With the season tip-off almost one month away, the hype surrounding top freshman players is beginning to build. Recruiting fiends Duke and Kentucky again made it out of the summer with two of the premier freshman classes in the nation; however, with talent and depth already on those teams, it remains to be seen just how big of an impact top prospects such as Lyles, Towns, and Okafor will make in their first year. Other recruits are joining programs that desperately need their youth and talents, making them perfect fits to thrive during their rookie campaigns.
Here are my big impact freshmen at each position:
PG – Joel Berry, UNC
Berry is the perfect backcourt complement to sophomore Marcus Paige. Whereas Paige is better suited to score, Berry excels at running the offense; he can get down the lane and shoot from range, but he understands when he should set his teammates up. His toughness and good on-court decision making will be key to a deep tournament run by UNC, and he’s poised to make a big impact from day one.
SG – Melo Trimble, Maryland
Trimble is joining a program that had three of their guards transfer elsewhere this summer. He is a prolific scorer with range beyond the arc, but with his exceptional playmaking ability, he will probably split his minutes at the point as well. Maryland needs all the help they can get this year; with a lot of new faces on the roster, a strong season by their top recruit could be what it takes to get an NCAA tournament bid.
SF – Stanley Johnson, Arizona
It’s no secret why Stanley Johnson is ranked the top wing player in the freshman class. He plays with a combination of speed, power, and agility that’s tough to stop, whether it’s on the fast break, in the half-court offense, or on the glass. Johnson is joining an already talented Wildcats team, led by point guard T.J. McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski; however, with the departure of Aaron Gordon for the NBA, Arizona is in desperate need of a playmaker. Enter Stanley Johnson.
PF – Kevon Looney, UCLA
It was hard not to take Trey Lyles, the top power forward in his class here but with Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress returning to Kentucky for another season, Lyles will have to earn earn every minute playing time. On the other hand, Kevon Looney is a perfect fit for the Bruins program. As a combo forward, he will be a matchup nightmare; he has the strength to back defenders down and the touch to make shots off-balance or from range. His unselfish style of play will translate well to UCLA, who ranked fifth in assists last season.
C – Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor is the closest player in his class to a sure thing. At 6’10 and 265 lbs, he already has an NBA body, and his skilled footwork puts his post game way ahead of the field. With a bevy of other scoring options, Duke will primarily need Okafor to anchor a stingy defense, but it’s still safe to chalk him up for a double double almost every single night.
*Section Photo credit to Joshua Cruey, Orlando Sentinel; Featured Photo (above) credit to Dennis Wierzbicki, USA Today Sports