By all accounts, college basketball welcomes an elite group of freshmen to the court in 2016-17.
It’s a contrast to last season when four seniors made first team AP All-American and two, Denzel Valentine of Michigan State and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma split the national player of the year awards.Don’t be surprised if more than one of these newcomers becomes a weekly staple on the Naismith Watch at NCAA.com this season.
Each player listed here has the skill set - and should receive the opportunity - to make an instant impact.
Dennis Smith, NC State
Last season Cat Barber ran coach Mark Gottfried’s offense. With a roster depleted by injury and a backcourt lacking experience, Barber poured in 23.5 points in 38.7 minutes per game. Barber departed for the NBA and the Wolfpack might have upgraded at the point guard position this season. Smith is from Fayetteville, an hour drive south of Raleigh. After suffering a season-ending knee injury during his senior season at Trinity Christian, he enrolled at NC State and finished his rehab there, which means he should be acclimated and rolling at full speed on opening day, Nov. 11th, as the Pack strives to return to the NCAA tournament.
Josh Jackson, Kansas
If you go to Kansas to play for Bill Self, expect to win the Big 12 championship. The Jayhawks have won 12 consecutive regular season titles and Self has 16 titles in his last 18 years of coaching. Having players like Jackson is a big part of Self’s success. A 6-7 small forward from Michigan, he’ll enter the lineup eager to put on display his tenacious rebounding. His jump shot needs to improve, but his athleticism and motor should keep him on a short list of the nation’s best.
Harry Giles / Jayson Tatum, Duke
The Blue Devils reloaded yet again, adding two premier frontcourt pieces to a solid returning roster.
Giles is a 6-10, 220-pound power forward from Winston-Salem. He’s billed as an outstanding rebounder with shooting range to 15 feet. Still, he’s likely to hurt opponents around the rim this season - assuming he’s healthy. Major knee injuries cost him all of last season at Oak Hill Academy.
for the young fans pic.twitter.com/KAMTpoMSWZ— Duke Basketball (@dukeblueplanet) September 2, 2016
Tatum is another in Coach K’s long line of smooth wing scorers. Call him a combo forward, but at 6-8, 205 pounds he’s a 1-on-1 nightmare for opponents. Wired to score, the St. Louis native should slide into the starting lineup on opening night and remain there.
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Coach Lorenzo Romar loves to turn his freshmen loose. Fultz, a 6-4, 190-pound point guard should have the ball in his hands and produce buckets for himself and his Huskies teammates. A product of the tradition-rich DeMatha HS program in Washington, D.C., he was the leading scorer in the Under Armour All-American Camp, pouring in 22 points per game. Fultz has one thing in common with Michael Jordan: both played on their high school junior varsity team as sophomores. Jordan led North Carolina to a national title as a freshman in 1982. Fultz hopes to lead the Huskies back to March Madness for the first time since 2011.
DeAaron Fox / Malik Monk, Kentucky
Pair this tandem with returning starter Isaiah Briscoe and the Wildcats could easily have the most explosive backcourt in the nation.
Fox, a 6-3 guard from Texas, is quick and dynamic. He’s effective with the ball in his hands or on the wing. His length should enable him to be a solid defender from the outset as well.
The campers loved seeing De'Aaron put in some work today in one-on-one action. pic.twitter.com/gX2UduNRUi— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) June 22, 2016
Monk is also 6-3 and a gifted scorer, pouring in 28 points per game for Bentonville (Ark.) HS to earn Player of the Year honors in his home state.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
An ESPN.com analyst compared the 6-7, 225-pound lefthander to former Wake Forest star and NBA veteran Rodney Rogers. That’s heady praise. Without question, Bridges projects as a beast on the wing, posing matchup problems for every Big 10 coach. His upper body strength and ballhandling ability will enable him to overpower smaller perimeter players and equip him to handle the bumping and banging that takes place under the boards in college basketball. Bridges is yet another native of Flint to suit up for coach Tom Izzo.