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  • Despite a tough 2017–18, Vanderbilt could be a team on the upswing thanks to an incoming class led by five-stars Simi Shittu and Darius Garland.
By Emily Caron
August 22, 2018

In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.

With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 15 and No. 10 overall recruits, Vanderbilt's Darius Garland and Simi Shittu, respectively. You can view all of the profiles to date here.

What they mean for Vanderbilt’s recruiting class

Simi Shittu, a 6’10” power forward (No. 10 in the RSCI rankings) is the highest-rated recruit to commit to the Commodores. Fellow top-25 commit Darius Garland, a Nashville native, comes in at No. 15. The five-star point guard joins Shittu and four-star shooting guard Aaron Nesmith (No. 63), in Vanderbilt’s 13th ranked recruiting class—the best in program history. With a talented point guard in Garland, a highly touted power forward in Shittu, and the addition of Nesmith at wing, Vanderbilt not only has its most talented recruits to date but a much more versatile class than in years past. The trio has significant scoring potential for head coach Bryce Drew and the Commodores, which makes a postseason appearance much more likely as the program continues to improve.

How they fit

Garland is the son of former Missouri State star turned NBA point guard Winston Garland. The 6’2” McDonald’s All-American and three-time Mr. Basketball led his high school team to four-consecutive Tennessee Division II-AA titles during his high school career and averaged 27.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game as a senior while shooting 59.7% from the field. He’s a dynamic offensive asset, equally as talented as a passer and playmaker as he is a shooter. He’s quick with a James Harden/Allen Iverson-esque crossover and can dunk as well as he can shoot daggers from deep. He’ll also dish a dirty pass in an instant if needed, but it’s Garland’s ball handling abilities that will blow your mind (just watch the first 30 seconds of his highlights). He has great court vision, which makes him just the floor general that Vanderbilt needs if it wants to return to the postseason in 2018–19. The five-star hometown hero will likely start for the Commodores alongside sophomore Saben Lee, a 6’2” combo guard.

Lee is Vanderbilt’s best returning player after averaging 10.6 points and 3.1 assists per game last season as a true freshman while also leading the team in steals (39) and assists (99). Lee is Drew’s go-to-guard for getting points in the paint, consistently making clutch layups and dunking with ease. He fits as a nice complement to Garland, who’s more talented at the perimeter. Drew will likely pair the two play-making guards together this season, with Shittu, a high-impact power forward, playing as their main target at the middle. Shittu will help fortify the Commodores’ frontcourt, bringing size and strength to Vanderbilt at center but adding an element of agility that’s not common in players his size. He’s talented in transition and excels at making plays off a rebound or a steal, showing point guard potential in a big man’s body. After suffering a torn ACL in December and undergoing corrective knee surgery in January, Shittu might be slow to start for the ‘Dores as he continues to rehab, but will certainly be utilized by Drew all over the court, showing potential as more than simply a center.

Importance to Vanderbilt's success/team outlook

Drew took over the program in 2016, leading the Commodores to the NCAA tournament in the 2016–17 season before a 12–20, 6–12 second season. With the addition of the incoming recruiting class, Drew hopes to advance the team’s upward swing. The freshmen join a solid roster of veteran returners, but their combined talent brings a ton of added promise to the program. While Shittu and Garland certainly have NBA lottery pick potential and may leave before their eligibility ends, their legacy will help Drew recruit for years to come, giving the program the boost it needs to become serious contenders on the national scale. Lastly, if anyone wants a laugh, here’s Garland interviewing his fellow McDonald’s All-Americans.

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