Odds for Incoming 5-Star Freshmen to Be CBB All-Americans in 2014-15 Season
There are only 15 spots a year in the ranks of college basketball All-Americans, and one-and-done freshmen tend to get more than their share. Every 5-star recruit wants to follow in the superstar footsteps of a Jabari Parker or a Julius Randle, but it takes more than talent to do it.
UConn-bound Daniel Hamilton, for example, has the scoring punch to make an instant impact for the defending national champs. However, his chances of making a major splash as a freshman are severely diminished by the wealth of other options Kevin Ollie’s team brings back in its backcourt.
Read on for more on Hamilton’s dim hopes, along with a look at the All-America chances of every freshman who earned a 5-star ranking from Rivals.com.
JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
JaQuan Lyle—who decommitted from Louisville before committing, ultimately, to the Ducks—looks remarkably prescient in the wake of Oregon’s sexual-assault scandal.
With two of Dana Altman’s top backcourt options tossed off the team, Lyle will get every opportunity to start as a freshman.
The 6’5” combo guard is still developing as a playmaker, but his physicality and length will make him a dangerous foil for Joseph Young.
The latter, though, is a high-scoring senior who will absorb any All-America consideration that heads as far west as Eugene, even if Lyle does make a statement in his debut season.
Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
The similarities between Isaac Copeland and the Hoyas’ last All-American, Otto Porter Jr., are more than coincidental.
Both are mobile big men with the smarts and ball-handling talent to thrive in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense, and both are long-armed playmakers on defense.
However, Porter’s ability to take over games as a scorer was an essential part of securing his national recognition, and Copeland isn’t that type of player at this stage.
He’ll knock down shots, but with D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera dominating the offense, he won’t get the kind of clutch baskets (or impressive stats) that made Porter a star.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
A shooting guard could hardly ask for a better situation than the one awaiting James Blackmon Jr. in Bloomington.
The first-year marksman is joining a team with one of the best point guards in the nation (rising junior Yogi Ferrell)…and no other scorers to speak of.
The bad news, though, is that Blackmon is far from the all-around weapon Noah Vonleh was, and even Vonleh couldn’t turn the undermanned Hoosiers into an NCAA tournament team.
The youngster will get his points, but enough of them will come in losses to keep him from getting serious All-America consideration.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Of all of Kentucky’s incoming freshmen, none had better reason to feel sure he’d have an open starting job than Tyler Ulis.
After all, the last time John Calipari's top point guard stayed on the roster for more than one year was nearly a decade ago, when Coach Cal was still at Memphis.
Nevertheless, Ulis will arrive in Lexington as the No. 2 floor leader on the depth chart, thanks to the return of towering Andrew Harrison.
The rising sophomore has a year of postseason experience and nine inches of height on the 5’9” frosh, meaning that the latter won’t see enough minutes to make a ripple in the All-America picture.
Devin Robinson, Florida
Devin Robinson has the same kind of balanced skill package that helped to put Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in the preseason All-America conversation a year ago at this time.
He doesn’t, however, have the overpowering athleticism that helped them excel so early in their college careers.
Robinson’s overall talent level is also a notch below those NBA-bound stars, though he should have no trouble grabbing Casey Prather’s vacant starting job in Gainesville. He’ll be a valuable sidekick for Chris Walker but little more than that.
Chris McCullough, Syracuse
With Syracuse’s frontcourt ravaged by graduation and the NBA draft, Chris McCullough is poised to be the Orange’s marquee player in 2014-15.
He’s going to pile up blocked shots at an astonishing rate in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, but his offensive prospects are less rosy.
McCullough’s half-court game is still raw, and the point guard job is expected to fall on a less heralded freshman, Kaleb Joseph.
McCullough’s 6’10” length and terrific mobility will ensure him of respectable scoring numbers, but there’s a very big gap between “respectable” and “All-American.”
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
After four years of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., the Buckeyes finally have a new backcourt pairing.
D’Angelo Russell has the tools to play either spot, but with rising senior Shannon Scott on hand to run the show, the freshman will be starting off his career as a 2-guard.
Russell is a productive scorer, though Ohio State’s focus on defense is going to blunt his point totals (even on a roster that doesn’t have a better go-to option).
He’ll be a serious contender for All-America recognition in a year or two—when he can shoulder more of the playmaking responsibilities and show off his full skill set—but for now, he’s on the wrong team to make an instant splash.
