Under-the-Radar Freshmen to Watch in 2014-15 CBB Season
Hoops fans have already heard the names of the most hyped freshmen arriving for the 2014-15 college basketball season—the Jahlil Okafors and Myles Turners—but there are plenty of others who will make major contributions.
Just as unheralded Texas point guard Isaiah Turner became an immediate hit last year, there are sure to be a few lesser-known newcomers who remind fans that recruiting rankings are far from an exact science.
One of Turner’s new Big 12 rivals who’s hoping to make that kind of impact is Devonte Graham. Overshadowed in a point guard class headlined by Duke-bound Tyus Jones, Graham will be taking over the PG spot at Kansas, with all the pressure that entails.
Read on for more on Graham, along with more incoming freshmen who couldn’t crack the Top 25 in the national rankings (ESPN, Rivals.com or Scout.com) but will still play vital roles for their new teams in 2014-15.
Dominic Magee, Memphis
After enjoying the luxury of a senior-laden backcourt in 2013-14, Memphis will pay the price in inexperience next season. JUCO transfers will fill some of the holes, but the key to the rebuilding project is Dominic Magee.
Magee is an aggressive 6’3” point guard who will have no trouble pushing the tempo to Josh Pastner’s satisfaction. The Tigers’ prospects as a team will hinge on how quickly he can build a rapport with standout forwards Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols.
Paschal Chukwu, Providence
Even in the Big East, 7’1” centers are a rare commodity. Paschal Chukwu isn’t the most adept offensive player, but he’s a first-rate shot-blocker who should give an instant boost to the Friars’ lackluster defense.
Chukwu will also contribute as a rebounder, though his lack of raw muscle will cost him in that area. Fortunately for Providence, few opponents will be able to handle the freshman’s length and veteran LaDontae Henton’s strength at the same time.
Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams will need time to rescue the floundering Virginia Tech program, but his hiring has paid immediate dividends in recruiting.
The prize of the new coach’s incoming class is Ahmed Hill, the 6’5” shooting guard whom Williams had originally recruited for Marquette.
Hill has a well-rounded scoring repertoire, but his feel for the game is his strongest asset. He’ll be able to chip in some minutes running the offense, which will be welcome news to returning point guard Devin Wilson (34.9 minutes per game last season).
Elbert Robinson, LSU
You have to go back to the days of Shaquille O’Neal and Stanley Roberts to find an LSU center who can match the Brobdingnagian frame of Elbert Robinson. The 300-pound 7-footer can only hope his long-term career goes more like Shaq’s did.
Like the lumbering Roberts, Robinson faces concerns about his weight getting out of control, but he does have terrific hands to go with his mass.
He’s also a skilled post scorer, adding a third significant weapon to a frontcourt that already includes Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
Abdul-Malik Abu, North Carolina State
Center BeeJay Anya has a lot to contribute to the N.C. State Wolfpack in 2014-15, but the 300-pounder isn't much help on the fast break. Abdul-Malik Abu, on the other hand, is just the big man N.C. State needs to finish its transition opportunities.
Abu is a high-motor combo forward with muscle to spare at 6’8”, 235 pounds. He’s a respectable mid-range shooter, but he’ll be even more valuable to Mark Gottfried's team with his physical rebounding.
Alex Robinson, Texas A&M
In the kind of defensive slugfests Texas A&M wants to play, the Aggies offense needs to make every possession count.
That didn’t exactly happen last season for the nation’s 251st-ranked team in field-goal percentage, but Alex Robinson’s arrival is a step in the right direction.
Robinson is a penetrating point guard who will be able to take some of the offensive load off returning floor leader Alex Caruso.
The two will also be able to share the backcourt effectively, with the freshman’s fine three-point touch and the junior’s 6’5” height providing each guard with some advantages while playing off the ball.
Brekkott Chapman, Utah
Brekkott Chapman isn’t the primary factor in making Utah one of the most dangerous sleeper teams in any power conference, but he certainly doesn’t hurt its cause.
The heady combo forward is comfortable enough on the perimeter to fit in with the guard-heavy Utes while still providing some welcome size at 6’8”.
Chapman will add yet another three-point threat to the diverse Utah attack. Like veteran Jordan Loveridge, he’s also an unusually skilled passer from the frontcourt.
JaKeenan Gant, Missouri
Missouri’s going to have a lot to worry about after losing its entire starting backcourt, but offensive rebounding shouldn’t be among the Tigers' problems.
Not only does standout sophomore Johnathan Williams III specialize in crashing the offensive boards, but top freshman JaKeenan Gant does also.
Gant, whose gaunt 6'8", 210-pound build resembles Williams', also has similarly eye-opening leaping ability.
He won’t have an easy time holding post position against bruising SEC forwards, but he’ll make up for it by beating them off the dribble or hitting an occasional mid-range jumper.
Paul White, Georgetown
As a high schooler, Paul White has had the unenviable task of playing alongside the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class, Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor.
The 6’8” White isn’t in the same league as his Whitney Young teammate, but he still has plenty to contribute to a Georgetown squad that needs more production from its front line.
Foremost among those assets is a smooth jump shot that will help take some of the scoring load off of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
White is also an outstanding passer, so he should fit cleanly into the Hoyas’ version of the Princeton offense.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Renowned for his competitiveness, Angel Delgado won't be hurting for challenges to overcome at Seton Hall. While celebrated classmate Isaiah Whitehead sparks the offense, Delgado will need to keep the Pirates’ undermanned front line from getting overrun.
