Big East Impact Freshmen: Part One
Some of these individuals will find themselves in the starting lineup at some point in the year – either from the beginning of the season or at some later juncture. Others will come off the bench all season but play significant roles, while others will be limited-role players, hardly seeing the court. A few of the 56 may red shirt, and at least one, Rob Thomas at St. John’s , will sit out as a partial qualifier beginning second semester.
At least eight freshmen are likely to start either every game or a majority of games this season. Others are possible starters. Many factors, including injuries to teammates, can, of course, drastically change situations, but, barring serious injuries, as many as 18 freshmen could become starters during the 2006-2007 season.
Part One: Today - Role Players, Almost Certainly Won't Start, Possible Starters
Part Two: Tomorrow - Almost Certain Starters, Probable Starters, All-Rookie Team
Cincinnati – Deonta Vaughn (6’0” Point Guard): Though his highest ranking is #128 (by PrepStars), Vaughn will battle junior college transfer Timmy Crowell for the starting position. Vaughn is more of a scorer than Crowell, but the eventual starter will likely be whichever player can consistently get the ball inside to the Bearcats’ big men as well as the one who is better able to defend against top-level conference point guards.
Connecticut – Stanley Robinson (6’9” Forward): Ranked #14 by Rivals, #21 by Hoopmasters, #23 by Scout, #25 by PrepStars, and #27 by HoopScoop, Robinson is definitely one of the most talented frontcourt players in his class. Though he is usually listed as a power forward, sophomore Jeff Adrien has that spot locked up. Another sophomore, Marcus Johnson, will probably get first shot at the small forward position, but Robinson could beat him out. Calhoun is going to have to find ways to get this talented frosh some meaningful minutes, which will not be easy, especially with another power forward, classmate Curtis Kelly, in the picture as well.
De Paul – Will Walker (6’0” Point Guard): Ranked #81 by Scout, #84 by HoooScoop, #93 by Hoopmasters, and #95 by Rivals, Walker is viewed by many De Paul fans as the favorite to be the starting point guard this season. He is extremely quick, can handle the ball, and has excellent range on his jumper. However, I’m not convinced he will unseat sophomore Jabari Currie, who, although inconsistent at times last season, has a year’s experience in the Big East as well as a height advantage in his favor. Though most think it is unlikely, I’m also not convinced that Coach Jerry Wainwright won’t go with a combination of veterans Sammy Mejia and Draelon Burns at the guard spots alongside Karron Clarke at small forward, with Mejia running the show. The Demons are deep and talented on the perimeter. Walker may well get significant minutes, but he’ll have to beat out both Burns and Currie to work his way into the starting lineup.
Georgetown – DaJaun Summers (6’8” Power Forward): Ranked #22 by Scout, #23 by Rivals, #26 by Hoopmasters, #26 by HoopScoop, and # 44 by PrepStars, Summers could easily break into the Hoya starting lineup, either at the 3 or the 4, if he can beat out classmate Vernon Macklin as well as transfer Patrick Ewing, Jr. He might be a bit more comfortable in Georgetown ’s Princeton-style passing game than Macklin, which could give him an edge in that battle. I wouldn’t be surprised if Summers starts alongside Green and center Roy Hibbert in the frontcourt. Georgetown has more talent up front than any other team in the league. There will be some intense competition for playing time during Hoya practices.
Louisville – Edgar Sosa (6’2” Point Guard): Ranked #34 by HoopScoop, #64 by Scout, #66 by Hoopmasters, #71 by PrepStars, and #74 by Rivals, Sosa will battle sophomore Andre McGee for the starting point guard position. McGee’s experience gives him a bit of an edge, but Coach Rick Pitino will probably go with whichever player makes better decisions and plays better overall defense.
Notre Dame – Luke Harangody (6’8” Center/Power Forward): Ranked #64 by HoopScoop, #71 by Scout, and #82 by Hoopmasters, Harangody could push his way into the starting lineup if he can provide more interior offense and rebounding than either junior Rob Kurz or sophomore Luke Zeller. He could also start in combination with one of those two players if Coach Mike Brey decides to go with a bigger lineup, which would probably move Russell Carter from the 4 to the 3, Colin Falls from the 3 to the 2, Kyle McAlarney from the 2 to the 1, and freshman Tory Jackson to the bench. That lineup, however, probably lacks sufficient speed and athleticism to match up with most other Big East teams.
Notre Dame - Tory Jackson (6’0” Point Guard): Ranked #64 by PrepStars and #93 by Scout, Jackson brings quickness and athleticism to the Irish backcourt. While Brey may opt for size over speed, in which case Jackson comes off the bench, Jackson is the best bet to defend the numerous ultra-quick lead guards in the conference. He is also the only guard on the roster who can break down opposing defenses off the dribble and kick it out to one of Notre Dame’s excellent perimeter shooters. Jackson will have to make the adjustment to running a team at the high D-1 level, but Dominic James, Sharaud Curry, Devan Downey, and Anthony Farmer all did excellent jobs doing just that as freshmen last year.
