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Power Ranking Each College Freshman of the Year Since 2000

Jake CurtisFeatured Columnist IIDecember 17, 2016

Power Ranking Each College Freshman of the Year Since 2000

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    Kevin Durant
    Kevin DurantJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Current freshmen Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke,  Julius Randle of Kentucky and Aaron Gordon of Arizona are already drawing comparisons to the top college freshmen of the recent past.

    Are they better than John Wall was in 2010, or better than Carmelo Anthony was in 2003? To make sense of such comparisons, it's worthwhile to create power rankings for the 14 players who have been named national freshman of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association since the start of the 1999-2000 season.

    Our power rankings are based only on those players' freshman seasons, not on their subsequent college accomplishments or on their pro careers.

    You will notice that a number of high-quality freshmen, such as Derrick Rose and Kevin Love, are not included because they were not named national freshman of the year.

    For our list, each of the 14 freshmen of the year is given a power ranking. The rankings are posted in ascending order, with the top freshman of the year from this century listed last. You could make a case for any of the top four being No. 1.

14. Marvin Williams, North Carolina, 2005

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Marvin Williams is the only national freshman of the year on this list who was not a starter for his team. 

    The 6'9" Williams was a vital part of a North Carolina squad that won the 2005 national championship, averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 50.6 percent from the field. He did it while coming off the bench in all 36 games and averaging just 22.2 minutes.

    The fact that three of his teammates that season (Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants) were lottery picks in the 2005 NBA draft had a lot to do with Williams being relegated to sixth-man duty.

    Nonetheless, he was the first Tar Heel taken in that NBA draft, going second overall after playing just one college season.

     

     

13. Jason Gardner, Arizona, 2000

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    As a freshman, Jason Gardner was the point guard for an Arizona team that finished 27-7 and tied for first place in the Pac-10. The Wildcats lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Wisconsin, with Gardner getting 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and adding two assists in that game.

    His numbers that season were good but not particularly eye-catching. He averaged 12.6 points, which was fourth best on the team, as well as 4.8 assists. His field-goal percentage of 37.6 was not very good.

    It is debatable whether he was the best player on his team that season.  Michael Wright and Loren Woods earned all-conference honors that season along with Gardner, and Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas were also on that team.

    Gardner did not make the first-, second- or third-team Associated Press All-American teams as a freshman.

    Gardner's best college season was his junior year at Arizona, when he averaged 20.4 points.

     

12. Luol Deng, Duke, 2004

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Luol Deng led all Atlantic Coast newcomers in three key categories as a freshman, averaging 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field.

    Deng helped Duke get to the 2004 Final Four, averaging 17.6 points in the Blue Devils' five postseason games.

    He probably was not Duke's best player that season. Chris Duhon was named to the Associated Press' all-ACC first team, and J.J. Redick was named to the second team. Deng was selected to the all-conference third team and was not named to the AP first-, second- or third-team All-American squads.

    Deng turned pro after his freshman season. He was picked seventh overall by the Phoenix Suns and immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls, for whom he still plays.

11. Tyreke Evans, Memphis, 2009

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Tyreke Evans may have been the most versatile of the players on this list. He played point guard, shooting guard and small forward during his one and only season at Memphis.

    The 6'6" Evans filled the box score. He averaged 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals while helping the Tigers to a 33-4 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in John Calipari's final seasons as Memphis' coach.

    Evans struggled early in his freshman season while playing a wing position. But when Calipari made him the team's point guard in the 10th game, Evans and Memphis took off, according to The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

    The Tigers were just 6-3 when Evans was named the starting point guard for the Dec. 22 game against Drexel. Memphis proceeded to win 27 straight games and did not lose again until Missouri eliminated the Tigers in the third round of the NCAA tournament. 

    Evans was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft

     

10. T.J. Ford, Texas, 2002

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    T.J. Ford's best college season was his sophomore year, when he won the Naismith and Wooden National Player of the Year awards.

    As a freshman in 2001-2002, Ford was primarily a facilitator, averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 assists. He was the first freshman ever to lead the nation in assists.

    Texas finished 22-12 that season and got to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. In the Longhorns' 72-70 third-round loss to Oregon, Ford had eight points on 3-of-10 shooting to go along with five assists and four turnovers. He missed a hurried 10-foot shot at the buzzer that would have tied it.

    He was not named to the Associated Press first-, second- or third-team All-American teams in 2002 and was not named to the all-Big 12 team.

