The high school class of 2006
strolled into the world of college basketball touted by at least one observer –
me – as, quite possibly, the most gifted since its 1979 counterpart.
For those whose memory fails you,
and those who were not residing on the planet Earth then, some of the freshmen
who had major impacts on the 1979-80 college season included Ralph Sampson (Virginia), Sam Bowie (Kentucky), James Worthy (North Carolina), Dominique Wilkins (Georgia), Clark Kellogg (Ohio State), Terry Cummings (DePaul), Steve Stipanovich (Missouri),
Byron Scott (Arizona State), Antoine Carr and Cliff
Levingston (Wichita State), a foursome of Darren Daye, Rod Foster,
Michael Holton and Cliff Pruitt who helped UCLA become a surprise
national championship finalist under Larry Brown, and a decent guard who
eventually led Indiana University to a 1981 national title in what proved to be
his final college season.
You may recall his name: Isiah
Time will provide the courtroom in
which to judge whether the accomplishments, as college and NBA players, of the
current crop of freshmen even approach the 1979-80 group. And that class even
produced a couple of current NBA head coaches (Thomas and Scott, for the
NBA-challenged among you).
Barely a week into the season, here
are some of the freshmen that have been delivering the goods:
*Thaddeus Young and
Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech)
The real litmus test comes in the
Lahaina Civic Center during next week’s EA Sports Maui Invitational, when the
Yellow Jackets open with Purdue and then face either Memphis or Oklahoma in the
But the 6-foot-8 Young (14.5 points
and 4.0 rebounds per game) and the 6-5 Crittenton (14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 7.5
assists per game) immediately joined in on the fun as their team slapped Elon
and Jackson State around by 34 and 30 points, respectively.
A couple of non-McDonald’s
All-American freshmen, Zeke Peacock and Mouhammad Faye, also have
gotten plenty of minutes from Coach Paul Hewitt.
The slender 6-10 wing will get a
dose of much sterner (and physical) defense during a Coaches vs. Cancer
semifinal with Michigan State Thursday night in New York City than he did during
the Longhorns’ battering of Alcorn State (by 59 points) and Chicago State (by
26) in Austin.
But it’s difficult to nitpick
Durant’s assertiveness or his numbers (20.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg) in those
Six other freshmen also had
impressive moments for Coach Rick Barnes, including starters Damion James (13.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg) and D.J. Augustin (10.0 ppg and 8.0
Coach Jim Boeheim didn’t
start the guy expected to be the Big East’s most influential freshmen while the
Orange coasted to three victories in the Carrier Dome last weekend.
But the 6-4, 225-pound Harris made
the most of his average 23.7 minutes, with 9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpb and 2.3
*Brandan Wright and Wayne Ellington (North Carolina)
They started in the team’s opener
against Sacred Heart but Tywon Lawson came off the bench for 10 points,
four rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes.
It’s worthy writing once again:
This is a very, very deep Tar Heels’ team.
Making his college debut just a few
days after being cleared to practice following October knee surgery, the 6-11
player with the Husky bloodlines (both his father and uncle played at the UW)
didn’t waste any time in demonstrating why he was rated the top west coast high
school player in his class.
Hawes, possibly already the best
passer in a Pac-10 program, had 12 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four
blocked shots in only 19 minutes in the team’s opener against Pepperdine in
Seattle Sunday night.
Two nights later, in a game in
which the Huskies trailed Northern Iowa much of the way, he had 16 points, seven
rebounds and three blocked shots as they improved to 3-0 with a 70-61
Coach Lorenzo Romar has the
conference’s best freshmen class (yeah, it’s better than Arizona’s and UCLA’s),
and forward Quincy Pondexter (13.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg) was pegged a starter
by Romar very early on during practice.
One could suggest that only the
ACC, and possibly the Big East and Big 12, has an overall group of freshmen that
is the equal of or superior to that of the Pac-10.
Stanford’s Robin Lopez had
eye-popping numbers (14 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots) in the
Cardinal’s opener with Sienna before foul issues limited him to 16 minutes – in
which he had 12 points, three blocks but only two rebounds – Tuesday night
against San Jose State.
His twin, Brook Lopez, is
expected to begin working out in a couple of weeks following recovery from
August back surgery. The forcefulness that the Lopez brothers play will
impact the conference race immediately.
Chase Budinger was
exceptional at times (at least, offensively) while scoring 17 points in
Arizona’s 93-90 loss at Virginia Sunday night.
Coach Lute Olson looks like
he intends to give two other freshmen, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise,
every opportunity to be a part of his regular rotation.
And there hasn’t been a more
productive – and, for that matter, surprising – freshman anywhere in the country
than in Eugene, Ore., where 5-6 Tajuan Porter dropped 27, 28 and 38
points on Lehigh, Cal State Northridge and Portland State in successive games in
McArthur Court last weekend.
He was 21 of 34 on 3-point
attempts. And he is 5-6!
BOUNCING AROUND THE
*OK, how many of you out there had
penciled in Butler into the semifinals your NIT Season Tip-Off pairings before
the event started?
It was gutsy of you to project the
Bulldogs to beat Notre Dame (71-69) and Indiana (60-55) Monday and Tuesday
evenings. Now Coach Todd Lickliter’s team gets a pop at Tennessee in
Madison Square Garden next Wednesday night.
Not bad for a team projected to
finish fourth (by Lindy’s) and seventh (by Sporting News) in the Horizon League
in a couple of preseason magazines.
*I told a lot of people over the
past month ``don’t be surprised to see DePaul beat Kentucky in the first round
off the EA Sports Maui Invitational”.
After the Blue Demons’ 20-point and
11-point losses at Bradley and Northwestern, am I still offering that
Uh . . . sure. I’m just not going
to offer it quite so boldly.
*Two intriguing match-ups on the
west coast Wednesday night: Air Force at Stanford (a College Basketball
Experience second-rounder) and Baylor at Gonzaga (for the right to go to Madison
Square Garden next week for the NIT event).
Air Force survived 19 turnovers
(and early foul trouble by Nick Welch) to beat Big West Conference
favorite Long Beach State, 69-68, Wednesday night in Maples Pavilion.
The winner off the Falcons-Stanford
game gets to take on Duke Monday night in Kansas City.
Gonzaga, which has gotten 22- and
25-point performances out of 6-10 Josh Heytvelt in wins over Eastern
Washington and Rice, will play North Carolina in an NIT semifinal next week with
a victory over the Bears in Spokane.
Of course, that Gonzaga-UNC game is
also contingent on the Tar Heels beating Winthrop in Charlotte Wednesday night.
OK, I’m being a tad sarcastic. It could actually be a pretty good
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at
email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at