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 Two: Almost Certain Starters, Probable Starters, All-Rookie Team
Almost Certain Starters
Connecticut – Hasheem Thabeet (7’2” Center): Ranked #11 by HoopScoop, #39 by Scout, #59 by PrepStars, and #67 by Hoopmasters, Thabeet moved up the charts incredibly quickly this past spring and summer. There is even talk he might stay in Storrs for only one year before leaving for the NBA, though that talk is premature. Based on reports, UConn fans can expect him to be an aggressive rebounder and an intimidating defensive presence. However, his offensive game is reportedly raw, certainly not NBA-ready. Still, he is almost guaranteed the starting position for Coach Jim Calhoun’s squad beginning the first day of practice.
Marquette – Lazar Hayward (6’6” Power Forward): Ranked #73 by Rivals and #78 by Hoopmasters, as well as the #6 fifth-year player by HoopScoop and #8 fifth-year player by Scout, Hayward is generally listed as either a small forward or a shooting guard in these rankings. However, he will most likely start at the 4 for Coach Tom Crean in a four-out/one-in offense. Hayward is an excellent outside shooter who is being counted on to play the same role Steve Novak did last year. Unlike Novak, however, Hayward is capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving or pulling up for a mid-range jumper. The primary question is whether he can defend bigger power forwards in the paint in the Big East. At this point he has not gained NCAA Clearinghouse eligibility, but MU’s staff seems optimistic he will be available this year.
Seton Hall – Eugene Harvey (5’11” Point Guard): Ranked #67 by Rivals, #73 by PrepStars, #75 by Hoopmasters, and #97 by Scout, as well as the #2 prep school graduate by HoopScoop, Harvey will take over at the point from Day One at Seton Hall. A pure point guard, Harvey is an excellent ball handler and passer. He is quick enough to get into the paint and to defend on the perimeter. However, at only 155 pounds, he may have trouble matching up with bigger, stronger point guards. Not a particularly good outside shooter, Harvey nevertheless will have to find ways to score for the Pirates since there isn’t much offensive firepower up front.
Syracuse – Paul Harris (6’4” Guard): Ranked #5 by Hoopmasters, #10 by Scout, #11 by PrepStars, #12 by Rivals, as well as #1 among prep school graduates by HoopScoop, Harris is the highest-ranked incoming freshman in the conference. Though his natural position would be either off guard or small forward, he will likely have to play point for the Orange since he has better ball-handling and passing skills than Eric Devendorf, and Josh Wright has yet to show he is capable of forcing either of these players to come off the bench. Harris is an incredible athlete who has superb quickness and leaping ability. Unlike most freshmen, he also has the strength to play right away in the Big East. The bottom line is that Harris is
simply too talented to keep off the floor. He could be the only freshman to make one of the all-conference teams.
Villanova – Scottie Reynolds (6’0” Shooting Guard): Ranked #32 by PrepStars, #33 by Scout, #33 by HoopScoop, #42 by Hoopmasters, and #76 by Rivals, Reynolds is generally listed as a point guard. However, veteran Mike Nardi will likely run the point with Reynolds playing off guard. He’s an excellent perimeter shooter, one of the best in the Class of 2006. Playing in tandem with Nardi means the Wildcats will have an undersized backcourt, but that hasn’t deterred Coach Jay Wright in the past as most Big East followers know. There really aren’t many other viable options for Nova in the backcourt, so Reynolds will get significant minutes. Look for him to be one of the leading scorers among conference freshmen this season.
Connecticut – Jerome Dyson (6’3” Shooting Guard): Ranked #29 by HoopScoop, #42 by PrepStars, #43 by Scout, #52 by Rivals, and #53 by Hoopmasters, Dyson may not be in the starting lineup early in the year, but he should be no later than the beginning of the conference season. He has a reputation as a deadly outside shooter, who can also score from mid-range. The Huskies are going to need his perimeter shooting since only A.J. Price, who will likely start at point guard, is also viewed as an outside threat. It’s possible that sophomore Craig Austrie may join Price in the backcourt, especially early in the year, but Dyson brings too much to the table to come off the bench for long, if at all.
Georgetown – Vernon Macklin (6’9” Power Forward): Ranked #12 by PrepStars,# 14 by HoopScoop, #17 by Scout, #18 by Hoopmasters, #37 by Rivals, Macklin may be so talented that he forces Jeff Green to play the 3 rather than the 4. Macklin is a terrific athlete. He is quick with excellent leaping ability. Offensively, he is most likely to score on offensive rebounds and dunks as well as in transition as he likes to run the court. Macklin could come off the bench if Coach John Thompson lll opts to keep Green at the 4, in which case another freshman may start at the 3 (see “Possible Starters”).
West Virginia – Da’Sean Butler (6’7” Small Forward): Ranked #68 by Scout, Butler seems to be the perfect fit for coach John Beilein’s offensive system. He is a solid outside shooter, and he has a reputation as being a smart player. He also brings some much-needed athleticism to the roster. Butler is not one of the highest rated freshmen, but he finds himself in the right place at the right time. The Mountaineers would like him to put on some weight and gain some added strength, but they don’t have the luxury of waiting for that to happen before he gets major minutes. He’ll make his share of rookie mistakes in Beilein’s system, both offensively and defensively. But he brings too much too much talent to the program to sit on the bench.
Pre-Season All Freshmen Team Predictions
The 10 players identified for these teams are not necessarily the most talented in their class. Nor are they necessarily the players who will have the most significant impact down the road. Some of them will simply have more opportunities as freshmen to gain playing time. I’ve decided to take a traditional approach to these teams: five players each, including a point guard, an off guard, a small forward, a power forward, and a center.
Point Guard: Paul Harris (Syracuse)
Off Guard: Jerome Dyson (Connecticut)
Small Forward: Stanley Robinson (Connecticut)
Power Forward: Vernon Macklin (Georgetown)
Center: Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut)
Point Guard: Eugene Harvey (Seton Hall)
Off Guard: Scottie Reynolds (Villanova)
Small Forward: Da’Sean Butler (West Virginia)
Power Forward: Lazar Hayward (Marquette)
Center: Hamady N’Diaye (Rutgers)