The Bronx native doesn’t have great length at 6’8”, but he’s still a premier rebounder. He’s also a stout defender who will help cushion the loss of defensive superstar Fuquan Edwin.
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Seniors Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis provide a nice foundation for Xavier to stay competitive in the Big East, but neither is equipped to be a primary scorer.
For that job, the Musketeers will need to turn to a much less experienced source: small forward Trevon Bluiett.
Bluiett is a terrific jump-shooter who moves well without the ball, and he’ll find himself on the end of plenty of Davis’ assists next season. At 6’5”, 205 pounds, he also loves to take smaller defenders inside where he can overpower them.
Goodluck Okonoboh, UNLV
UNLV had the second-leading shot-blocker in the country last season in Khem Birch (who went undrafted in June). It’s not impossible that Goodluck Okonoboh, the Rebels’ new rim protector, could turn out to be even better.
Okonoboh is built very much like Birch, an undersized (6’9”) but mobile center who prowls the paint, culling weak shots from the herd.
He won’t do much scoring himself, but with Rashad Vaughn also in this year’s UNLV freshman class, there won’t be too many shots to go around anyway.
Devonte Graham, Kansas
Kansas’ incoming freshman class includes two of the most surefire NBA prospects in the country.
Devonte Graham is neither of them, but he may have more to say about the ultimate success of the Jayhawks’ season than either Cliff Alexander or Kelly Oubre Jr. will.
Along with sophomore Frank Mason, Graham will be charged with running the point for the loaded KU offense.
The younger guard has shown enough promise as a distributor to serve as a solid replacement for the transferred Naadir Tharpe, and he can't be ignored as a scoring threat himself.
Reid Travis, Stanford
Losing Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis in one swoop is enough to do a number on any team’s rebounding ability, but Stanford has help on the way.
Reid Travis—whose cousin Ross Travis has been showing his rebounding chops for three seasons at Penn State—is just the kind of bruiser Johnny Dawkins needs right now.
Although the 6’7”, 240-pound Travis has a nice touch on his jump shot, power is really his calling card. He won’t replace Huestis’ shot blocking, but he’s a dogged defender who knows how to push taller post players out of position.
JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
JaQuan Lyle committed to Oregon in March, when it looked like he would have to spend a year or more caddying for veteran point guard Dominic Artis.
However, Artis’ Oregon career was among many casualties of a sexual-assault scandal this summer, leaving Lyle in line to take over as the No. 1 floor general in Eugene.
That means he’ll have the enviable task of feeding one of the nation’s best returning scorers, Pac-12 POY contender Joseph Young.
The pairing is a good fit with Lyle’s skill set, as the youngster is a fine penetrator and passer but lacks Young’s deadeye three-point shot.
Terry Larrier, Virginia Commonwealth
There are only so many high-level basketball prospects who fit in with Shaka Smart’s exhausting "Havoc" defense at VCU. There are even fewer who come in 6’7” packages, which is what makes Terry Larrier such a welcome addition to the Rams’ roster.
The speedy Larrier will be a terror defensively, using his long arms to create a blockade in passing lanes.
On offense, he's enough of a three-point threat to help space the floor, but his biggest value may be as a passer. He can take some pressure off defensive specialist Briante Weber by shouldering some of the playmaking duties from his small forward spot.
Jordan McLaughlin, USC
Coach Andy Enfield arrived at USC with rent-a-point-guard Pe’Shon Howard in tow. Howard’s final year of eligibility is now in the books, but the erstwhile Dunk City coach has a long-term solution to his offensive problems in Jordan McLaughlin.
McLaughlin has the speed, passing touch and ball-handling dexterity to thrive in Enfield’s wide-open attack. He can also put plenty of points on the board in his own right—no small consideration for a team that loses its top four scorers from a year ago.
Romelo Trimble, Maryland
Joining a Maryland team without a functional point guard, Romelo Trimble is likely going to spend most of his time at that position. Don’t think, though, that he won’t do plenty of scoring in the process.
The 6’2” Trimble is strong for a guard, allowing him to outmuscle smaller defenders in the paint if he doesn’t shoot over them from the outside.
He and veteran star Dez Wells will be able to play off each other in drive-and-kick or two-man situations, and both players know how to finish at the rim when they get the chance.
Leron Black, Illinois
Leron Black is far from a traditional Big Ten power forward, carrying just 215 pounds on a 6’7” frame. However, for an Illinois squad that doesn’t have many power forwards of any kind, he’s a valuable addition.
Black rebounds with quickness rather than bulk, outhustling opponents with the same mobility that makes him a terrific fast-break finisher. He’ll add toughness on defense alongside Nnanna Egwu and even knock down a jump shot or two.
Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse
Eventually, you’d think Jim Boeheim’s luck will have to run out.
Untested Michael Carter-Williams became a star at point guard in 2012-13, jumped to the NBA, and was replaced by freshman Tyler Ennis. Ennis, too, became an instant sensation, serving up last-second heroics during a 25-0 start and turning pro himself.
Now, it’s Kaleb Joseph’s turn to keep the streak going.
Joseph doesn’t have the hype that came along with either of his predecessors, but he does feature strong ball-handling skills and a steady jump shot. His 6’3” length will make him a weapon at the top of Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, too.