We spent the months leading into last season fawning over the prospect of one of the deepest freshman classes ever taking college basketball by storm. Expectations for this year’s group of incoming freshmen should be more measured. The 2014 class is lighter on starpower, with fewer stars-in-waiting and no obvious, franchise NBA franchise-altering force. SI.com is examining what you can expect from the top 25 recruits in Rivals. com’s final 2014 player rankings. We've broken down Nos. 25-21, 20-16 and 15-11. Here is 10-6.
(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.)
10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Classmate Theo Pinson has the potential to be a lockdown defender, but Jackson will plan to leave his mark on the other end of the floor. Which is exactly what the Tar Heels need after ranking 48th in the country in offensive efficiency last season (compared to 21st on defense). An efficient scorer with a high basketball IQ, Jackson can space the floor with a smooth jump shot, knock down pull-ups and toss in floaters after driving into the lane. The 6-8, 200-pound forward was named Co-MVP of the McDonald’s All American game after leading all scorers with 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting -- a performance that makes coach Roy Williams’ statement in November (after Jackson signed his LOI) that Jackson is “getting better and better” both prescient and scary for ACC opponents. Jackson’s combination of size, versatility and a refined offensive game should earn him significant playing time right away in a perimeter group featuring star point guard Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto and Pinson. If his offensive skills translate to the college game, Jackson could help diversify a UNC attack that risks overextending Paige.
9. Kevon Looney, UCLA
Looney’s commitment to UCLA came at a favorable time for coach Steve Alford. The Bruins had missed on three top point guard prospects and heralded wing Trevon Bluiett decided to decommit and reopen his recruitment about a month earlier. In late October, Looney surprisingly chose UCLA over Duke, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan State and Tennessee, among other programs. His commitment gives UCLA a big man with legitimate star potential to build around after the Wear twins exhausted their eligibility and Zach LaVine, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams left for the NBA. Looney is a strong rebounder renowned for his work ethic and intelligence, and he can score both in the paint and from the perimeter. The 6-9, 200-pound forward can’t match Anderson’s playmaking skills, but he may be able to take on a similarly sized glass-cleaning load (25.5 defensive rebounding percentage), while providing an active presence inside. Looney should fit well alongside returning big man Tony Parker and fellow freshmen Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden.
8. Myles Turner, Texas
One of the nation’s highest-profile recruits waited until April 30 to make his college announcement. In some respects, his decision date
was not a surprise, as Turner shot up recruiting boards relatively late in his high school career, after a foot injury the spring after his sophomore season kept him out of important showcase events. Turner (7-foot, 240 pounds) has since developed into a skilled, floor-spacing big man who can also score in the low post and block shots. Turner has drawn comparisons to another skilled former Longhorns big man, LaMarcus Aldridge (now a three-time All Star with the Portland Trail Blazers). In choosing Texas, Turner ignored the advice
of a school newspaper columnist to join a team slated to enter the season ranked in the top 10 in the polls and feature one of the nation’s top frontcourts. The Longhorns will be tough to guard with Turner playing alongside Jonathan Holmes
, who spent time at the 3 last season, and the post-centric Cameron Ridley, a capable rebounder and rim protector.
7. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Guard Deville Smith, who would have been UNLV’s top scorer had he returned, was one of seven players to leave the Rebels this offseason, making it vital that the team’s top-five recruiting class – headlined by Vaughn – produces right away. Vaughn, a 6-5, 200-pound guard who picked the Rebels over Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Iowa State, among other programs, is a skilled scorer who can create off the dribble and has range out to the three-point line. While some have questioned his shot selection, that shouldn’t be too big a concern on a UNLV squad short on proven offensive talent. The Rebels need scoring, and Vaughn has the tools to provide it, even if he takes some bad shots along the way. "I know the pieces we have next year," Vaughn said after announcing his commitment in February. "We can win a national championship." If fellow freshman Dwayne Morgan realizes his potential as a lockdown defender and Vaughn produces on the other end, his proclamation will feel less outlandish.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke
Jones announced his college decision on the same day as Duke teammate and No. 1 recruit Jahlil Okafor, with whom he was considered a so-called package deal. The 6-1, 180-pound Jones is often praised for his poise and good decision-making, but do not underestimate his athleticism
. Even if he does not start -- Quinn Cook
has one more year of eligibility remaining -- Jones’ polished game will help him earn major minutes right away. While he may not be viewed in quite the same light
as teammates Winslow and Okafor among NBA scouts, Jones has the potential to be just as successful at the college level. Given his developed skills and high basketball IQ, it seems unlikely Jones will require a long adjustment period. The same can be said, of course, for Okafor, and there may be no duo of incoming freshmen that makes a bigger impact on their respective teams this season. There will be more hype surrounding Okafor – projected NBA draft No. 1 picks, no matter how early in the process, tend to get noticed – but the less heralded component of The Great Package Deal of 2014
figures to draw plenty of attention.