     

     

9. Eddie Griffin, Seton Hall, 2001

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Eddie Griffin had an impressive freshman season statistically, but he is largely forgotten because Seton Hall was a mediocre team that season and because of an altercation he had with a teammate.

    A 6'9" forward, Griffin averaged 17.8 points as a freshman.  But his best assets were as a rebounder and shot-blocker. His 10.8 rebounds a game in 2000-2001 ranked fifth in the country, and his 4.4 blocks ranked second.

    But the Pirates were just 16-15 that season, including 5-11 in the Big East, and did not make the NCAA tournament. Coach Tommy Amaker was fired after the season, which included a first-round loss in the National Invitation Tournament.

    During that season Griffin was suspended briefly for punching junior teammate Ty Shine in the locker room, according to the New York Times.

    He turned pro after his freshman season, and was the seventh overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft. Griffin played five seasons for the Houston Rockets, never averaging more than the 8.8 points he averaged his rookie season.

     

     

8. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 2013

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Marcus Smart's selection as the nation's top freshman in 2013 was a testament to his overall impact on a game. In that respect, he was much like the previous season's freshman of the year, Anthony Davis.

    Smart's scoring statistics were not particularly impressive. He averaged 15.4 points per game, and his field-goal percentage (40.4 percent) and three-point percentage (29.0 percent) were mediocre.

    But the powerful 6'5" point guard could control games in a variety of ways. He averaged 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists and ranked second in the country with 3.0 steals per game. Smart had a knack for producing what was needed in a given situation.

    The Cowboys were just 15-18 the year before Smart arrived, but they went 24-9 and finished third in the Big 12 in Smart's freshman season. 

    Smart was named to the Associated Press' second-team All-American squad in 2013.

    He bucked the trend of one-and-done players by returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season.

     

     

     

7. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, 2006

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Tyler Hansbrough stayed at North Carolina for all four years, earning National Player of the Year honors as a junior, when he averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds.

    However, his numbers were nearly as impressive his freshman season, when he averaged 18.9 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 57.0 percent from the field.

    Hansbrough led the Tar Heels to a 23-8 record in 2005-2006, but they were upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by George Mason. He scored just 10 points in that 65-60 loss.

    Hansbrough's 40 points against Georgia Tech earlier that season broke the ACC single-game record for points by a freshman.

    He was the first freshman ever to be selected the the first-team All-ACC squad and was named a third-team Associated Press All-American that year.

    His energetic, hard-nosed style worked better on the college level than in the pros. Hansbrough was the 13th overall pick in 2009 NBA draft and has served primarily as a role player in his five seasons with the Indiana Pacers.

     

6. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, 2011

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Jared Sullinger spent two seasons at Ohio State, but his freshman season was probably his better year.

    His scoring average of 17.5 points as a sophomore was marginally better than his 17.2 average as a freshman. However, his rebounding average of 10.2 as a freshman was better than his 9.2 boards a game as a sophomore, and his 54.1 shooting percentage his first year exceeded his 51.9 percentage his second season.

    He was named a first-team Associated Press All-American both years, but the Buckeyes finished the regular season ranked No. 1 during Sullinger's freshman season.

    Ohio State was upset by Kentucky in the third round of the 2011 NCAA tournament, but Sullinger had 21 points and 16 rebounds in that game.

    Sullinger entered the 2012 NBA draft, but his status dropped after NBA doctors found problems with his back, ESPN.com reported, according to a Yahoo! article.

    He was the 21st overall pick.

     

     

5. John Wall, Kentucky, 2010

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Few players did more to lift their team than John Wall did during his freshman year at Kentucky.

    The year before Wall arrived, Kentucky went 22-14, including 8-8 in the Southeastern Conference, and failed to get an NCAA tournament berth. In Wall's freshman season of 2009-2010, the Wildcats went 35-3, were ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll and got to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

    Obviously the presence of two other gifted freshman, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, played a role in Kentucky's success that season, which was John Calipari's first as the Wildcats' head coach.

    But it was Wall's ability to put pressure on defenses with his speed and his penchant for making big shots that made him the key to Kentucky's success that season.

    In his very first college game, Wall hit the game-winning shot. After Miami-Ohio had tied the game with seven seconds left, Wall calmly but quickly dribbled up the court and hit a 15-footer with 0.5 seconds left, as seen in this video.

    He averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists that season.

    Wall was named a first-team All-American and finished second to Ohio State's Evan Turner in Associated Press' National Player of the Year voting. 

    Wall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, taken by the Washington Wizards.

