October 26, 2006

Freshman class will be among best ever

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Without hyperbole, it's fair to say this will be one of the best freshman classes of all time.

Why such bombast? Because this class has no escapees. The NBA closed the hatch.

This is the first group affected by the NBA age restriction, meaning no one was able to jump directly from the prep ranks to the league. In the past five years, 26 high school players have been taken in the NBA Draft, and 19 of them were first-round picks.

There is little doubt this class had some players who could have and would have gone to the NBA. Instead, college basketball fans get to enjoy them for at least one season. Good luck talking them into longer stays on campus.

Here are the Rivals.com 2006-07 Preseason Freshman All-American teams:

First Team
Tywon Lawson, G, North Carolina, 5-11, 182
Reports out of Chapel Hill are that Lawson is ready to start for Roy Williams from Day One. He's powerfully built for his size, but he still has explosiveness and can get in the lane and create shots for himself and for teammates. Lawson is known for his quickness and floor leadership. With sophomore Tyler Hansbrough and fellow freshman Brandan Wright in the frontcourt, his assist numbers should be astronomical.
Daequan Cook, G, Ohio State, 6-5, 210
The Buckeyes lost four starters and more than 60 percent of their scoring from last season's Big Ten championship team. Enter the "Thad Five," a stellar class signed by head coach Thad Matta that includes three McDonald's All-Americans (including fellow Rivals.com preseason first-teamer Greg Oden). Cook is one of them, and he is expected to help pick up some of the scoring slack. He has great range on his jumper and can finish at the rim as well.
Paul Harris, F, Syracuse, 6-5, 220
The striking thing about Paul Harris is how physically ready he is for the college game and beyond. He has wide shoulders, is packed with muscle and can jump out of the gym. He rebounds as well as anyone his size in the country. He's not a great shooter at this point, but his all-around game will be on display from Day One for the Orangemen.
Kevin Durant, F, Texas, 6-9, 225
Rivals.com's No. 1 small forward in the country, Durant would have been an NBA lottery pick. Instead, he'll light up the scoreboard in Austin for a year. He has an advanced offensive game, featuring a smooth shooting stroke and plenty of range. Durant has added 20 pounds since arriving at school, and that should help him assert himself more on the defensive end.
Greg Oden, C, Ohio State, 7-0, 280
Oden, the top-ranked player in the 2007 class by Rivals.com, won't be available until January after undergoing wrist surgery. So Buckeyes fans eager to see the dominant big man will have to grin and bear it. But it will be worth it. His impact on defense will be felt immediately, and he'll keep defenders honest and sagging in on offense, thus opening things for his perimeter mates. Oden has such potential that he could be an All-American even with just a three-month season.
Second Team
Javaris Crittenton, G, Georgia Tech, 6-5, 198
Crittenton was Rivals.com's No. 1-rated point guard in the class of 2006, but he's not your typical point. He's a big, physical player who wants to take smaller players into the paint. He has a quick first step, plays hard and defends very well. His main deficiency at this point is his outside shooting, which will need to improve to allow him more room for his preferred forays to the hoop.
Chase Budinger, G, Arizona, 6-7, 190
Budinger, the No. 4 player in the class by Rivals and No. 2 small forward, shared MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American game with Kevin Durant. Budinger displayed his all-around game with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, three rebounds, three steals, four assists and one turnover in 21 minutes of play. He's athletic and shoots it well, but will need to work on his handle.
Brandan Wright, F, North Carolina, 6-9, 205
Wright has a wingspan of nearly 7-2, allowing him to block shots from all kinds of angles without fouling. He will be a force defensively from the get-go. He also has a surprisingly good handle for a big man and good bounce. He will need to add muscle to a skinny, angular frame and try not to get pushed around early in his career.
Gerald Henderson, G, Duke, 6-5, 210
Henderson will need to be as good as advertised (Rivals.com's No. 2 shooting guard), because the Blue Devils will need his scoring. He moves very well without the ball, knows how to get open, and knocks down shots when he has them. He has a high basketball IQ. He's not particularly strong at putting the ball on the floor, but you can bet it will come.
Spencer Hawes, C, Washington, 6-11, 245
Hawes was Rivals.com's No. 6 prospect in the class and the No. 2 center behind Oden. He has an advanced offensive game and figures to help the Huskies pick up the scoring slack created by the departure of Brandon Roy. He may struggle on the defensive end, where he'll need to add some bulk.
The Rivals Five
Rivals.com's leading basketball analysts agreed on a list of five sleepers in the freshman class, all players rated outside Rivals.com's top 25. Here is the list, presented in alphabetical order:
1. D.J. Augustin, G, Texas (Rivals.com No. 49)
2. Wayne Chism, F, Tennessee (Rivals.com No. 34)
3. Jerome Dyson, G, Connecticut (Rivals.com No. 53)
4. Raymar Morgan, F, Michigan State (Rivals.com No. 33)
5. Tyler Smith, F, Iowa (Rivals.com No. 43)


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