Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/29/2006 03:29:00 AM
Presenting ... The Freshmen Who Fit
Matt Bouldin has the look of a 'Zag.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
It was inevitable, in the inaugural year of the NBA age-limit rule, that the early obsession would be over the freshmen who changed their programs from Day 1. Texas unveiled a brand-new run-and-gun system built around Kevin Durant. Washington's scoring, for the first time in years, balanced out between the paint and perimeter after the addition of 7-footer Spencer Hawes. Arizona handed bionic wing Chase Budinger the keys to its offense. And Ohio State, no doubt, will run much of its game through Greg Oden when he finally makes his debut.
While all of those are newsworthy developments, I'm shifting my attention to a different -- and just as valuable -- crop of rookies this week: five guys who appear to have been tailor-made to fit their program's existing identity. For blog-trademarking purposes, let's call them the Freshmen Who Fit.
The idea materialized while I sitting courtside for Gonzaga's upset of North Carolina last week in the NIT. It was my first time seeing the Zags in person this season, and most of what I'd read about them focused on the whole "New, Post-Morrison Gonzaga" angle. Then with 15:34 left in the first half, and UNC up 12-2, the Zags brought in a freshman guard, Matt Bouldin, who looked anything but new. He was right out of the Dan Dickau/Blake Stepp mold, with hair that's a cross between Dickau's and Mike Gordon's from Phish (Morrison's was different -- more Randall "Pink" Floyd with a thin 'stache), and the proper combo-guard skills to make him a quintessential backcourt star in Spokane.
Possessing superior court vision to any of the Zags' veteran guards, the 6-foot-5 Bouldin brought equilibrium to a lineup that didn't have it when shoot-first PG Derek Raivio was running the show solo. Bouldin helped Gonzaga scrape itself off the floor and take the lead at halftime, dishing out four first-half assists -- and went on to finish with 14 points and six dimes in 30 minutes off the bench. Afterward, the Littleton, Colo., product said (not surprisingly) that we were far from the first to state that he seemed destined for Zag-dom; he has, after all, been rocking the hirsute look since eighth grade.
"Ever since Day 1 [in high school], even before I started getting recruited, people have been telling me, 'You're a Zag,'" said Bouldin, who has often been called the best Colorado-born player since Chauncey Billups. "Gonzaga has done really well with guards like me -- guys like Stepp and Dickau -- so I wanted to go there and fit the mold."
Bouldin may look like a renegade to the close-cropped basketball world, but he's a Gonzaga conformist, and the headliner of the first-ever FWF team. Now, let me unveil the other four:
Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina: I slotted Ellington into this role on the same night I saw Bouldin. Although Ellington largely disappeared from the game after starting and scoring the Heels' second bucket (a three-pointer), he looks like he was made to wear a Carolina jersey -- even moreso than fellow freshman Ty Lawson, whom many have called a Ray Felton clone. Ellington's game has the smoothness and grace that's defined so many UNC scoring guards. I talked with one NBA scout in attendance at the Garden, who agreed, saying, "[Ellington] is the prototypical Carolina two-guard or wing player -- but he's more Joe Forte right now than Vince Carter."
Raymar Morgan, SF, Michigan State: Morgan hails from Canton, Ohio, but he could easily pass as a next-generation Flintstone. He's built exactly to coach Tom Izzo's liking -- a chiseled 6-foot-7 forward who plays physical defense, and rebounds and attacks the basket aggressively. His tough D on Durant -- as well as 18 points on the offensive end -- keyed the Spartans' upset of the 'Horns on Nov. 16. Morgan has emerged as MSU's second-leading scorer, at 10.9 points per game … and I couldn't imagine his rough-edged skills being plied in different uniform.
Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech: Crittenton hasn't exactly been a superstar from the get-go for the Jackets; he's their third-leading scorer but struggled mightily in crunch time of the Maui Invitational (10 turnovers against seven assists against Memphis and UCLA). Still, doesn't this kid just look like a Georgia Tech point guard? He has that Stephon Marbury scoring-point mentality, and at 6-foot-5 is physical enough to forcefully push the ball past smaller defenders. Crittenton and two-guard Lewis Clinch make up one of the ACC's most dangerous young backcourts.
Darrell Arthur, PF, Kansas: Arthur, who already leads KU in scoring (15.9 ppg), has made the biggest impact of any of the FWF crew, but I wouldn't call him a program-changer -- because he fits perfectly into the Jayhawks' ultra-athletic, ultra-young starting lineup. The lanky, 6-9 forward is an ideal frontcourt mate for do-everything forward Julian Wright. Arthur is the only big man on KU's roster who matches Wright's athleticism, and has been a frequent benefactor of his stellar passing skills. With plodding center Sasha Kaun in the lineup the Jayhawks are less fluid on offense. With Arthur, their guard trio can run all it wants -- and know that he'll be able to keep up.
Have nominations for the FWF squad? Leave them in the comments.
Have you watched Marreese Speights of Florida? he's another athletic big. He had his second double double of the season, and while he still has a LOT of work ballhandling, he looks like he fits in at UF perfectly.
