Unlike last year, this year’s crop of highly touted freshman hasn’t proven that they’re NBA-ready material. However, that doesn’t look like it’s going to stop a lot of them from declaring for the draft come June.
At the beginning of the college season, a bunch of us were itching for one of these rooks to separate themselves from the pack. Greg Monroe‘s first three games of Big East play made him look like a sure-fire lottery pick, as he tallied 17.3 points and 7 boards per game against UConn, Pitt and Notre Dame. But since then he’s cooled off as quickly as his disappointing Georgetown team.
Jrue Holiday looked like UCLA’s most capable guard at Madison Square Garden in their loss against Michigan in November. He handled John Beilein‘s ball pressure as well as Darren Collison, and played more confidently than Josh Shipp, which was undoubtedly impressive for a freshman. But at the same time, that’s a far cry from last year’s crop. Those kids were far and away the best players on their team. This time around, we’re trying to justify that they are valuable pieces to their respective squads.
Many people think that B.J. Mullens will be a great pro someday. But he’s been pretty disappointing all year at Ohio State. He is a skilled 7-footer, whose game might be better suited for the League, but right now, NBA teams shouldn’t be confident that he’s a lock to hold down the pivot for years to come. I wasn’t at the Elite 24 when he played, but I remember hearing stories about how the Rucker Park crowd embraced the big fella because he was throwing down on virtually every touch. But last night against Penn State, he timidly flipped-in a lay-up on a largely uncontested break. He doesn’t seem like the same guy who was No. 1 in the Class of ’08.
Memphis’ Tyreke Evans puts up numbers – 17.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg – but he looks a half-step slower on this level than he did last year at American Christian. I can’t get past his struggles against real non-C-USA comp earlier this year, when he shot a combined 23-74 FG (31% FG). His numbers have shot through the roof since the Tigers began C-USA play, but there’s an asterisk there for me.
We could go on and on, breaking down how various freshmen have failed to live up to expectations. But there is one rook who has separated himself from the pack: Oklahoma’s Willie Warren.
If you’ve been too busy watching Blake Griffin every time OU is on TV, check out this video of Warren.
He’s supremely athletic, and his handle is good enough to get to the hole against pretty much any defender. Against Kansas two nights ago, Warren dribbled the ball back-and-forth between his legs probably eight times, before exploding right, taking off around the first hash mark and soaring to finish at the rim. I’m not sure if that means he’ll slide from the two-guard over to the point in the NBA. At 6-4, 207 lbs., he’s a real combo guard who definitely has some Rodney Stuckey in his game.
There’s also a little bit of Jack McClinton in Warren’s style – if Jeff Capel gave him the green light, Warren could pull close to thirty times in a single outing without really thinking about it. But because he’s played with Blake Griffin all year long, he’s learned to control some of that shoot-first, shoot-second mentality. He’s only averaging three assists per game, but his role on this team is to help the offense flow to Griffin, and to be the Sooners’ second scorer.
After Warren put up 23 points against Kansas two nights ago in a loss, KU coach Bill Self summed up the freshman’s potential pretty well.
“He’s the best offensive player we’ve recruited since I’ve been at KU.”
Of all the freshmen in college hoops right now, that’s got to be the highest praise we’ve heard. And better yet, it’s some of the only high praise that we’ve heard since any of these freshmen have gone to college.