High Major Freshman of the Year (includes C-USA minus Memphis, WAC, Mountain West, CAA, A-10 and Gonzaga)
Herb Pope, New Mexico State – I’m going out on a limb here because Pope’s amazing story leaves a lot of question marks for the upcoming season. Besides his wavering eligibility issues (which first-year coach Marvin Menzies says will be granted), he considered de-committing this summer after Reggie Theus left for the Sacramento Kings and is still feeling the lasting effects of nearly fatal gunshot wounds suffered in April, which caused him to lose 37 pounds (check out this outstanding NY Times feature if you want even more info). He’s a bit of a loose cannon, but seemingly just a good kid with an unbelievably troubled past. And if you’ve ever seen footage of Pope play or read about his game, he may have more raw talent than any player in the WAC. He’s 6-9 but can score from anywhere on the court. He has great handle for a big man and says he has regained his explosiveness after the shooting. The Aggies are amongst the WAC favorites so hopefully Pope will play to his potential and his journey will get some national pub (a November 12 game at Duke on ESPN2 should help as well).
All High Major Team
G R.L. Horton, Southern Mississippi
G Dante Jackson, Xavier
F Herb Pope, New Mexico State
F Chris Wright, Dayton
C Austin Daye, Gonzaga
This list may have been tougher to narrow down than the BCS freshmen teams (note: there is no way in hell I could’ve left those forwards off the team, even if it involved snubbing some great players). I know the gap is dwindling between the major programs and the mid-majors, but these schools are still beating out some of the best recruiters in the game to get some of these guys. Everyone makes a fuss about the high and mid-majors and their senior leadership, but the ability to bring in top 50 guys (and keep them for more than one year) is just as big a factor.
I cheated a bit putting Daye at center. Apparently he played some guard in high school but the Zags will want his athleticism on the boards and around the basket (especially if Josh “Shroomer” Heytvelt struggles because he thinks the ball is a dragon). But him, Pope and Wright are three of the better high-major recruits in the past five years so whatever, he’s a center. Just for today.
The people of Dayton have their panties in a bunch over Wright, who was in the top 100 on both Rivals and Scout and part of a great Flyers recruiting class. He had a double-double in the Jordan Classic and chose the Flyers over Michigan State and Texas.
Horton was Mr. Basketball in a loaded Mississippi class this year and a late steal for Larry Eustachy. Despite his point guard body, he is a big-time scorer and reached legendary status for his clutch play. He should see significant time at both guard positions.
Jackson won’t start in the Musketeers outstanding backcourt but could be their sixth man. He’s a great shooter that should see a lot of open looks with Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell handling the ball.
Mid-Major Freshman of the Year (All other conferences)
Matt Howard, Butler – Rivals has him as a four-star prospect and the 85th best player in his class but it has nothing to do with athleticism, highlight reels or physical dominance. Instead, he has all the makings of a prototypical mid-major star. For a guy that’s listed at 6-7, 220 he is relentless on the boards and always seems to be around the ball. He finds a variety of ways to finish around the basket and is a good passer for his size. He spurned Xavier and Indiana for the Bulldogs and Rivals considers him “one of the most highly touted recruits ever to sign with Butler.” This is a very good team and Howard should help alleviate the loss of Brandon Crone.
All Mid Major Team
G Jenirro Bush, Jackson State
G Tyrone Shelley, Pepperdine
F Derek Selvig, Montana
F Matt Howard, Butler
C DJ Magley, Western Kentucky
Shelley is very highly touted and chose Pepperdine over Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, Washington and UCONN. He once scored 76 points in a high school game… as a junior… in three quarters. The four-star recruit also broke Chase Budinger’s San Diego scoring record and, after Kingsley Costain’s dismissal, could be the Waves leading scorer this year.
Bush is another interesting story (props to CHN editor Shawn Siegel for the tip). After committing to Arkansas and being courted by the likes of UCONN, Oregon and Illinois, he had intentions of reclassifying for the 2008 class when Stan Heath left. Then in May he suddenly decided to stay close to home and play for the Tigers this season. He should be their starting point guard and at 6-6 he could put up gaudy numbers in the SWAC.
Selvig is a huge pick-up for a team that is already the favorite in the Big Sky. He’s a 6-10, Steve Novak type shooter who should complement the Grizzlies’ all-league forwards, Andrew Strait and Jordan Hasquet.
Magley lost a lot of weight before his senior year and the Hilltoppers were able to fend off a number of big-time latecomers in the recruiting process. He’s not that athletic but could be dominant if he can stay on the floor for WKU, who should be one of the better mid-majors this season. Plus, he did this, which is nice.
Return to Part I, focusing on the top BCS freshmen. Check back tomorrow for Part III of Jason’s Freshman 10 Preview, a look at rookie sleepers and more.. and next week Jason Tomassini begins his biweekly Freshman 10 column!