Did anyone get a look at Greivis Vasquez for Maryland last night? With three solid veterans and an all frosh front court, Vasquez showed some serious game on the road, in Champaign nonetheless. When an outmanned MD (our starting center out with injury) looked as if they were going to lose, Vasquez just did not allow that to happen. This dude brings some fire and controlled enthusiasm (that's good!) that has been lacking at Maryland for a few years. I know its early, but both him and freshman PG Hayes seem to be perfect fits. Vasquez showed every part of having a great game. He went down the lane, almost out of control, slide past a certain charge, and under hand laid it in high of the glass. He's got game. Again, it's early, but this guy's heart and game reminds me of someone else who played here at Maryland - Juan Dixon. Yeah I'm from MD, and I can't wait to see Vasquez drive the lane at Cameron where everyone in Carolina fears the turtle.
Um, where is Paul Harris in this group? You give me three other players, let alone freshmen, in the country who can sky for a rebound, dribble the length of the court and throw an accurate, no-look pass to a teammate for an easy lay-up. The kid is a stud and will probably be one of the top two or three freshmen in the country this year when all is said and done.
How about some love for Oklahoma State's local product Obi Muonelo?
The first OSU player ever to score in double figures his first 7 games, Muonello is tough, scrappy, plays good D and has the ability to slash and score like Cowboy greats Desmond Mason, Tony Allen and Joey Graham.
You really need to give some love to Paul Harris up here in Syracuse. Just because he isn't on a highly publicized squad he doesn't get any credit. He could already be the team's best defender. How many freshman are putting up almost a double-double each night? He's already single handedly turned around the team this year, including talking Nichols into shooting more and becoming the scorer he should've been two years ago. This team is primed for a big run with Harris playing big minutes once they hit the Big East season.
I like the suggestions of Speights, Muonelo and Hayes.
Vasquez is almost too unique to fit -- I haven't seen anyone in the college ranks play Ginobili-ball like him.
Finally, to the Syracuse fans clamoring for Paul Harris' inclusion: I'm not sure if you're getting the concept of the FWF squad. I don't think Harris is a freshman who fits -- he's more of a unique program-changer. As one of the anons said, "he's already single-handedly turned around the team."
besides Spencer Hawes, another starting freshman is Quincy Pondexter who fits perfectly into Coach Romar's system of uptempo offense, pressure defense and constant versatility on the floor. Pondexter has three 20 point games out of the 6 total games. He has been guarding whoever is hot on the other team while rebounding, pushing the ball , and finishing in transition.
Patrick Beverly, guard, of Arkansas will be the SEC freshman of the year. His first game (witnessed by yours truly) was incredible 29pts, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 6 of 7 from beyond the arc....his emotion is what really impresses me. Heath told him with games like that he is going to have a mark on his back!...He is what has been missing from Heath's squad for the last five years. He is capable of fantasy stats every game...hence 2 SEC freshman of the week awards so far in this young season! Go Hogs. BEAT THOSE SWAMP MONKEYS!
how about PG ish smith at wake forest? hes second in the country in assists and one of wake's top scorers... filling the shoes of chris paul nicely at a position the deacs struggled mightily in last year.
Chris Kramer Purdue - If you saw the first game of the Maui Classic, you saw a player that was made for Purdue. A smaller Brian Cardinal, but he leaves it on the floor every game. So much he's missed the last 3 games (all wins over Oklahoma, DePaul, and #25 Virgina). The Boilers are back and they have the old determination.
How about the 4 freshman guards that St. Joe's has? Govens, Rivera, Williamson, and Carter could be the next great foursome after Barley, Nelson, West, and Carroll(remember the undefeated season???). Don't get me wrong they have a long way to go, but the potential is there and their defense is already outstanding. The ceiling is high. Any thoughts Luke?
You might consider Saint Mary's CA red-shirt freshman center Omar Samhan for FWF. Although early success has come against marginal competition, Saint Mary's and Samhan will be tested by a December schedule that includes Nevada, Connecticut, Seton Hall and Saint Joe's on the road and Southern Illinois at home.
i have a couple of comments...one...the freshman at gonzaga is not the best player to come out since billups...2. paul harriss should have been up there wit the top freshman in the country...he does everything.( except hs not a real good shooter)..3 maryland is primed to suprise alot of people..they are deep and have a coupl players who can gt 20 on any given night...3. am i the nly person who has watched duke and see that they are overrated..also that josh mcroberts is overrated...yeah he is athletic but the more i watch him the more i noticed he has no post moves at all.... my top 3 in the acc..unc maryland gt/bc
Obi Muenelo. One of the best freshman players in the country that noboby knows about. He is the third leading scorer for Oklahoma State, and has scored in double figures every game this year. He will outplay Paul Harris on tuesday at MSG.
Glad to see that sports writers can really recognize good musicians! Mike Gordon also fit the FWF mold but in a music sense. He wasn't the "superstar" of Phish, ala Trey Anastasio, but he layed down some of the sickest bass lines a rock band has ever seen, and largely unheralded. It was a better metaphor than just his hair.