NORTH CAROLINA | FORWARD | 6'9", 205 POUNDS
In the first
half of his first game as a Tar Heel--a 110--79 exhibition win over St.
Augustine's of Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 1--Wright made like Mr. Fantastic. Tar
Heels guard-forward Marcus Ginyard lobbed a pass behind Wright, who was soaring
in off the fast break. He reached up with his left hand, snatched the ball and
flushed it in one motion. Not much has been out of reach for Wright, a
Nashville native whose most impressive numbers aren't the 22.4 points or 5.1
blocks he averaged as a senior at Brentwood Academy, or his three Tennessee
Division II Mr. Basketball awards, or his four state titles--it's his 7'4"
wingspan. "His extension does shock you," says North Carolina coach Roy
Williams. "You don't realize [how long he is] until you're playing against
him." Williams will get maximum use out of those lanky limbs when the Tar
Heels press; Wright will be their last line of defense. Says Ginyard of facing
Wright in practice, "Once you [jump] and then you see his arms come out,
you're like, Oh, God, what do I do now?"
CONNECTICUT | CENTER |�7'3", 265 POUNDS
specimen from Tanzania by way of Houston's Cypress Christian School, Thabeet is
already drawing comparisons with another accomplished shot-swatter of African
descent: Dikembe Mutombo, the Zaire native who has parlayed his ability to
protect the basket into a 15-year NBA career. "In his first year Hasheem
could make the biggest impact of any player I've ever had," says Huskies
coach Jim Calhoun. Wearing size 18 shoes and 4XL shorts, Thabeet blocked a shot
on the opening possession in UConn's 75--59 exhibition victory over American
International on Nov. 1 and finished with seven rejections in 20 minutes. No
matter that his shooting range doesn't extend beyond 13 feet and he's still
very raw. "We'll work on his offensive game," says sophomore guard
Craig Austrie, "but he's going to intimidate a lot of people down low.
Everyone's going to have to think twice before coming down the lane."
WASHINGTON | CENTER | 7 FEET, 250 POUNDS
Hawes asked Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar to put together a video of
elite big men for him to study. While sitting out the first month of practice
following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, he watched the 15-minute
homage to sublime post play, starring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and
Kevin McHale, more than 30 times. It's not surprising that Hawes would turn to
such classic centers for instruction. (His 6'9" uncle, Steve Hawes, faced
all three icons in his 10-year NBA career.) Spencer's fundamentally sound
game--which now includes a Kareem skyhook--is surprisingly polished for a
freshman, and studying McHale's footwork, Walton's post passing and Jabbar's
patience will only enhance it. "A lot of people hear old school and think
of it as a knock," says Hawes, who averaged 19.9 points and 11.3 rebounds
at Seattle Prep last year. "I embrace it."
TEXAS | GUARD-FORWARD | 6'9", 225 POUNDS
Ask him who
Texas's best shooters are, and Durant pulls the trigger quickly. "A.J.
Abrams, D.J. Augustin, J.D. Lewis," he says. "I see myself as a good
shooter, but those guys are on another level." None of them, however, are
taller than 6'1". Durant, a co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game last
March after scoring a game-high 25 points, is amazingly skilled for someone
who's 6'9". And while he may give the Longhorns guards their props as
marksmen, there is little doubt that he believes he's as deadeye as anyone in
the land. Durant refused to leave one practice this fall until he had matched
Lewis's output of 14 three-pointers in a one-minute drill. Given his smooth
stroke and ability to connect from anywhere on the court (he hit 43% from
three-point range during his junior year at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of
Wilson, Va.), Durant is a shooter opponents will want to keep holstered.
"It's no different if you're covered or if you get a wide-open shot,"
he says. "If you give it the right touch, it's going in."
ARIZONA | FORWARD | 6'7", 190 POUNDS
He has been
hyped as the finest player from San Diego since Bill Walton. Arizona coach Lute
Olson compares him with Sean Elliott, the signature player of Olson's 24 years
in Tucson, noting his superior long-range shooting, ball handling, athleticism
and unselfishness. And no less an authority than Michael Jordan raved to Olson
about the redhead with the 42-inch vertical leap ("Man, I love that
kid") after guarding him at his Flight School camp last summer. Budinger
eschewed volleyball--a sport in which he was named the national player of the
year while a senior at La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad, Calif.--to play for
the Wildcats, and he'll add a new dimension to their up-tempo attack. Junior
guard Jawann McClellan (below, flanked by forwards Fendi Onobun, left, and
Jordan Hill) is already impressed: "He's one of those players who's always
in the right spot at the right time."