline of events leading up to his college debut on Jan. 14, 2012.

    Mid-December, 2011: Stokes, an honors student, graduates early from high school.

    Dec. 23: Stokes signs with Tennessee.

    Jan. 7, 2012: Stokes turns 18.

    Jan. 9: Stokes enrolls at Tennessee and participates in his first practice.

    Jan. 14: After five practices, Stokes, who had not played in a game since AAU ball in August, plays his first college game at No. 2 Kentucky in front of 21,678 Wildcats fans. He hasn't learned the team's plays yet, so coach Cuonzo Martin's instructions, according to the Associated Press, were: "If there's one guy, shoot the ball. If there's two guys, a double team, pass the ball. If it's one-on-one, make plays."

    Going up against the likes of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, Stokes made 4 of 5 shots and got nine points with four rebounds in 17 minutes in a 65-62 loss.

8. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    Isaiah Austin's first college game for Baylor in 2012 was impressive for three reasons:

    1. He scored 22 points to go along with four rebounds and two blocks in a 99-77 victory over a Lehigh team that featured future first-round NBA draft choice C.J. McCollum.

    2. He is a 7'1" player who was 2-for-3 from three-point range. He made 10 of 12 shots overall.

    3. He did it all in just 17 minutes. There's no telling what his numbers might have been if he had not been forced to leave the game with a sprained ankle just four minutes into the second half.

    "For 17 minutes, I don't know if you can be much more impressive than Isaiah was," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, according to the Associated Press.

7. O.J. Mayo, USC

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    It's difficult to make a positive first impression in a losing effort, but USC's O.J. Mayo managed to do it.

    In his college debut, Mayo scored 32 points and collected seven rebounds and four assists while playing all 40 minutes in a 96-81 loss to Mercer on Nov. 10, 2007.

    Three things prevented Mayo's performance from being even more impressive:

    1. USC, ranked No. 18, lost at home by double digits to an Atlantic Sun Conference team.

    2. Mayo was just 12 of 27 from the field.

    3. Mayo committed eight turnovers.

6. Josh Selby, Kansas

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    The anticipation for Josh Selby's Kansas debut was heightened by the fact that he was suspended for the first nine games of his freshman year for accepting impermissible benefits.

    So all eyes were on Selby, one of the highest-rated recruits in the country, when he played his first college game on Dec. 18, 2010, against USC.

    Selby responded by scoring 21 points and making 5 of 8 three-point shots while grabbing five rebounds in 27 minutes of action. He put an exclamation point on his debut by hitting a go-ahead three-pointer with 26 seconds left, ensuring that the No. 3 Jayhawks would stay unbeaten with a 70-68 victory. By the end of the game, the Allen Fieldhouse crowd was chanting his name.

    In retrospect, what made Selby's debut particularly memorable was that he never lived up to the promise he showed in that game. Those 21 points turned out to be his career-high.

    He missed three games because of a stress reaction in his ankle later that season, and his effectiveness in subsequent games was limited. He never scored in double figures in his last 13 games and finished the season averaging just 7.9 points while playing in 26 games.

    He turned pro after his freshman season and has done little in the NBA.


5. Anthony Davis, Kentucky

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    Anthony Davis was expected to have a difficult time standing out in his college debut. After all, he was one of three Wildcats freshman ranked among the nation's top five recruits by Rivals.com. Plus, Kentucky still had Terrence Jones, who was coming off a standout freshman season.

    However, the 6'10" Davis stole the show. He played just 23 minutes in a 108-58 rout of Marist on Nov. 11, 2011, but that was enough time to collect 23 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and five blocks.

    Davis made 10 of 13 shots, including eight dunks, and displayed the defensive talent that would lead to him being named the national player of the year that season.

4. Eric Gordon, Indiana

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    Eric Gordon originally committed to Illinois, but switched his commitment to Indiana after Kelvin Sampson was hired as the Hoosiers' coach.

    Gordon, one of the top-rated recruits in the country, showed the impact of that change of heart in his first college game.

    He made 7 of 11 three-point shots while scoring 33 points in the Hoosiers' season-opening 99-79 victory over Chattanooga on Nov. 12, 2007.

    He added six rebounds and four assists while committing just two turnovers in his 35 minutes of playing time. He was also a demon on defense.

    "He disrupted everything we did offensively," Mocs coach John Shulman said of Gordon, according the Associated Press account. "He was the difference at both ends."

3. Xavier Henry, Kansas

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    A lot was expected of Kansas and highly-touted freshman Xavier Henry in the 2009-2010 season, and Henry delivered in a big way in his first college game. 

    He scored the Jayhawks' first points of the season when he nailed a three-pointer on his first attempt in the Nov. 13, 2009 game against Hofstra. Henry scored eight points in the first 2:06 of the game, the last three coming on a spectacular dunk off an offensive rebound that he turned into a three-point play.

    He finished the game with 27 points while hitting 5 of 8 three-point shots. He added five rebounds with no turnovers in 24 minutes of action while leading Kansas to a 101-65 victory.

    "He played great," Kansas coach Bill Self said, according to the Associated Press account.

2. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse

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    Jonny Flynn broke Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse record for points in a college debut by scoring 28 points in a 97-89 victory over Siena on Nov. 12, 2007.

    Flynn made 10 of 13 shots, including 6-for-7 on three-pointers. He also handed out nine assists while collecting five rebounds in his dynamic, 36-minute performance.

    What made Flynn's debut particularly impressive was that he produced some key buckets in a tightly contested game.

    When the Saints closed to within four points four minutes into the second half, Flynn scored to help the Orange stay in front. Siena got the margin down to four points again with 10 minutes left, but Flynn responded by hitting three-point shots on three consecutive possessions to keep Syracuse in control.

1. Michael Beasley, Kansas State

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    Despite being the nation's No. 1 recruit according to Rivals.com, Michael Beasley was lured to Kansas State and its mediocre basketball program by new coach Bob Huggins.

    The Wildcats had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996 and had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1988 before Beasley made his much-awaited K-State debut on Nov. 12, 2007.

    Beasley went wild. He scored 32 points on 12-for-20 shooting, and he broke the Big 12 record for rebounds in a game by pulling down 24 boards.

    It was the second 30-point, 20-rebound game in Kansas State history. Bob Boozer had 36 points and 23 rebounds in 1957.

    The fact that Beasley had eight turnovers and the opponent, Sacramento State, did not put up much resistance in the Wildcats' 94-63 victory failed to slow the hype initiated by Beasley's college debut.