The college basketball season is roughly two weeks from its opening tip. Eyes will be geared toward the usual blue-blood suspects, but thanks to some new-guard coaches making splashes on the recruiting trail over the last 10 months, interest will also be had in unlikely places.
Arguments can be had over which program has the best group of freshmen ahead of the 2019-20 college basketball season; though it’s a pointless discussion. As it always does, time will inevitably tell us who is on top by the end of the journey.
However, given there are some new faces lurking around the corner, it’s not an awful idea to highlight five freshmen who should make a strong impact on behalf of their teams.
Before taking a gander at the freshmen, an important note: This isn’t relative to their NBA Draft stock or even as the “best” freshmen in the country. Rather, the players were selected based off a combination of projected impact and entertainment value. Sports is, after all, a form of entertainment.
5- Scottie Lewis, Florida Gators, Rim Attacker
A 6-foot-5 wing from New Jersey, Scottie Lewis isn’t a finished product, even if grassroots gurus hailed him as a prodigy since he was bouncing around in middle school gymnasiums.
Nevertheless, given his athletic gifts, he’’ll end up being one of the most exciting players in the country. It certainly helps his ceiling is as high as most characters in any Cheech and Chong movie.
Lewis is likely to create the most highlight reel plays this season. Bluntly put, in the nicest and least narrative driven way as possible, the youngster can jump out the gym.
Not literally or anything. That would be dangerous. We’d also have video of it.
Digressing a bit…
His jumper needs work, as does some of his fundamentals. To be fair to him, rare are the incoming freshmen who are perfect in all aspects of their games.
With the Gators losing plenty of production from last season’s team, coupled with Lewis’ projection being a net-positive on defense and in transition, he should have a pretty heavy role in whatever Mike White plans on doing for the 2019-20 campaign.
Moreover, Lewis should benefit playing off Kerry Blackshear, who will likely be the man most teams focus to stop.
Florida should be one of the better teams not only in the SEC, but in all of the country. Keeping an eye on Lewis seems wise.
4- Cole Anthony, North Carolina Tar Heels, The Hype Is Real
For those who have somehow missed several years of hype building, Cole Anthony is supposedly the next great college basketball point guard.
While a college basketball loving nation maybe soured on the youngster ahead of last offseason due to numerous profiles from major outlets dropping within days of each other, those who followed the young man closely do believe Anthony to be the cat’s meow.
Despite touted primarily as a point guard, Anthony’s 6-foot-3 frame and absurd strength position him more as a combo guard at the collegiate ranks, providing Roy Williams with options this season.
Cole Anthony announced himself as a talent above the hype during the 2018 NIKE EYBL circuit, averaging 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals over 16 contests. Also highlighted during his run was his ability to parlay his strength into meaningful numbers, averaging close to 10 free throw attempts per game.
Defense is unlikely to be what people focus on with him this season, but Cole Anthony has all the offensive tools to be special, likely helping the Tar Heels dance deep in March with a fancy pair of those elusive dancing slippers.
3- Isaiah Stewart, Washington Huskies, He Can Fly
A 6-foot-9 post player who can bounce?
Thanks to Zion Williamson jumping over humans last season as if he was Superman and they were action figurines, college basketball fans are going to have a hard time adjusting to your run-of-the-mill giant humanoids who can soar through the sky like a comic book hero.
Enter Isaiah Stewart, who is in a good position to help Mike Hopkins make the Washington Huskies a threat nationally.
Stewart, who made a name for himself by way of bully ball and highlight reels, doesn’t get enough credit for his footwork near the basket or his off-the-ball defense. The latter of the two isn’t all that sexy, nor a reason why fans will watch Washington play basketball games this season.
However, like Lewis, Stewart can fly. Even more impressive, he does so with a unique frame that will likely conjure the most hyperbolic comparisons humanly possible. Maybe he won’t get the Zion treatment – or, more accurately, hopefully that comparison doesn’t await – but don’t be shocked when Shawn Kemp’s name gets forced into conversations while the Huskies play.
It also helps that the Washington Huskies have a great balance of returning talent and a good core of of freshmen. In turn, Stewart is unlikely to be forced into positions he’ll fail to succeed in.
Hopkins is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball. This season, the Huskies might have one of the more balanced teams in the country. While Stewart might not end up putting up gaudy numbers, he’ll be one of the few guys owning top 10 highlight packages for the majority of the 2019-20 voyage.
2- Anthony Edwards, Georgia Bulldogs, Top Gun Specialist
Let’s avoid jokes regarding Anthony Edwards trotting about the planet with the same name as the actor who starred in Top Gun (RIP, Goose) and ER. Instead, let’s focus on what he brings to the table, which is offense.
A 6-foot-5 guard, Edwards has already shown a quick release during the team’s secret scrimmages and exhibition outings, highlighting a hasty development in his already impressive offensive repertoire.
In 2018 for Atlanta XPress, Anthony Edwards shot over 35 percent from three on 6.5 attempts from beyond the arc per game. He also shot 46 percent from the floor, which seems less than ideal on the surface, but he’s an isolation heavy player who does pretty much everything at that end in volume.
Lost in the mix of his sexy offensive game is his toughness. While a larger sized guard, Edwards’ 6.5 rebounds per game for the XPress won’t likely translate to similar productivity in college, it does help highlight his willingness to get physical and play through contact.
Freshmen don’t always succeed under Tom Crean, but those who do tend to overachieve expectations. Anthony Edwards has a chance to be special, helping the Bulldogs navigate a forever brutal SEC docket.
1- James Wiseman, Memphis Tigers, Wait… He’s Good Now!
James Wiseman went from a talent who was crazily hyped to the point it was likely overdone, to a talent who is now likely being overlooked because of the initial irrational praise.
Another insanely athletic big man, Wiseman is a more traditional center than he is a unicorn. Don’t expect him to be chucking it from deep numerous times per game. While that might sour his NBA Draft stock, it’s a fine quality to have at the college basketball level. After all, few programs in the country have legitimate big men who can play in a non-stoic way in the post.
Circling back to the narrative surrounding him, everything Wiseman was once projected to be – a center with advanced footwork who projected to be a net-positive on offense – but wasn’t, might now be real.
People who have followed Wiseman’s journey from sensationalized high school talent to NBA Twitter’s begotten son are starting to pivot back to the idea that he’s going to make a huge impact for Penny Hardaway’s squad this season.
The Tigers have, arguably, the best group of freshmen in the country. It will be interesting to see which of these Alphas eat the most from a production standpoint, but early on the safe guess is that the majority of sets will run through Wiseman.
It’s still hard to diagnosis his game without falling into either of the two stronghold camps. There’s those who believe him to be a creation of far-too-early praise from grassroots gurus, then others who admit that might have been true, but now claim those “out” on James Wiseman need to return to his hive.
If the latter camp is right, the Tigers have Final Four potential.
College basketball might have gotten “smaller” over the last few years, mimicking the NBA’s game, but there will always be a place for athletic big men, especially in the AAC.
For real, who is going to guard James Wiseman in the AAC? Tacko Fall isn’t walking through that door.
Editor’s note: This column on James Wiseman, Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards and the top five college basketball freshmen originally appeared on Forbes. It’s republished under terms of the publisher-author agreement under the author’s name.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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