10 Freshmen Who Will Take the College Basketball World by Storm in 2014

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IIJuly 23, 2014

10 Freshmen Who Will Take the College Basketball World by Storm in 2014

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 freshman class features dozens of players who will start immediately for high-major programs.

    But which diaper dandies will shock the college basketball world in 2014-15?

    Jahlil Okafor is one name on everyone's short list of impact freshmen because of his size and developed offensive game. He'll be a focal point in Duke's offense even in November, and he has the skills to take the Blue Devils deep into the NCAA tournament. 

    He doesn't just meet three of the criteria for ranking high on this list: a high skill level and the abilities to 1) impact a team immediately and 2) lift a team to a higher level. He exceeds all three.

    Where he falls shorter than some of his peers is in the "wow factor," the ability to attract the national spotlight with highlight-reel plays. That's not to say Okafor won't land on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays a handful of times this year—just that there are freshmen who will do it more.

    Without further ado, here are the 10 freshmen who will shock the college basketball world in 2014-15.

    High-major programs are any teams in the following conferences: ACC, AAC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MWC, Pac-12, SEC.

Honorable Mentions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Trey Lyles, Kentucky

    Justin Jackson, UNC

    Myles Turner, Texas

    D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State

    Grayson Allen, Duke

10. Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kentucky's frontcourt is absolutely loaded.

    Willie Cauley-Stein. Dakari Johnson. Alex Poythress. Marcus Lee.

    Those are just the returnees from last year's national runner-up.

    Add freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. to the mix, and Kentucky has the deepest frontcourt in college basketball.

    Lyles just missed the cut for this list because he lacks the "wow" factor, and Kentucky's depth could prevent him from flourishing.

    Towns, on the other hand, is a pretty good athlete who can shoot and finish in the post. Oh, and he's 6'11" and 235 pounds.

    With his size and skill set, Towns will have a lengthy reel of highlights after his freshman year.

9. Daniel Hamilton, UConn

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    Daniel Hamilton isn't the most heralded freshman, but he will be one of the most exciting—if, at times, perplexing.

    If you watch Hamilton's highlight video, you'll see the 6'6" shooting guard nail a pair of buzzer-beaters.

    He's a confident scorer with, as his ESPN.com recruiting page notes, "a short memory." Not even a prolonged cold spell will deter Hamilton from shooting.

    As a high school senior, Hamilton averaged 20.5 points per game for St. John Bosco (note that MaxPreps stats may be incomplete).

    With Shabazz Napier suiting up for the Miami Heat, UConn will need a cold-blooded assassin late in games. Hamilton might not have Napier's experience, but he has the scoring mentality to lift his team in big moments.

    The UConn backcourt of Hamilton, Ryan Boatright and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis will be one of the most potent in the nation.

8. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

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    One of Kentucky's most halting impediments in 2013-14 was the absence of a true point guard.

    The Harrison twins were better off the ball, and Jarrod Polson couldn't compete for minutes.

    Tyler Ulis adds that vital element to Kentucky's roster. He's one of the top point guards in the class, with moves that will have fans jumping out of their seats.

    But what separates him from the pack is his size.

    No, Ulis isn't of the Michael Carter-Williams/Shaun Livingston mold. He's not a tall, rangy point guard in a small forward's body.

    He's 5'9" on a good day.

    The contrast of Ulis with the overwhelming height and length of Kentucky's roster might result in funny pictures or jokes. But we can be sure of one thing: With Kentucky's bevy of elite athletes, Ulis will treat us to plenty of alley-oops and transcendent fast breaks.

7. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    He's not the quickest. He's certainly not the tallest at his position.

    But James Blackmon Jr. will join forces with Yogi Ferrell to form the Big Ten's most potent backcourt.

    Ferrell developed tremendously as a scorer between his freshman and sophomore years at Indiana. In 2013-14, he averaged 17.3 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting from the floor and 40 percent from deep.

    Blackmon, a 6'2" shooting guard, is one of the best scorers in the 2014 class. In 21 2013-14 games registered by MaxPreps, he averaged 33.4 points for Marion High School.

    He can score in a variety of ways, and he has the developing point guard skills to run the offense from time to time.

