Freshmen making their impact felt in ACC men's basketball
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) A bevy of talented freshmen in the Atlantic Coast Conference are making their presence felt around the league.
Eight freshmen are averaging in double figures with two - North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. and Georgia Tech's Josh Okogie - leading their teams in scoring. The average number of freshmen coming into the season to average double figures in the conference since 1992-93 was five, according to Basketball Reference.
The class is so deep that Miami coach Jim Larranaga named 17 he believes deserve consideration to be on the five-player all-freshmen team.
''The talent we have coming in is off the charts,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ''I think they are much more experienced coming in, but there's also quality and depth on teams to help them develop.''
Two of the league's top freshmen will meet on Wednesday when Smith's Wolfpack travel to face No. 14 Florida State and Jonathan Isaac. Both are projected to be lottery picks in the NBA draft if they leave school after this season.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith has lived up to his preseason billing. He is fifth in the ACC in scoring (19.2) while leading the league in both assists (7.0) and steals (2.2).
After rehabbing his senior year in high school due to a knee injury and enrolling at North Carolina State early, Smith is trying to become only the third freshman in conference history since 1993-94 to average at least 19 points - joining Maryland's Joe Smith (19.4, 1993-94) and Duke's Jabari Parker (19.1, 2013-14).
Smith - who ranks fourth nationally in assists - is also the first player in ACC history to post two triple-doubles in the same season in league play. He's earned plenty of praise from league coaches along the way, too. After Smith had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists in an overtime loss last week to Syracuse , Orange coach Jim Boeheim said Smith would ''have 50'' if the Orange had tried to play him 1-on-1 instead of with their zone.
''He has that rare basketball savvy that very seldom comes along in a player of his age. Guys with his kind of his ability come along once a decade,'' Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Isaac arrived at Florida State as one of the most heralded recruits in program history. He has not disappointed with six double-doubles including four in conference play. The 6-10, 210-pound forward is eighth in the ACC in rebounding (7.9) and sixth in free throw percentage (82.9 percent).
Isaac, who is averaging 12.8 points per game, has benefited from being part of an experienced team that has four veteran starters.
''He's defending well and using his length to score,'' North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said.
While Smith and Isaac were heralded high school standouts, Okogie wasn't highly recruited and was thought to be a role player coming off the bench. The 6-4, 207-pound guard has exceeded expectations for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 15.4 points per game and being ACC freshman of the week a league-best four times.
''He's a high-level player. The big thing is he has to stay consistent for us down the stretch,'' Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.
Said Isaac: ''I think this class is ridiculous in terms of freshmen. There are so many different types of players and it is strong at every single position.''
Other freshmen scoring in double-figures include:
- Duke's Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson. Tatum, a 6-8 forward, who missed the first eight games due to a foot injury, is tied for second on the team in scoring, averaging 15.8 points per game, along with 6.9 rebounds per game. Jackson, a 6-3 guard averaging 10.2 points, is one of the few Duke players who has avoided an injury.
- Ky Bowman, Boston College. The 6-1 guard who is averaging 13.5 points per game, is one of just four freshmen nationally with three or more 30-point games (North Carolina State's Smith has four).
- Bruce Brown, Miami. The 6-5 guard is averaging 12.1 points per game and is 19-of-35 on 3-pointers over the past 12 games.
- Tyus Battle, Syracuse. A 6--6 guard, Battle is averaging 10.5 points and scored a career-high 23 in last Saturday's win over No. 9 Virginia .
AP basketball writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed.
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