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 franchise 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. We've broken down Nos. 25-21 and 20-16. Here is 15-11.
(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.)
15. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
Whitehead’s commitment to Seton Hall last year reignited a years-old debate about package deals in recruiting. Whatever coach Kevin Willard and his staff did to convince Whitehead to pick Seton Hall – and whether the whole thing appeared unsavory – the payoff could be immense. Whitehead was tabbed for stardom at a young age, a supreme talent who could follow in the footsteps of fellow Abraham Lincoln High School grads Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. He chose the Pirates over offers from Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida and Indiana, among other programs. Whitehead is one of the best pure scorers in this class and has the potential, alongside leading returning scorer Sterling Gibbs, to push Seton Hall into contention for a postseason birth. “He makes everyone on the court better,” Willard told NorthJersey.com. “He’s one of the most unselfish top players I’ve ever seen.”
14. Dwayne Morgan, UNLV
Rebels coach Dave Rice will hope his recruiting class, which is ranked fifth in the country by Rivals, pays immediate dividends after a rash of offseason departures. Morgan, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound small forward from Baltimore, Md., is an excellent athlete who rebounds well, blocks shots and can guard a range of opponents. While his offensive game is still developing, Morgan enhances UNLV’s prospects on the other end of the floor; the Rebels ranked 90th in defensive efficiency last season. It would not be surprising to see him earn significant minutes right away. "Dwayne is going to be a big part of our team this coming year," Rice told The Baltimore Sun in June. "I think, with his work ethic, he will have a major impact on our program right away. He brings it every single day. He's a very skilled player and very determined on the defensive end. So, I think he'd be a guy that will be an impact player for us."
13. Daniel Hamilton, UConn
When Hamilton committed to UConn in May 2013, he did not sign a National Letter of Intent. With rumors swirling about UConn coach Kevin Ollie’s NBA job prospects, Hamilton wanted to avoid complications his brother Isaac faced last year. Hamilton signed a financial aid agreement in November, and after Ollie decided against pursuing one of several pro coaching vacancies (he reportedly rebuffed the Cavaliers), Hamilton’s arrival in Storrs, Conn., this summer was secured. The 6-7, 180-pound forward will be tasked with helping the Huskies defend a national championship after losing point guard Shabazz Napier and forwards DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey. A gifted scorer and top-end athlete who is adept at attacking the rim, Hamilton should provide instant offensive punch and prevent defenses from fixating on returning point guard Ryan Boatright. Hamilton, Boatright and N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis – the No. 12 player in the class of 2012 – give the Huskies a strong scoring trio that should make them a contender in the AAC, if not a threat to repeat as national champions.
12. Trey Lyles, Kentucky
Kentucky lost two players who were selected in the first round of the NBA draft – power forward Julius Randle and small forward James Young – yet still figure to enter the 2014 season ranked No. 1. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Wildcats’ lofty projection is their stable of big men. Setting aside Lyles, Kentucky will trot out five frontcourt players likely to be drafted: Willey Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and fellow freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. The glut of forwards could limit Lyles’ playing time as a freshman, but he’s so polished offensively that coach John Calipari will have a hard time keeping him off the floor. Lyles, a 6-10, 255-pound forward from Indianapolis, Ind., uses his body effectively, can step out and knock down mid-range jumpers and has drawn comparisons to Lakers forward Carlos Boozer. While not as athletic as Lee or as capable defensively as Cauley-Stein, Lyles’ game complements those of the Wildcats’ other big men, which should help him slide into the rotation.
11. Justise Winslow, Duke
Much like Kentucky, Duke will rely on freshmen to mitigate the impact of losing first-round draft picks. For the Blue Devils, replacing the scoring output provided by Jabari Parker
(19.1 ppg) and Rodney Hood
(16.1) won’t be easy. Winslow can help in that regard – he averaged 27.5 points per game as a senior at St. John’s (Houston, Tex.) High – but his primary contribution will be bolstering a defense that ranked No. 116 in efficiency last season. At 6-6, 210 pounds, Winslow is quick, strong and able to guard multiple positions. He is often described as one of the most versatile players in this class, and his athleticism and toughness ensure he’ll see the floor early. After Winslow signed with Duke in November, coach Mike Krzyzewski said
he “can guard every position and is an amazing rebounder and scorer.” While Duke’s point guard-center duo of Tyus Jones (No. 7) and Jahlil Okafor (No. 1) have dominated headlines, don't make the mistake of overlooking Winslow.