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, 15-11 and 10-6. Here is 5-1.
(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.)
5. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
The first time you watch Oubre play, you may have a hard time focusing on his game. Your eyes will naturally wander to his hair – some adaptation of a Mohawk – which is probably a good thing considering his emphasis on branding. “I’ve never been a person to follow a crowd,” Oubre told The Wichita Eagle in April. “I’ve always wanted to be different in anything I do.” Oubre is one of the best overall scorers in this class, with enough range and athleticism to provide another dimension to a Kansas offense with two strong post players in junior Perry Ellis and (No. 4) freshman Cliff Alexander. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound small forward won’t be mistaken for a Wiggins-level athlete or defender – nor does he possess Wiggins’ upside as a pro prospect – but Oubre’s scoring ability may not be far off. (A better comparison may be former Jayhawk and current Sacramento Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore.) Oubre will be a key part of a perimeter group featuring freshman Devonte Graham and sophomores Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
No team will have more size and depth on its frontline next season than Kentucky. With Willey Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, freshman Trey Lyles and Towns, the Wildcats will be able to wear down most opponents. While earning frontcourt minutes amid multiple waves of NBA talent won’t be easy, there’s reason to believe Towns will get plenty of early run. He is not a shot-blocking specialist like Cauley-Stein or a freak athlete like Lee or a superb post scorer like Lyles. Rather, Towns is the rare seven-footer with legit perimeter skills. Great court vision, solid distribution and a serviceable mid-range jump shot are all part of his repertoire. And Towns may not even be done growing yet, with Yahoo Sports reporting in April that a doctor told Towns he may have reach 7-3. (No incoming freshman has required the UK equipment staff to order larger shoes than Towns’ size 20s.) It will be interesting to see how Calipari elects to use Towns next season. Pairing his passing ability and scoring with Cauley-Stein’s rim protection will give opponents fits.
3. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
If Towns is renowned for wielding a wide range of skills, Alexander is known for doing a few things really well: dunking, rebounding and blocking shots. In high school and on the AAU circuit, Alexander was able to dominate thanks to his athleticism and physicality. That may not work as well in the Big 12, where Alexander (6-9, 240 pounds) will find bigger, more athletic forwards and more clever defenses geared to stop him (but still bet on at least a couple of these this winter). Even if his offensive game could use some refinement, Alexander should put up elite rebounding numbers right away. Here is what Rivals recruiting analyst Eric Bossi wrote about Alexander’s glass-crashing. “Perhaps his biggest strength is his rebounding. Alexander grabs rebound above the rim and often snatches them away from opponents.” The Jayhawks lost Joel Embiid to the NBA this offseason, but with Alexander (a projected lottery pick in 2015) and second-leading scorer Perry Ellis returning, they should have the edge in the frontcourt on most nights. Texas forwards Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley will present a stern challenge, though.
2. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
In case Arizona fans weren’t already excited about Johnson’s first (and possibly only) season in Tuscon, he was named Most Valuable Player at the FIBA Americas U-18 World Tournament in June. Johnson is considered one of the best defenders in this class and is joining a team that led the nation in defensive efficiency last season. But do not dismiss his offensive game. He improved his shooting over four years at Mater Dei (Calif.) High School, where he played every position – including point guard in his senior season. The 6-7, 230-pound Johnson has an NBA-ready body and a good feel for the game, can handle the ball and facilitate for others. Given his psychical attributes and polish, it seems unlikely Johnson will require a long adjustment period at the next level. “Nobody knows more than me that he’s going to be a real piece to our team’s success this next year,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told SI.com in May. If Johnson meets or exceeds expectations, a Pac-12 that already looks like Arizona’s for the taking may be even less competitive than previously thought.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, N/A.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
There were times last season when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to play Jabari Parker at center. This was a pragmatic choice: Duke was thin on the frontline, so Parker needed to play out of position sometimes. The Blue Devils won’t have any issues finding a big man to anchor their frontcourt this season. At 6-10 and 270 pounds, Okafor is a highly skilled post scorer who can work over both shoulders, utilizes drop steps and body fakes to get defenders off balance and can step out to hit jump shots. He has clear All-American potential and could be the best center to play at Duke in more than a decade. An NBA executive with more than 20 years of experience told Yahoo Sports last summer that Okafor is the most skilled high school center he’s ever scouted. Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels compared Okafor to two-time All-American Jared Sullinger and said last November that Okafor is the best post scorer he has seen play in high school since former Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins. “He can clear out space, he's got great hands, really good touch around the basket, a variety of post moves,” Daniels told SI.com. It should come as no surprise, given the superlatives used to describe Okafor, that he is the projected No. 1 pick in DraftExpress’s 2015 mock draft.