Providence – Dwain Williams (6’1” Guard): Though unranked by any national publication this past year, he is possibly the most intriguing recruit in the conference. After his freshman year of high school, he was viewed as a Top 50 national recruit in the Class of 2005. He moved around quite a bit and used up his four years of eligibility before graduating, so he did not play last year. He initially committed to Miami (OH), but chose to join the Friars’ program instead. He has a reputation as a prolific scorer and a solid ball handler. He won’t unseat sophomore Sharaud Curry at point guard, but he could end up working his way into the starting lineup at off guard. If that happens, Weyinmi Efejuku likely moves to the 3, sending Charlie Burch to the bench.
Rutgers – Hamady N’Diaye (6’10” Center): Ranked #68 by Rivals, #74 by HoopScoop, and #86 by Hoopmasters, N’Diaye will battle incumbent Byron Joynes for time at the 5. It’s unlikely that new head coach Fred Hill will start the year sitting his senior on the bench in favor of a freshman. N’Diaye is supposedly not much of a threat offensively, but Knight fans are hoping he can provide an intimidating presence on defense and some solid rebounding. If he can do either one, he could end up playing more than 20 mpg whether he starts or not.
West Virginia – Devan Bawinkel ((6’5” Shooting Guard): Not ranked in the Top 100 by any publications but generally viewed as being in the next tier, Bawinkel is an excellent outside shooter who also possesses the kind of court awareness necessary to play in the WVU system. The major obstacle for freshmen in Coach Beilein’s program is learning the nuances of both the offense and the defense. If Bawinkel can figure out the intricacies of the system, he could be in the starting lineup before the conference season, possibly even earlier.
Major Contributors Who Almost Certainly Won’t Start
There are a number of other talented freshmen who will almost certainly not start – barring injury to a starter – but who will likely contribute to their team and be in a typical eight-man or nine-man rotation. Quite a few of them were consensus Top 100 recruits on RSCI (a system that combines a number of rankings by various publications).
Louisville - Derrick Caracter (6’9” Power Forward): Ranked #10 by HoopScoop, #14 by PrepStars, #24 by Hoopmasters, #25 by Rivals, and #25 by Scout, Caracter is an incredibly talented offensive player who can score inside or outside. He is also a force on the boards. He would not only start, but he’d also be a potential impact player on most teams in the country as a freshman. However, it’s difficult to see his getting the starting nod at power forward over talented junior Juan Palacios, or, for that matter, at center instead of David Padgett. If Padgett’s injury keeps him on the bench, however, then Caracter could start ahead of Terrance Farley, who filled in for Padgett the last 10 games of the season in 2005-2006. I look for Caracter to get up to 20 mpg backing up at both the 4 and the 5.
Louisville - Jerry Smith (6’3” Shooting Guard): Ranked #30 by HoopScoop, #39 by Hoopmasters, #44 by Scout, #45 by PrepStars, and #82 by Rivals, Smith could begin the season in the starting lineup if senior Brandon Jenkins’ broken leg has not healed sufficiently for him to play. Even if that happens, however, once Jenkins returns, Smith will find himself coming off the bench. More of a scorer than a pure shooter, Smith is extremely athletic. He should fit in well with Coach Rick Pitino’s pressing style of defense and do well in the up-tempo, open-court transition game.
Louisville - Earl Clark (6’7” Small Forward/Shooting Guard): Ranked #18 by PrepStars, #22 by Rivals, #22 by Hoopmasters, #24 by Scout, and #36 by HoopScoop, Clark is unlikely to beat out last year’s starter at small forward, Terrence Williams. However, he could get decent minutes backing up at the 3, as well as possibly at the 2. He’s a versatile player, who does a bit of everything. The talent and potential is readily visible; the only question appears to be whether or not Clark will work hard enough to realize that potential.
Pittsburgh - Gilbert Brown (6’6” Small Forward): Ranked #66 by Rivals, #87 by Hoopmasters, and #94 by Scout, as well as #10 fifth-year player by HoopScoop, Brown gives the Panthers a taller, more athletic option at the 3 to match up with similar small forwards in the conference. Brown is extremely quick and an excellent jumper. He can score in a variety of ways, and he can be an impact player on defense. However, it’s hard to see his starting ahead of junior transfer Mike Cook.
