We spent the months leading into last season fawning over one of the deepest freshman classes ever. Expectations for this year’s group of incoming freshmen should be more measured. The 2014 class is lighter on star power, with no obvious NBA franchise-altering force. Yet there are a host of players who should make large contributions right away. Over the next week, SI.com will examine what you can expect from the top 25 recruits in Rivals.com’s final 2014 player rankings.
(Editor's note: Because of Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to play overseas, every player before Mudiay's No. 2 ranking has been moved up one position.)
25. Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Ohio State needs its recruiting class – which features four players and is ranked 12th in Rivals.com’s team ratings – to provide immediate offensive production that will help offset the loss of three top scorers from last season (Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross). Combo guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 18 player in 2014, could be the best scorer of the bunch, but Bates-Diop might have the most potential long-term. At 6-foot-7, 190 pounds, Bates-Diop can shoot it from long range, drive to the basket and is versatile and athletic enough to play multiple positions. The Normal, Ill. native, who turned down offers from Michigan, Kansas State, Indiana and others, could wind up being one of the most underrated players in this class. “You’re getting a long 6-7 and a half, 6-8 athlete that can really, really shoot the basketball,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said of Bates-Diop after he signed his National Letter of Intent in November. “I think from the standpoint of playing multiple positions – he scores, he passes, he rebounds, he can defend, he can handle the basketball.”
24. Kameron Chatman, Michigan
A combination of NBA draft-related departures, graduation and transfer will force Michigan to start basically from scratch in the frontcourt. Who will be tasked with replacing Mitch McGary
, Jon Horford
, Jordan Morgan
and Glenn Robinson III
? Chatman is one option. At 6-foot-6 and 197 pounds, Chatman would appear small for a 4 at first glance, but Michigan hasn't used that spot for a back-to-the-basket big man in recent years (see Robinson III, Glenn or Novak, Zack). While not as big or strong as some of the other highly ranked big men in this class, Chatman offers a versatile set of skills that will fit well in coach John Beilein’s system. He rebounds effectively, sees the floor well and can handle the ball and score in different ways. Said Beilein upon Chatman’s signing in November
, “Kam has a unique ability to play either guard or forward because he is both an excellent rebounder and passer. His versatility and ability to see the floor gives him the potential of being an excellent playmaker, scorer, and defender for us at many different positions."
23. JaQuan Lyle, Oregon
After a tumultuous offseason in which three players were dismissed amid rape allegations, Oregon will hope its batch of newcomers catches on quickly. Lyle, who initially committed to Louisville, only to back out three months later in favor of the Ducks, is the most promising player in the six-man class, which is ranked 15th in the nation by Rivals.com. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, Lyle can muscle his way past defenders, attack the basket and dish to open shooters or cutters. He’s a strong bet to play major minutes right away alongside Joseph Young, one of the top returning scorers in the country. Lyle and Young should instantly form one of the better guard duos in the Pac-12; at the very least, they can offset the impact of roster losses like Dominic Artis. Though the Ducks will be in far worse position to contend for a conference championship than expected a few months ago, Lyle can help keep them in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. (Lyle reportedly has yet to be admitted at Oregon)
22. Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
Georgetown got very little offensive production from its frontcourt last season. Among nominal forwards who played in at least 15 games for the Hoyas, only Mikael Hopkins
and Aaron Bowen
averaged more than 5.1 points (Nate Lubick
’s scoring average). Center Josh Smith
being ruled academically ineligible in January didn’t help matters, either. The Hoyas’ frontcourt shortcomings should be eased by a recruiting class featuring two top-50 power forwards (the other is Chicago
, Ill., native Paul White). Copeland is a smooth athlete with a diverse offensive arsenal, good court vision and solid ball handling. Athletic enough to exploit plodding forwards and big enough to overwhelm guards, Copeland creates mismatches with his combination of size and perimeter competency. He is an excellent fit for coach John Thompson III’s “Don’t call it Princeton”
offense, and he should get major playing time right away. If Smith can get his academics in order and stay in shape – a dubious proposition, to be sure
– the Hoyas will have a intriguing frontcourt pairing with complementary skills.
21. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana in September 2010, four years before he was set to arrive on campus and, as Inside The Hall points out, before second-year NBA center Cody Zeller took his official visit. He later re-opened his recruitment and strongly considered Kentucky but ultimately re-pledged to the Hoosiers. Blackmon Jr., who scored more than 2,300 points in high school and earned an invitation to the McDonald’s All American Game, is an excellent shooter who can operate efficiently in a backcourt with point guard Yogi Ferrell. Though the Hoosiers ranked third in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage, they finished sixth in effective field goal percentage – a statistic that puts added weight on made threes – and bring back only one player (Ferrell) who shot at least 25 percent from beyond the arc. In other words, Indiana – which ranked 127th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten in points scored per possession, according to Kenpom.com – could use another shooter to space the floor, and Blackmon can help in that regard.