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
Following in the Tar-Heeled footsteps of Vince Carter and Harrison Barnes is a great start to any All-America candidacy, especially in 2014-15.
With UNC bringing back standout point guard Marcus Paige and minimal scoring otherwise, there’s ample opportunity for a budding star to step up. Whether Pinson will be the relevant star, however, is no sure thing.
There aren’t any holes in his game, but he’s not as devastating a pure scorer as classmate Justin Jackson. As such, the combination of Jackson and Paige will probably keep him just far enough in the background to remove him from contention here.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Seton Hall hasn’t had an All-American since Terry Dehere more than 20 years ago. History is, to put it mildly, not on Isaiah Whitehead’s side.
The present isn’t so encouraging either, as Whitehead will have minimal help beyond solid-but-unspectacular point guard Sterling Gibbs.
The 6’4” freshman is a first-class scorer and a quality all-around 2-guard, but he’s not enough to turn last year’s .500 Pirates squad into the kind of contender that can showcase an All-America prospect.
Dwayne Morgan, UNLV
Opportunity abounds (surprisingly enough) for Dwayne Morgan in what has recently been a crowded UNLV frontcourt.
The NBA defections of Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch leave plenty of room for the 6’7” combo forward to strut his stuff, but that stuff isn’t All-America material just yet.
Morgan has speed and strength, but he lacks the jump shot that made Anthony Bennett an instant hit as a Rebel. He’s going to be a wonderful defensive player and a competent scorer, but the star power in Vegas belongs to Morgan’s classmate Rashad Vaughn.
Daniel Hamilton, UConn
Point for point, Daniel Hamilton could easily be a better scorer than any player on the defending national champs. The chances are excellent, though, that he won’t get a chance to fulfill that potential in his first season in Storrs.
Hamilton will be battling for playing time with a host of big-time offensive options, including Rodney Purvis (an N.C. State transfer projected to start at shooting guard) and returnees Terrence Samuel and Omar Calhoun.
As Hamilton’s defense isn’t up to the standards of the first two of that trio, and he lacks the seasoning of the third, he’s not going to be on the floor for long enough stretches to flex his shooting muscles as a freshman.
Trey Lyles, Kentucky
To a pretty good approximation, Trey Lyles is stepping into the same starting lineup that made Julius Randle an All-American (albeit a third-teamer) last season.
Considering that Lyles is a more polished offensive player than Randle was, it’s hard not to like his chances.
The Wildcats’ new power forward is an inch taller than his predecessor at 6’10”, a more skilled defender and a solid (though inferior) rebounder.
With Kentucky set to walk all over the SEC and contend for the national title, he’ll have more than enough of a spotlight, too.
Justise Winslow, Duke
The most obvious comparison for Justise Winslow is Shane Battier, another defensive stopper and jack-of-all-trades who wore a Duke uniform.
Battier didn’t make an All-America team as a freshman and neither will Winslow.
The 6’6” youngster is going to be a great starting small forward for a potential national champion, but he won’t turn in the kind of scoring performance that he’ll need to overtake classmate Jahlil Okafor when it comes to national recognition.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Against the toughest competition he's yet faced, Justin Jackson just took over, scoring 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting and winning co-MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-American Game. Now he just has to turn in 30 or 40 more nights like that one.
That's not as farfetched a prospect as it should be, as Jackson will have a potential All-America point guard, Marcus Paige, to set him up as a Tar Heel.
If the youngster fulfills his potential as the top scoring threat on a Final Four contender, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in the running for similar recognition next spring.
Kevon Looney, UCLA
If the Bruins had kept even one of the three underclassmen who bolted for the NBA draft, Kevon Looney’s chances here would be vastly improved.
Even with Norman Powell as the only significant returnee in Westwood, Looney is set up to rank among the Pac-12’s top post performers.
The 6’8” Wisconsin native should challenge for the national lead in rebounding, but scoring will be more of a concern.
He’s not a knockdown shooter, and even if pseudo-freshman Isaac Hamilton—who sat last year after a last-minute switch from UTEP to UCLA—emerges as an elite point guard, Looney may not put up enough stats, aside from his rebounding, to make the grade.
Myles Turner, Texas
If Myles Turner were almost any other player, he’d be headed for a spot on the Longhorns’ bench next season.
After all, Texas returns every major contributor from a 24-win team, including a rising star—mammoth center Cameron Ridley—who plays the same position Turner does.
However, the 7-foot freshman is one of the most overwhelming talents in the country, an inside-outside scorer who can also control games with his defense and rebounding.