    Indiana will probably be on the outside looking in at the preseason Top 25, but the Hoosiers' backcourt will make plenty of noise as conference play approaches.

6. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

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    Isaiah Whitehead is one of the top scorers in this class, regardless of position.

    Though he averaged 23.6 points per game to James Blackmon Jr.'s 33.4 last year, Whitehead projects to be a more dominant scorer in college. He's a strong guard who will only get stronger, and he'll be Seton Hall's first, second and third option in 2014-15.

    Seton Hall won't be much—if any—better than it has been in recent years, but Whitehead will enrapture national audiences anyway with his acrobatic finishes around the rim.

5. Kelly Oubre, Kansas

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    Following in Andrew Wiggins' footsteps as Kansas' next great wing won't be easy, but Kelly Oubre has the skills to excite the college basketball world.

    Oubre is an athlete. He's a dunker. He's a scorer.

    The 6'7" wing shot and dunked his way to 22 points per game at Findlay Prep last year. In Kansas' offense, he'll have plenty of opportunities for both types of scoring, as the Jayhawks lost four of their top six scorers from a season ago.

    Oubre will have a chance to be the top offensive contributor on one of the nation's best teams in 2014-15.

4. Tyus Jones, Duke

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Tyus Jones' recruiting page on ESPN.com says, "From the neck up there's no one better in the class of 2014."

    In other words, scouts love Jones' decision-making ability as a true point guard. He'll be the maestro of efficiency for a Duke offense that has consistently ranked near the top of KenPom.com's offensive efficiency charts.

    While Kentucky's Tyler Ulis will charm crowds with his size—and, yes, playmaking ability, too—he will have to share time at the point with the Harrison twins.

    Jones, meanwhile, is Duke's point guard. Quinn Cook will shift to the 2, a position that suits him better, and Jones will be the primary ball-handler.

    With the Blue Devils' wealth of offensive options—and the tendency to hum along like a well-oiled machine, even without an elite point guard like Jones—the 6'1" floor general will have plenty of opportunities to impress national audiences with his playmaking ability.

    Jones elevates Duke from a title contender to one of the top title favorites.

3. Jahlil Okafor, Duke

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    If you like watching the archaic art of a developed back-to-the-basket game at the college level, Jahlil Okafor is your guy.

    Okafor has all the moves to be a top pick in the 2015 NBA draft. First, he'll headline a loaded Duke roster that has as good of a chance as any to cut down the nets in April.

    Okafor might not be flashy, but he'll take Duke well past the round of 64. The Blue Devils will rely on his inside presence from day one.

2. Cliff Alexander, Kansas

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    Cliff Alexander knows how to tease people.

    Just ask Illinois fans or any opponent who thought he had a clear path to the rim.

    Alexander is a 6'9" beast of a freshman. You need only one look at him to know he's ready to step in and lift a team to another level.

    Alexander is a different kind of rim protector than Joel Embiid was for Kansas a year ago. Whereas Embiid was quietly effective, Alexander is fierce and intimidating. 

    He's not as developed offensively as Duke's Jahlil Okafor, but his penchant for making exciting plays helped him surpass his fellow Chicagoan. 

    Watch him not just swat but absolutely spike shots into the stands like an All-American volleyball player. And the dunks, too. Nothing scares this guy.

    He and Perry Ellis will complement each other well in the frontcourt, and the potential high-low action between the two of them could be a beautiful thing to watch.

    Alexander will have his fair share of SportsCenter Top 10 appearances by season's end.

1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona

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    By season's end, Stanley Johnson will be the household name on a top team in the country.

    Arizona is loaded with returnees from last year's Elite Eight squad, and Johnson will take the Wildcats to another level.

    The 6'7" shooting guard can shoot. He can drive. He can defend.

    He's not just good at those skills. He's elite. Not just for his age, but for all of college basketball.

    MaxPreps says Johnson averaged 25.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in 2013-14, as he led Mater Dei to a fourth straight state championship. Yes, he's a winner, as well.

    With the handles to break ankles and the athleticism to rattle the rim, Johnson will be a must-watch every time Arizona grabs a national TV slot.