- The Hilltoppers are an interesting puzzle to assemble, but with Robinson in the middle, their front line will be hard to match around Conference USA.
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 7 overall recruit: Western Kentucky’s Mitchell Robinson.
What he means for Western Kentucky’s recruiting class
Without getting too hyperbolic, Mitchell Robinson means a lot to Western Kentucky—not just its recruiting class, but also (potentially) the program and its trajectory under second-year coach Rick Stansbury. Consensus top-10 recruits aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to become Hilltoppers, and yet now—thanks to some combination of Stansbury’s vaunted recruiting acumen and the hiring of Robinson’s godfather, former UNC star Shammond Williams, as an assistant coach—last year’s eighth-place finisher in Conference USA has a 6' 11" center projected as a one-and-done NBA lottery pick. Now Robinson and 6' 4" wing Josh Anderson, a top-60 recruit who in any other year would have been the clear centerpiece of a Hilltoppers recruiting class, will aim to establish Western Kentucky as a college hoops destination.
How he fits
Last season’s Hilltoppers didn’t start a player taller than 6' 7", so the addition of a talent of Robinson’s size (and caliber) will be a boon to the team’s post play. Last season’s undersized five, 240-pounder Justin Johnson, did excel at the spot, averaging 14.5 points and 9.4 rebounds, and 6' 9" Kansas grad transfer Dwight Coleby will be eligible immediately, making for a front line that will be hard to match in Conference USA. That may be especially important with all the new faces in the backcourt as well. Expect Robinson to be used and counted on heavily out of the gate.
The Hilltoppers are an interesting puzzle to assemble, as rarely does a mid-major team add so much talent all at once. With Robinson and Anderson as precocious rookies alongside Coleby and guards Darius Thompson (Virginia) and Jordan Brangers (South Plains College), who all are immediately eligible as transfers, this will be a very different team than the one that finished 15–17 last season. Conference USA is an open competition with two-year champion Middle Tennessee losing its entire frontcourt, but returnee-heavy teams like Louisiana Tech and UTEP won’t roll over. Western Kentucky clearly has the talent to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013. Now it’s a matter of putting it all together.