Ridley will be deferring to Turner, not the other way around, when it comes to playing time. With a great lineup around him, the only real question is whether his teammates will leave him enough shots to show off the true extent of his scoring prowess.
Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Rashad Vaughn is going to be a rarity at the college level, a 2-guard who actually has the size to play that position in the NBA. He’s got more than a 6’6”, 200-pound build going for him, as he’s also an NBA-caliber scorer with bona fide three-point range.
Vaughn’s biggest obstacle to potential All-America recognition is going to be his own team’s performance.
His scoring numbers will impress, but unless the Rebels can find a point guard somewhere, their green (and offensively challenged) front line will struggle to contend.
Tyus Jones, Duke
Pass-first point guards face an uphill battle with award voters, who typically favor high scorers such as 2013-14 sensation Shabazz Napier.
As such, Tyus Jones is in for a rough time in spite of being arguably the best backcourt player in the freshman class.
Jones’ leadership is his greatest strength, and he could easily be running a national-champion offense in Durham.
However, he’s going to defer as a scorer (as he should) to big man Jahlil Okafor, and that’s going to make it tough for him to crack the All-America ranks this season.
Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
The heir apparent to Andrew Wiggins’ starting job in Lawrence, Kelly Oubre Jr. could easily take his spot on the All-America rosters as well. The athletic 6’7” forward is a far superior defender to Wiggins, and he’s no slouch on the offensive end.
Oubre is a reliable three-point shooter who has the explosiveness to attack the rim, too.
Like his ballyhooed precursor, he may face a bigger learning curve than fans would prefer. Still, it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t put up all-conference numbers, even in the deep Big 12.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
There are, at the outside, five teams in the entire country for which Karl-Anthony Towns could not expect to be an immediate starter. Unfortunately for him, Kentucky tops that list.
Towns is a 6’11” sniper in the mold of Isaiah Austin (late of Baylor) or Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, and he boasts the shot-blocking acumen to match either of those defensive standouts.
However, he’s facing an implausible battle for playing time with 7’0” Willie Cauley-Stein, 7’0” Dakari Johnson and 6’9” Marcus Lee, a traffic jam that will ensure that none of those titans winds up on the All-America rolls next year.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Cliff Alexander’s hopes of a monster debut season are going to depend at least as much on Devonte Graham as they do on Alexander himself.
Graham, the 11th-hour recruit tabbed to replace outgoing transfer Naadir Tharpe at point guard, has the opportunity to set up all sorts of highlight-reel dunks for his new teammate, provided that he’s up to the challenge of Big 12 competition.
The massive Alexander is a high-flying power forward with muscle, and he’ll get his share of jaw-dropping dunks and blocks regardless of what his teammates do.
If he’s going to put on an All-America offensive show, though, he’ll need a big year from Graham to help him do it.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Stanley Johnson has the skills to be every bit as dominant a perimeter defender as Anthony Davis was in the post in winning the 2012 Wooden Award.
Unfortunately for him, it’s a lot tougher to get recognized as a game-changer without the jaw-dropping block totals that Davis’ position helped him compile (and that combo forward Johnson won’t).
Johnson is an aggressive scorer, but he's not an especially skillful one, and he’s not the only Arizona Wildcat who needs to get to the paint to be effective on offense.
Having elite distributor T.J. McConnell at point guard will help, but don't count on a second straight All-American named Johnson for the program that pulled off a surprise by placing Nick on the first team last season.
Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU
No point guard can show off his best game without good teammates, and Emmanuel Mudiay is better fixed for those than you might think.
SMU is no Duke or Kansas, but the Mustangs battled to the title game of last year’s NIT, and three starters return from that squad.
Mudiay himself will immediately become the primary offensive option, a cannonball of a scorer in the Marcus Smart mold. He knows how to use his 6’5” frame to maximal effect, and his numbers will benefit from a down year in most of the AAC.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
In 2005, Andrew Bogut won the Wooden Award as a game-changing scorer (and a great rebounder) on a forgettable Utah team. No center has had that kind of offensive impact since, but Jahlil Okafor is ready to reverse that trend.
At 6’10” and 265 pounds, Okafor will be as physically overwhelming as any player in the country, and he has a highly developed low-post game to go with it.
Add in Duke’s outstanding shot at a Final Four berth—thanks also to a wealth of shooters and two promising point guards—and it’s hard to find anything to dislike about the chances for the Blue Devils’ new center.