     

4. Michael Beasley, Kansas State, 2008

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    If you looked only at statistics and awards, Michael Beasley might be No. 1 on this list. His scoring average of 26.2 points and rebounding average of 12.4 in his only college season are amazing. Both are better than Kevin Durant's numbers as a freshman.

    Beasley was a first-team Associated Press All-American as a freshman, while fellow freshman Derrick Rose of Memphis was relegated to third-team status that year. Beasley finished a distant second to North Carolina junior Tyler Hansbrough in the voting for Associated Press National Player of the Year.

    The fact that Beasley's pro career has been a disappointment after he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft is irrelevant to this discussion.

    What is relevant is that he did not lift his team to the heights that some other freshmen did.

    The Wildcats were 21-12 overall and 10-6 in 2008, virtually the same as they were the season before Beasley arrived (23-12, 10-6 in 2007) and the year after he left (22-12, 9-7 in 2009).

    He did get them to the NCAA tournament, though, and scored 23 points in each of Kansas State's two postseason games.

    Beasley also had one of the most impressive college debuts in history. He scored 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, and he broke the Big 12 record for rebounds in a game by pulling down 24 boards in a 94-63 victory over Sacramento State.

     

3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse, 2003

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    Carmelo Anthony gets the nod for the No. 3 slot over Michael Beasley, primarily because of Anthony's ability to take Syracuse to a national title.

    Anthony averaged 22.2 points and 10.0 rebounds in 2002-2003, and his 22 double-doubles set an NCAA record for a freshman.

    Anthony was a second-team Associated Press All-American that year, but his production in the postseason elevated him above three others on this list who were first-team All-Americans.

    Anthony scored 33 points in a 95-84 victory over No. 1-seeded Texas in the 2003 national semifinals, setting an NCAA tournament record for most points by a freshman. Anthony shot 12 of 19 in that game, including three of four from three-point range, and also had 14 rebounds and three steals.

    "Almost every single one of their scores can be attributed in some way to Carmelo Anthony," Texas coach Rick Barnes said afterward, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2012

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    Anthony Davis of Kentucky had a five-pronged set of achievements in 2011-2012 no one else on this list can match:

    1. Davis was named the 2012 Associated Press National Player of the Year. Kevin Durant is the only other freshman to win that award.

    2. Davis led his team to a national championship. Carmelo Anthony and Marvin Williams are the only other freshmen on this list to do that.

    3. Davis was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Again, Anthony was the only other player on this list to accomplish that. Davis managed to win that award despite shooting one of 10 and scoring six points in the title game. That speaks to the various ways in which Davis contributed to the Wildcats' success.

    4. Davis was a No. 1 overall pick in the  NBA draft. John Wall is the only other player on this list who can make that claim. That distinction was not considered when ranking Davis No. 2 on this list, but it adds to his overall credentials.

    5. The 6'10" Davis was named the National Defensive Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. No one else on this list won that award.

    Davis' offensive numbers were not overwhelming. In fact, his 14.2 scoring average was the lowest in history for an AP National Player of the Year, according to Slam magazine. But he still led his team in that category while shooting 62.3 percent from the field.

    His biggest assets were rebounding and shot-blocking. He averaged 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks, and he led the nation in the latter category.

     

1. Kevin Durant, Texas, 2007

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Contrary to what you may think, Kevin Durant was not a slam-dunk selection to the No. 1 spot. Ultimately he was given just a slight edge over the next three freshmen on the list.

    The mitigating factor in Durant's outstanding freshman season is that he did not lift his team to the level that Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis did.

    Durant's freshman numbers were remarkable: He averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds while hitting 40.4 percent of his three-pointers despite being a 6'10" forward. He had 30 games in which he scored 20 points or more.

    But that year the Longhorns finished just 25-10 overall and third in the Big 12 before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In the year before Durant arrived and the year after he left, the Longhorns won at least 30 games, were Big-12 co-champions and got to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight both times.

    Overriding all that, though, is the fact that he was overwhelmingly recognized as the best player in the country in 2008. That sets him apart from everyone else on this list.

    Not only is Durant one of just two freshmen to be named National Player of the Year, but he was a runaway winner of that award. He received 70 of 72 votes in the Associated Press National Player of the Year balloting in 2008. That kind of superiority in the minds of voters cannot be ignored.

    Even Anthony Davis, the other freshman to win AP's National Player of the Year honor, had some competition from Thomas Robinson of Kansas for that award in 2012.

    The fact that Durant has become a star in the NBA affirms his talent but was not a consideration in constructing this list.

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