Every now and then, real life tops fiction. It just so happens that the first high school graduating class forced to attend college by the NBAs new age limit happens to be the best weve seen in a very, very long time. In a normal year, we might still be wishing for the days when players like the Big Dog, Jason Kidd, and the Fab Five brought the nation to a standstill wearing NCAA uniforms. But thanks to players such as Kevin Durant, Brandan Wright and Greg Oden, we are living them all over again. Not only is there an a near-unprecedented amount of talent at the top, but the overall depth is quite impressive. Ranking this many players at this early stage is a near-impossible task, but if any group ever deserved such respect, it would be the 06-07 freshman class.
Big Men, Big Men, and More Big Men
Obviously, the most important freshman story is the group of elite-level big men at the top of the rankings. Greg Oden(#1)remains atop the rankings, and outings like this afternoons are only going to solidify his grip on the number one spot. But if there is one player who has provided a Carmelo-type impact, it would be Texas Kevin Durant (#2). Durant is considered a wing by many, but limiting the 610 phenom to a single position would be selling him short.
In many years, Brandan Wright would be locked atop the mock draft right now. And while he is a longshot to pass up Oden or Durant, the freakishly long, freakishly athletic power forward is certainly a special prospect in his own right. For now, he gets the nod as the third best freshman in the country, with truly special low post scorer Spencer Hawes (#4), skilled Jayhawk Darrell Arthur(#7), and Georgia Tech forward Thaddeus Young (#6) all within striking distance.
A trio of seven footers also deserves special mention. 73 Connecticut phenom Hasheem Thabeet (#8) is very much a work in progress, but the flashes of potential are coming more and more regularly. Brook (#10) and Robin (#15) Lopez, the freshman twin towers patrolling the paint at Stanford, often get lost in the shuffle behind the other big names in this class. But their talent and physical superiority is undeniable it is hard to see either one lasting too long at the college level.
Elite Floor Generals
While this class has long been known for its post players, there are several point guards that must be noted as well.
While there is no obvious top dog here, it appears that three players are in the running. Each plays a different style, and there is plenty of debate amongst the DX staff about which one is the top prospect. If you like your point guard to be fast and capable of making decisions on the fly, Tywon Lawson (#11) is your man. He sports a near-3/1 Ast/TO ratio and appears to get a little bit better every time out. 65 Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Javaris Crittenton (#14) offers the size, athleticism and physical superiority that NBA decision makers dream of. Meanwhile, Ohio States Mike Conley (#17) continues to dazzle with his near-flawless decision making and steady all-around court sense. All three have a chance to be lottery picks someday.
Outside the top three, several other intriguing point guard prospects exist. Gonzagas Matt Bouldin (#19) has cooled off a bit after a blazing start, but should emerge as an elite-level modern NBA combo guard prospect. DJ Augustin (#34) has put up big numbers for Texas, and while it has taken Kentuckys Derrick Jasper (#22) and Sherron Collins (#29) of Kansas a bit longer to get going, both are starting to play at a high level.
Arizonas Chase Budinger (#5) is the clear-cut number one at the wing. The Wildcat offense is perfect for the former volleyball players development, and the lack of big time upperclassman wing prospects should hasten his path to the league.
Several players can make a case behind Buddinger, with Ohio States Daquan Cook (#13) perhaps the most likely to end up one-and-done, while Wayne Ellingtons (#16) ability to put the ball in the basket is truly unique, and his Tar Heel career is likely to end with a spot in the lottery. Paul Harris (#15) and Gerald Henderson (#20) are taking a bit longer to adjust, but both have come up with their share of moments. Washingtons Quincy Pondexter is a headline-grabbing athlete and prospect, with Connecticut high-flyer Stanley Robinson (#21) really starting to emerge and ready to join this top group.
Potential or Production?
This is the biggest issue that must be tackled in putting together a list of freshmen, and there are plenty of individual dilemmas to struggle with when it comes to this group.
On one hand, we have producers such as USCs Taj Gibson (#23), Californias Ryan Anderson (#24), Connecticuts Jerome Dyson (#38) and NC States Brandon Costner (#49). These freshmen already rank amongst the top players in their respective conferences, and are already making their mark on the national college basketball landscape.
But about some of the higher-upside prospects that, for whatever reason, havent put up the big numbers yet? Some, such as, Vernon Macklin (#26) at Georgetown and Floridas Mareese Speights (#27), play for good teams and will earn larger roles with time. Others, like 610 Louisville wing Earl Clark (#25) and imposing Rutgers big man Hamady NDiaye (#54) are not yet capable of producing at a high level but must be kept in mind because of the upside they possess.
There is no correct way to deal with the potential vs production issue, except that it must be balanced on a consistent basis. Everybody is comfortable with a different level of each, so we encourage you to let us know what you think about a freshman class that should continue to inspire all sorts of discussion and debate over the next four years.