Next year's freshman class no match to star-studded '07 group
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The party's over.
For the last two years, the college basketball world has been agog over freshmen. This fixation might have offended purists, but it was a boon to the sport because it perfectly matched the "Who's next?" ethos that drives today's sports culture. Since freshmen were dominating the sport at the very moment the NBA instituted its 19-year-old age minimum, it made sense to conclude that every year was going to be the "Year of the Freshman".
Turns out, not so much. Whereas the stellar high school class of 2006 (led by Greg Oden and Kevin Durant) was followed by the stratospheric class of '07 (Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo), the class of '08 is, in the words of longtime recruiting maven Clark Francis, "the worst class I've seen in the 25 years I've been doing this." That assessment may be a tad harsh, but there is no question there will be a significant dropoff next season. And as the annual, frenetic July recruiting season gets underway in a few weeks, it will become further apparent that the classes of '09, '10 and '11 are not going to measure up, either.
This was driven home for me as I watched some of the best high school players in America compete last week at the NBA Players Association Camp in Charlottesville, Va. Don't get me wrong, there were some very good players at the camp, guys who will be able to have an impact at the college level right away. (See my list of favorites below.) But there wasn't a single player who would have a realistic chance at being a lottery pick next year if there were no age minimum.
Every class is going to produce a few players who would have a shot at going straight to the NBA out of high school. Derrick Favors, a 6-foot-9 forward from Atlanta who was not at the NBAPA camp, is one of the few players who is ready to play in the pros in the '09 class. Two other players who were also not at the camp, 6-10 forward Renardo Sidney and 6-5 guard Lance Stephenson, have the physical ability to make the leap, but neither possesses the maturity.
Meanwhile, in my mind the only dead-certain straight-to-the-pros player amongst next season's freshmen class is Memphis-bound guard Tyreke Evans. Beyond that, there are a couple of promising big men (Georgetown-bound Greg Monroe and Ohio State-bound B.J. Mullens), a pair of solid point guards (UCLA's Jrue Holiday and Arizona's Brandon Jennings) and at least one dazzling wing (USC-bound Demar DeRozan). But those guys don't compare to players like Oden, Beasley and Rose, nor do these two classes come close to matching the astounding depth of the ones that came before.
"We've been so spoiled the last few years, people have forgotten what an average class looks like," said Van Coleman, the publisher of Hoopmasters.com. "We're just going back to the way it used to be."
Added Dave Telep of Scout.com, "You have to look at recruiting as cyclical. The '07 group was so exceptional that it's unfair to these guys to ask them to measure up. It's too tall an order."
Indeed, my point is not to denigrate the top players currently in high school. It is to illustrate that what happened the last two years was an aberration. It is unusual to have even one class of such caliber, much less two back-to-back. That those classes arrived at the same time the NBA put its age minimum in place was just a happy coincidence. Next season, things will return to normal, and we'll have a new storyline:
The Year of the Freshman was so last year.
This duo is O-K
In the state of Oklahoma, the top three sports are football, baseball and spring football. It's unusual for the state to produce a basketball player who's ranked in the top 10 in his high school class. It's rarer still for the state to have two top-10 players.
So take note of Xavier Henry, a 6-6 guard, and Daniel Orton, a 6-10 forward. They are both Oklahoma City natives who are second and eighth, respectively, in Rivals.com's ranking in the class of '09. Henry is a strong, graceful guard with a sweet left-handed jumper. Orton is a wide-shouldered post player with exceptional passing ability. Though they play for two high schools that never compete against each other because they're in different size classifications, they are teammates on the local AAU team, Athletes First, which is coached by Henry's dad, Carl.
Besides being teammates, the one thing they both have in common is they come from athletic families. Orton's older brother, Terrence Crawford, played for Oklahoma State. Xavier (pronounced "ZAH-vee-ay") is the younger brother of C.J. Henry, who originally committed to Kansas to play basketball but turned to baseball when the New York Yankees selected him in the first round of the 2005 MLB draft. (C.J. has been bouncing around the minor leagues since then. The Yankees traded him to the Phillies but recently re-signed him to a free agent contract.) "I hated playing against my brother," Henry said. "It always ended up with me crying."