Seton Hall - Larry Davis (Shooting Guard): Ranked #91 by PrepStars, #92 by Rivals, and #94 by HoopScoop, Davis will almost certainly not start ahead of fellow freshman Eugene Harvey at point guard, or senior Jamar Nutter at off guard. However, while junior Brian Laing has the inside track on the small forward position, Coach Bobby Gonzalez can also go with a three-guard lineup at times in which Davis plays alongside Nutter and Harvey. Plus, Davis is the primary option to back up at off guard. Given the lack of scoring punch up front, the Pirates are going to need points from the backcourt, and Davis can definitely provide his share. I can see him getting 20-25 mpg, especially if he shows the ability to defend other Big East wing players.
St. John’s – Derwin Kitchen (6’4” Shooting Guard): Ranked #91 by Hoopmasters, as well as the #9 fifth-year player by HoopScoop, Kitchen, as a member of the Class of 2005, originally committed to Florida, but when he didn’t qualify, he attended prep school. A solid scorer, Kitchen will back up senior Daryll Hill and may also get minutes as part of a three-guard lineup. Either he or junior college transfer Avery Patterson will be the first backcourt sub off the bench.
St. John’s – Qa’rraan Calhoun (6’8” Forward): Ranked as the #5 fifth-year player by Scout and the #20 fifth-year player by HoopScoop, Calhoun is a superior athlete who should see considerable playing time at either forward spot. He will be counted on even more now that another prep-school recruit, Rob Thomas, has been declared a partial qualifier who must sit out until January, 2007.
Syracuse - Mike Jones (6’7” Small Forward): Ranked #40 by Rivals, #41 by Scout, #43 by Hoopmasters, and #49 by PrepStars, Jones will play behind senior Demetris Nichols though he could also get some time at off guard. Reportedly an excellent outside shooter and a good athlete, Jones will provide some much-needed depth on the wings.
Villanova – Reggie Redding (6’4” Shooting Guard/Small Forward): Ranked #68 by PrepStars, #77 by HoopScoop, and #100 by Hoopmasters, Redding certainly will not start ahead of Curtis Sumpter and probably won’t back him up either as Shane Clark will likely fill that role. However, Redding will compete for time with sophomores Dwayne Anderson and Bilal Benn to be the primary back-up when fellow freshman Scottie Reynolds gets a breather or when Reynolds slides over to point to give Mike Nardi a rest. If he can move ahead of the two sophomores, he could get as much as 15-16 mpg; if not, he will likely find himself watching one or both sophomores get those minutes.
Each of these players will likely play behind an established veteran this year, much as UConn’s Jeff Adrien and Pitt’s Sam Young and Levance Fields did last year. In the long run, these players may have just as much impact as their counterparts who find themselves in the starting lineup this year, but they will probably have to bide their time until that day comes.
Highly Ranked Limited-Role Players
Connecticut – Curtis Kelly (6’8” Power Forward): Ranked #27 by Rivals, #32 by HoopScoop, #34 by PrepStars, #35 by Hoopmasters, and #35 by Scout, Kelly, as terrific a prospect as he is, may have trouble getting much playing time. Sophomore Jeff Adrien will certainly start at power forward and should play close to 30 mpg. That doesn’t leave much time at the 4 available. At the other forward spot, Kelly could compete with sophomore Marcus Johnson and fellow frosh Stanley Robinson for minutes. There’s a logjam at these two positions, and it says something when a Top 30 recruit (#30 on RSCI) may find himself being primarily a spectator.
Connecticut - Doug Wiggins (6'0" Point Guard): Ranked #56 by HoopScoop, #61 by PrepStars, #62 by Scout, #65 by Hoopmasters, and #84 by Rivals, Wiggins will probably find himself in a tough spot. A.J. Price is the heir-apparent to Marcus Williams at point for the Huskies, which leaves only limited back-up minutes available. Wiggins will compete for those minutes with sophomore Craig Austrie, who did a solid job for Coach Jim Calhoun last year until Williams was eligible second semester. Austrie may have an edge in terms of experience, which could leave Wiggins the odd man out. That is, quite simply, the price (no pun intended) someone has to pay in a program that recruits as many Top 50 and Top 100 players as UConn does.
Villanova - Antonio Pena (6'6" Forward): Ranked #56 by PrepStars, #75 by Rivals, and #95 by Hoopmasters, as well as the #12 fifth-year player by HoopScoop, Pena could see some minutes at power forward for the Wildcats. However, Coach Jay Wright typically has used a short rotation, and it is entirely possible that he will use a four-man rotation of seniors Curtis Sumpter and Will Sheridan and sophomores Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark through the three forward positions in a two guard, three forward lineup fans will probably see this year. At most, I expect Pena to get 10 mpg.
Check back for Part Two Tomorrow - Almost Certain Starters, Probable Starters, All-Rookie Team