10 Freshman to Watch in the Pac-12
Shabazz Muhammad and 10 Freshman To Watch in Pac-12
After being down the last few seasons and only sending two representatives to the NCAA Tournament last year, the Pac-12 is ready to reestablish itself as one of the premier conferences in America. Leading that charge is perhaps the best crop of incoming freshmen since 2008-2009.
That was the year that future NBA pros Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas began their collegiate careers. Despite not being an high school All-American like Holiday or DeRozan, Thomas was named conference Freshman of the Year.
5 McDonald’s All-Americans will enter the Pac-12 this year. Most of the highly touted names on this list will either be starting for their teams right away or earn quality minutes as role players. It’s added to the expectations that the conference will once again send multiple first round picks to the NBA Draft.
First some honorable mentions: Gabe York (Arizona) and Xavier Johnson (Colorado). York and Johnson both shined in Southern California this past year for their high school teams, with Johnson winning his second consecutive state championship for Mater Dei High School.
York’s profile rose higher after an impressive senior season where his athleticism and scoring made him one of the top guards in the state. Johnson, a 6-6 small forward, could be starting for the Buffaloes right away and might be another steal for head coach Tad Boyle.
The fact that neither made the list despite me having seen both in action as prep standouts speaks to the depth of this freshman class. Here’s the rest in order from No. 10 to No. 1.
No. 10: Rosco Allen
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins expects big things from Allen, who was a teammate of Shabazz Muhammad at Bishop Gorman High School (Nevada). Allen earned his own fame as a 6-9 big man who helped Gorman win their third state championship in four years.
Ranked No. 73 in the Rivals’ 150, he should add immediate frontcourt depth to Stanford even though might need to add more muscle to his 215-lb frame. With his shooting touch, he’ll be used on the perimeter as well as the post.
Along with fellow incoming freshman Grant Verhoeven (6-9, 220 lbs), he makes Stanford formidable compared to teams with size such as UCLA and Arizona. While not a one-and-done type player, he could be one of the best big men in the conference by the time he graduates.
No. 9: Tony Parker
With Ben Howland’s frustrations over Josh Smith’s inconsistency, he’s expecting much out of Parker, a 6-9, 275 lbs. native of Georgia and one of three McDonald’s All-Americans UCLA recruited.
His impact will be immediate due to his bulk, gifts and Smith's inconsistent play. Parker and Smith are the Bruins’ only true centers and with reports that Smith is still not in great shape, Parker will see playing time right away.
I do worry that since he is almost as big as Smith, there might be questions about his conditioning since the Bruins want to push the tempo on offense. The Bruins haven’t had much luck recruiting centers in the past few years – 2008 recruit J’Mison Morgan was dismissed from the program two years later – but if Parker can keep his weight down, his ceiling is high.
No. 8: Dominic Artis
Originally from Northern California before transferring to national power Findlay Prep (Nevada) as a senior, Artis initially committed to UCLA before switching to Oregon. Rated as the No. 5 point guard in the country by Rivals, he’s a true point who a great ball-handler and distributor.
The 6-1, 185 lbs. Artis could be a starter by the time the Ducks enter conference play as their top returning assist man, Johnathan Loyd, had only 100 total last year. He may not be the scorer that former Ducks Aaron Brooks or Tajuan Porter were but he might be a better floor leader.
No. 7: Josh Scott
A Colorado native, Scott might have a similar impact to fellow freshman Xavier Johnson coming into the program but since head coach Tad Boyle spoke so highly of him at Pac-12 Media Day, I bumped Scott higher on the list.
At 6-10, Scott is a top-50 national recruit who can flat out score. He averaged 28.5 points per game as a high school senior. The Buffaloes have lacked any type of post presence the last few years so Scott steps right in to fill that void and contribute right away.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Scott and Johnson started right away and with Colorado returning several great wing players, they could make another run at the NCAA Tournament to prove that last year was no fluke.
No. 6: Brandon Ashley
One of three Arizona Wildcats on this list, Ashley was a prep standout in Oakland before he transferred to Findlay Prep (Nevada) as a senior. At 6-8, he’s a versatile forward who can score in the post or on the perimeter.
A McDonald’s All-American last year, Ashley would probably contend for a starting spot for any other team in the Pac-12. But due to the depth on the Wildcats’ roster, he’s probably coming off the bench as a key reserve.
It’s not a knock on Ashley’s talent but it should scare the conference knowing the Wildcats have somebody off the bench who is quick, athletic and ready to contribute right away.
No. 5: Grant Jerrett
Leading off the top five is perhaps one of the best big men to emerge from California in several years. Grant Jerrett was a two-time state champion at LaVerne Lutheran High School and at 6-10, he’s going to fit in right away at Arizona.
A McDonald’s All-American, Jerrett is already penciled in as a starter for the Wildcats and reports from Tucson are that he’s been dominating. Like Ashley, he can score on the perimeter but with his great footwork and post moves, he’s even more effective in the post.
With the Wildcats picked to win the Pac-12 by the media, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jerrett wasn’t just named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team but an honorable mention on the overall All-Conference Team.
No. 4: Jahii Carson
The best Arizona State recruit since James Harden, Carson had to redshirt last season after not qualifying academically. Now that he’s eligible, he could be one of the most dynamic freshmen point guards in the country.
Head coach Herb Sendek had high praise for the 5-10 guard at Pac-12 Media Day and who could blame him? Carson is lightning fast and can get to the basket with ease. He’s an excellent passer, can shoot the ball fairly well and is an incredible athlete that can dunk with ease. Need proof? Just do a simple YouTube search under his name and prepare to be wowed.
Just to show that he’s not rusty, he scored 18 points in the Sun Devils’ intrasquad scrimmage last month. The team might not have a lot of upside but with Carson as their floor general, they could be fun to watch.
No. 3: Kaleb Tarczewski
A late grab for head coach Sean Miller, Tarczewaki was a top-10 national recruit who was every bit an All-American as Ashley or Jarrett but was declared ineligible for the game.
It doesn’t matter now as Tarczewski already made his presence felt. He had a double-double in their intrasquad scrimmage (18 points, 10 rebounds) and has added 40 lbs. of muscle to his frame. He’s now 7-0, 260 lbs and mobile enough to cause havoc on competition.
Tarczewski was already noted as a great shot-blocker/rebounder but if he can add some scoring in the post, there’s no limit to his potential. He could very well be one of the top freshmen centers in the country at the end of the season.
No. 2: Kyle Anderson
At the moment, Anderson is the highest player on this list who’s eligible. With UCLA in dire need of point guard help, Anderson’s gifts will complement impact transfer Larry Drew II.
A top-5 national recruit who was a McDonald’s All-American, Anderson has been hailed as perhaps one of the best freshman passers in the country. He’s been compared to Magic Johnson in terms of size, ball-handling, slashing ability and high basketball IQ.
I’ve already gone into depth on Anderson’s skill set so I’ll add that he is expected to be in the starting lineup when the Bruins open their season on Friday against Indiana State.
No. 1: Shabazz Muhammad
This is a big if considering as of this writing, Muhammad is still ineligible to suit up for UCLA. There’s no timetable on when the NCAA is expected to make their ruling so as of now, Ben Howland is preparing his team as if Muhammad will not play this week.
As for Muhammad as a player, this is a no-brainer to say that if he plays, he’s a candidate for National Freshman of the Year and Pac-12 Player of the Year. The most important recruit UCLA has landed since Kevin Love, he’s a versatile scorer and defender who can give the Bruins a go-to-guy they’ve lacked for several years.
If he can play at all this season, he’s the difference between the Bruins being a Pac-12 contender and perhaps a Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight team.