The Tobacco Road swing is a popular one among NBA scouts. With Wake Forest, North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State all within two hours of one another — and usually brimming with the talent their teams desire — the average man can make a week’s work out of it. Most usually earn a long weekend.
The Tobacco Road swing is a popular one among NBA scouts.
With Wake Forest, North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State all within two hours of one another — and usually brimming with the talent their teams desire — the average man can make a week’s work out of it. Most usually earn a long weekend.
That’s why within the first few weeks of the season, Dino Gaudio had 15 scouts walk through his doors. For once, each one — versed in the latest freshman superstar to grace college basketball’s stage — all agreed on something.
“Fifteen out of 15 guys,” said Gaudio, Wake Forest’s coach. “They all said that none of those kids are ready. ‘This one needs to get stronger, this one needs to improve his 3-point shooting, this one needs to improve his back-to-the-basket skills, this one needs to improve his left hand.’ To a man, all 15 of those guys said they’re going to be good players. But they absolutely have so many things they need to work on.”
This isn’t your older brother’s freshman class. There are no Odens, Durants or Beasleys. Hold the Mayo, and smell the Roses. If you’re searching for Love, look elsewhere.
This year’s class of first-year players — from the highly touted Tyreke Evans and Samardo Samuels to an under-the-radar star like Seth Curry — is talented and exciting. Many college coaches just don’t expect them to be if they’re playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder next year.
“I think there are some terrific players,” said Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who has one himself in guard Willie Warren. “But you talk about Michael Beasley and (Derrick) Rose and Kevin Love, you look at (Eric) Gordon. There have been some really good freshmen (this year) but none that stand out and really pop at you.”
Since 2006, when the new age-limit rule in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement went into effect, college basketball became inundated with fabulous freshmen making their mandatory one-year pit stop.
That first season, Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook led Ohio State to the national championship, Kevin Durant won national player of the year, and in total, nine freshmen were drafted in 2007. Oden went No. 1, Durant No. 2 and Conley Jr., No. 4.
Last winter, even more talent arrived. Rose led Memphis to the national title game, and went first overall in the 2008 draft. Beasley, the No. 2 pick, was top three in the nation in points per game (26.2, third) and rebounds (12.4, first). O.J. Mayo simply averaged 20.1 points before going No. 3.
By the time the lottery picks finished, half of them were first-year college players, and five more followed into the second round.
“The first time you saw Derrick Rose, you knew. Mayo, you knew,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “You just looked at them and you knew.”
“A once in every 10 years, 15, 20 years class,” Capel called it.
It almost created unrealistic expectations for this one.
“We got spoiled,” said Dave Telep, the national recruiting director for Scout.com. “Those guys, they don’t happen every year, and that goes against your grain of thinking when the Collective Bargaining Agreement forced these guys into college. You just naturally expected superstars were going to be abound every year, and that’s not necessarily the case.
“I remember walking out of the McDonald’s (All-American) game in Milwaukee this past year just a little disappointed,” he continued, “because while I think the perception was that there were a lot of high-profile guys in the class, they’re just not on the same level as their predecessors.”
When you were young
Currently, of the teams that made up The Associated Press’ Top 25 poll this past Monday, 10 feature freshmen among their top five scorers. But only seven are averaging double figures, and of the top 100 scorers nationwide, there were three first-year players entering Saturday: Curry of Liberty (20.9 points) and two less notable names in Sylven Landesberg of Virginia (19.1) and Afam Muojeke of Wyoming (18.4).
Last year, seven freshmen helped make up the top 100 scorers. Five played in the NCAA tournament, and six were drafted, the only exception being Arizona State’s James Harden, who is a projected top-10 pick should he declare this upcoming spring.
“I think there are guys this year who would like to be one-and-down,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said, “but I’m not sure if there are a lot of impact players. I mean, NBA-impact players.”
