Kentucky got to the national championship game last season with five freshman starters.
Kansas and Duke were also bolstered by players who made smooth transitions from high school to college, and now are in the NBA.
No longer is it a surprise to see freshmen having an immediate impact in college basketball. Here are a few of the many expected to do so this season:
JAHLIL OKAFOR, Duke: The 6-foot-11, 270-pound forward from Chicago has already made a big impression, getting selected as a preseason AP All-American before his first game for the Blue Devils. Okafor got to Duke with a wide wingspan, good footwork and an NBA-ready body after averaging 24 points and 11.3 rebounds as a senior. The MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game could become the first Blue Devils center since Elton Brand to lead the team in scoring. Coach Mike Krzyzewski calls Okafor “a dominant player.”
STANLEY JOHNSON, Arizona: Johnson is the only player in California history to be part of four consecutive upper-division high school state titles, and last season averaged 25 points and nine rebounds a game to become California’s Mr. Basketball. The 6-7 forward took a polished game and incredible athleticism to Arizona, and appears ready to play at a high level right away like athletic freshman and now-NBA forward Aaron Gordon did last season for the Wildcats.
KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS and TREY LYLES, Kentucky: Three of the freshmen who started the national championship seven months ago returned for another season, but new freshmen Towns and Lyles provide more length and depth in the middle with a pair of 7-footers already in place (Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson). The 6-11 Towns, a three-time All-State player in New Jersey, and 6-10 Lyles, whose made the game-winning free throw in his final prep game to clinch an Indiana state title, both averaged more than 20 points and about 13 rebounds a game as high school seniors.
MYLES TURNER, Texas: An elite shot-blocker who can also step out and shoot 3-pointers, the 6-11 Turner is expected to be a huge boost to an experienced lineup that returns all five starters from a 24-win team that made it to an NCAA tournament but hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2003. He averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and nearly seven blocks a game as a prep senior. Turner and Kansas forward Cliff Alexander shared the Big 12 preseason nod as the league’s freshmen of the year.
RASHAD VAUGHN, UNLV: Shooting guard Vaughn is a high-scoring player with skills and work ethic that steps onto a team with no returning starters. The 6-6 guard from Golden Valley, Minnesota, is actually staying local since he had moved to attend a Nevada prep school his senior season. Runnin’ Rebels coach Dave Rice believes Vaughn has a chance to be a special player at UNLV. Vaughn averaged 19.9 points, 4.5 rebounds. 4.9 assists and 2.2 steals a game as a prep senior.
ISAIAH WHITEHEAD, Seton Hall: The 6-4 shooting guard from Brooklyn stayed closed to home to play collegiately, and was tabbed the preseason Big East rookie of the year. Whitehead, named Mr. New York Basketball last season, brings a swagger back to a Seton Hall program that has been to the NCAA tournament only three times since P.J. Carlesimo led the Pirates to six appearances from 1988-94, including a one-point loss to Michigan in the 1989 national championship game.
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