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  • Penny Hardaway and the Tigers boast the country’s best recruiting class, and five-star Precious Achiuwa will be expected to contribute immediately.
By Emily Caron
August 23, 2019

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. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. 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. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.

With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 15 overall recruits, Memphis's Precious Achiuwa. You can view all of the profiles to date here.

What He Means for the Tigers’ Recruiting Class

Penny Hardaway and the Tigers boast the country’s No. 1 recruiting class, comprised of seven freshmen, all of whom are four or five-star recruits. Precious Achiuwa is one of two five-star commits in the class. The 6’9” forward is Memphis’s second-highest rated newcomer behind the nation's top recruit, hometown hero James Wiseman. The pair of big men are joined by five four-star freshman—combo guard Boogie Ellis (No. 38), who decommitted from Duke to join the program, power forward D.J. Jeffries (No. 51), shooting guard Lester Quinones (No. 58), center Malcolm Dandridge (No. 104) and combo guard Damion Baugh (No. 113). The class boasts depth and talent at every position, with Achuiwa and Wiseman headlining Hardaway’s efforts and forming a formidable frontcourt duo for the Tigers.

How He Fits

The Tigers are markedly young but remarkably talented, having lost five of their six top scorers and nine players in total (five graduated and four transferred) while bringing in plenty of new potential. The lone upperclassman on Memphis’s squad this season is senior reserve Isaiah Maurice, and significant contributions from the incoming freshmen and returning sophomores will be expected. The team’s two five-star big men will have a heavy load to shoulder from the start. Much will be asked of Achiuwa and Wiseman, but thankfully the Tigers have a ton of depth in their 13-man roster which should provide sufficient support.

Returning starter Tyler Harris brings a dash of experience to the backcourt in light of the loss of the team’s top scorer, shooting guard Jeremiah Martin (who spent time at the three in small lineups). But based on Memphis’s lineups in exhibition games, it’s Damion Baugh who may win the starting floor general slot with Harris anchoring the reserves. Kareem Brewton Jr., Raynere Thornton and Antwann Jones are all also gone from the guard group, taking a significant percentage of the team’s points with them. Sophomore guard Alex Lomax slotted in alongside Harris in the backcourt last season, but Boogie Ellis could win the starting two slot as a strong playmaker with the potential to help facilitate and score. Redshirt freshmen guards Ryan Boyce and Jayden Hardaway are also available, as is the newcomer Quinones, who saw significant playing time during the Tigers’ summer trip to the Bahamas.

Achiuwa fits well in a frontcourt that will look as different from last season as the back. Anchoring the big men along with Wiseman, the duo have to replace the production lost with Martin and Hardaway’s No. 2 scorer Kyvon Davenport (who doubled as the team’s leading rebounder), along with center Mike Parks Jr. Achiuwa himself is less of a wing than a true forward, pouring in most of his points at the rim while pulling up for a surprise shot from the perimeter every so often. While averaging 14 points per game his senior season, Achiuwa sunk 10 threes but only attempted 12 the entire year, according to MaxPreps. He’s a capable shooter but particular about when he takes shots from deep, making him a more likely four-type forward at the college level. If Harris, the team’s most prolific three-point shooter last season, sees less time on the floor this year, Achiuwa’s abilities beyond the arc will become even more important. He’ll have to become more comfortable on the perimeter, especially without Martin and Davenport on the floor (who shot 34.6% from three on 297 attempts and 35.6% on 237 attempts, respectively). Stronger mid-range shooting would also help add versatility to Achiuwa's arsenal.

At 6’9”, 225-pounds, the Montverde Academy alum brings length and physicality to the floor for the Tigers and should be a big defensive boost. He can contribute on the boards, boasts a decent amount of agility for a player his size and is expected to be one of the Tigers’ top contributors this season on both ends. Jeffries will likely take over the small forward slot while Wiseman undoubtably starts at the five. With that trio together on the floor, Memphis should have one of the strongest starting frontcourts in the country, although it clearly lacks an element of experience. They’re long, athletic and capable shooters who should serve as a nice complement to what should be a fast starting backcourt in Baugh and Ellis. Maurice, one of the few familiar faces from last season’s team, and Dandridge can help back Wiseman up. Louisville transfer Lance Thomas, a redshirt sophomore forward who sat out last season, will also help. There isn’t a ton of depth at the three, but there is enough talent on the team for Hardaway to make it work and bring one of the other big men off the bench to back up Jeffries.

Importance to Memphis's Success/Team Outlook

In his first season as the Tigers coach, Hardaway led Memphis to a 22–14 record and an NIT second-round appearance—the team’s first postseason appearance in four seasons—with a talent-depleted roster left by former coach Tubby Smith. With the incoming players he brought on board for 2019, Hardaway now has the personnel to play a few different styles. He can play a bigger unit anchored by Wiseman and Achiuwa, a smaller unit centered around Dandridge or fast units powered by the team’s facilitators. Achiuwa alone would’ve been a huge get for the Tigers, but his scoring potential combined with what Wiseman brings could take this team to another level. The hype around this incoming class certainly brings some pressure, but even factoring in all the anticipation, it would be a disappointment if Hardaway’s crew didn’t give Houston and Cincinnati a run for the AAC crown.

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