Nevertheless, there will be buzz surrounding some. Of ESPN.com writer Chad Ford’s latest projected top-10 draft prospects — one of countless such lists but largely the most recognized — three freshmen are included: Georgetown’s Greg Monroe (at No. 7), UCLA’s Jrue Holiday (at No. 9) and USC’s DeMar DeRozan (at No. 10).
In Ford’s mock draft lottery, three more surface — Wake Forest’s Al-Farouq Aminu, Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens and Memphis’ Evans.
But of those six players, just one leads his team in scoring (Evans) and other freshman standouts, such as Louisville’s leading scorer Samuels and UConn’s Kemba Walker, aren’t largely being praised as NBA-ready.
“Samardo Samuels probably should wait a year,” Calhoun said. “He looks like a power forward in the NBA. He’ll have to make some adjustments, but he’s a very good player. Kemba Walker is another guy who probably in two or three years could develop into a Chris Paul-type of player. I didn’t say Chris Paul. But maybe Chris Paul.”
Calhoun speaks from experience. Last season, UConn had more players in the NBA than any other program, and this year, it boasts 13, second only to Duke. Calhoun’s never had a one-and-done player, either.
“I would like to see us continue to work on something to keep them (in college) longer — for them,” he said. “Not just so they can handle basketball but playing basketball and understanding how you get there. … And the NBA finally realized that, ‘If we get a good, quality kid who’s had two or three years of socialization and organization, our product is going to be better.’”
Spin me ’round
Telep has seen this before. In fact, he knows exactly when: The freshmen who made up the class of 2005, the last one eligible to jump right to the NBA, hold many similarities to this current crop, he said.
“What you can never forget is how cyclical this is,” he said of recruiting. “That’s not going to go away.”
The members of the 2005 class, who are seniors now if they stuck around, are talented. Tyler Hansbrough recently broke North Carolina’s all-time scoring mark. Chris Douglas-Roberts led Memphis in scoring last season before declaring for the draft. Pittsburgh’s Sam Young has grown into one of the Big East’s top players, to name a few.
But certain players skipped right to the NBA when they clearly weren’t ready. Martell Webster, Andrew Bynum (who had committed to UConn) and Gerald Green all went in the first round. None have yet to make an All-Star team, Green is on his fourth franchise and it wasn’t until their third season did they start cashing in on their potential, i.e. averaging double figures in points, at the least.
Compare that to Mayo, who entered Saturday with the NBA rookie record for most double-digit scoring games to start a career (25).
“These guys,” Telep said, referring to this year’s freshmen, “they remember what happened the two years before when all these guys played a year and they bolted for the league. So that’s what their expectations are. But the reality is in 2008 at the top level, this group of guys needs to bolster their resumes before they bolster their wallets.”
But again, Telep said recruiting is cyclical and he said in 2011, “we hit a jackpot again,” with players such as Michael Gilchrist, LaQuinton Ross and Florida commit Austin Rivers. The 2010 class is also stronger, he said, with point guard Brandon Knight, center Josh Smith and Texas commit Tristan Thompson, among others.
It also depends on who you ask.
“I’m probably not great at projecting who the one-and-done guys are because quite frankly, we don’t recruit many of them,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “But we probably were in a little bit of a special run the last two years, quite frankly, and my sense is that I don’t hear those Beasley, Durant (caliber) guys, Rose (caliber) guys coming up in these younger classes.”
For now, there’s a general consensus that this year doesn’t include any either. But with one winter of seasoning, things could change.
Arizona State’s Harden, the leading candidate for Pac-10 Player of the Year is an example, and Blake Griffin, Oklahoma’s sophomore star, chose to return to school and is being projected as next spring’s No. 1 overall pick.
“A lot of guys make the jump and a lot of guys kind of get lost up there,” said Griffin, who entered Saturday averaging 23.1 points and 15.1 rebounds. “Make sure you’re really ready … because the money will be there if you’re a good player. I really feel there’s a lot of stuff in college that guys miss when they do go on to that next level.
“When it came down to it,” he added, “it was an easier decision than I thought.”