With a loaded incoming freshmen class, and with the success of one-and-done stars in the 2006 class like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and Brandan Wright, the pressure is on for some of the biggest names in recent high school basketball history. O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Love are just a few of the kids who will enter campus this fall, trying to prove they can live up to the hype.
However, no one said it is going to be easy. While Love (UCLA) and Derrick Rose (Memphis) will join loaded squads with their sights set on a national title, others like Beasley (Kansas State) will join squads with more than a few holes to plug.
Here's a breakdown of the situations that some of the country's top freshmen will be entering, and whether that could hurt or help their success.
Kevin Love - F - UCLA
As noted above, Love joins a loaded Bruins squad that will be looking for a third consecutive Final Four and more. With guards Darren Collison and Josh Shipp returning, as well as forwards Alfred Aboya and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Love should be able to make a smooth transition as he adjusts to the college game. Love's toughness down low will be a big boost for the team, who had been pushed around the last two years by Florida in the NCAA Tournament. On a squad with so much experienced talent, Love might not post incredible numbers, but he will no doubt be a big part of the Bruins' success. He is a terrific rebounder, and his passing ability will fit well in UCLA's ball-controlled offense. He also possesses a strong work ethic that should endear him to Coach Ben Howland from the first day.
O.J. Mayo - G - USC
USC returns two key pieces from last year's Sweet Sixteen team in guard Daniel Hackett and forward Taj Gibson. However, most people will be surprised if this doesn't turn into the Mayo Show as soon as they roll out the balls this fall. Mayo is a supremely talented guard who is capable of playing either backcourt position. He is a fantastic athlete with good range and Coach TIm Floyd will likely give him the green light when he's on the floor. However, his decision-making and shot selection can be questionable, and his lack of experience is sure to show throughout the season. Mayo will likely end up putting up solid numbers, and will make his share of highlight reels in what promises to be his only year on campus, but USC will be hard-pressed to advance further than they did last year.
Michael Beasley - F - Kansas State
Beasley, a high-flying lefty who makes the game look downright easy, is another likely one-and-done candidate. He'll join former prep star Bill Walker and senior guard David Hoskins on a team that will fill up the highlight reels, but may not top last year's win total of 23. Beasley has the ability to dominate games but he's just as likely to coast when things don't go his way. New Coach Frank Martin definitely has a talented player in Beasley; the only question will be getting him to harness that talent. He'll get his share of shots, and he should still find himself as a high lottery pick if he chooses to enter the 2008 draft. However, his stock could drop if he doesn't show improved maturity and decision-making, especially as he battles older, more experienced players.
Derrick Rose - G - Memphis
Rose, like Love, is coming into a great situation at Memphis, where the Tigers return nearly everyone from last year's Elite Eight squad. Rose will have a plethora of weapons to get the ball to, including wings Chris Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson, as well as forwards Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier. Rose is a terrific playmaker who has great vision and a high basketball IQ. He's a great athlete who can score when necessary, but he also understands that he's not going to be asked to carry the team. With Coach John Calipari looking to push the tempo, Rose should be able to show the skills that have him pegged as a potential top-3 pick in the 2008 draft. Look for plenty of running-and-gunning as the Tigers should cruise easily through C-USA again and make a deep tournament run.
Part Two Tomorrow: Gordon, Green, Jordan, and Singler