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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sorrentino

Fantastic freshmen: KU’s Henry, UT’s Bradley lead list of Big 12’s top rookies

Kansas forward Xavier Henry soars in for a dunk over the Michigan defense during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2009 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Xavier Henry soars in for a dunk over the Michigan defense during the second half, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2009 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Want more Big 12 hoops analysis? Check out Eric Sorrentino's Conference Chatter blog.

When Kevin Durant caught fire at Allen Fieldhouse in March 2007, scoring 25 points in the first half, I thought he was the best freshman I had ever seen play college basketball.

The Texas sensation finished with 32 points, despite being slowed by an ankle injury in the second half. It was one of the best performances in a half I can remember from an opponent at the fieldhouse. Some of my friends who were at the game — I did not attend — told me they were so mesmerized by Durant’s dominance that they found themselves quietly applauding the future NBA star.

Of course, they could cheer louder when Kansas, using an unparalleled home-court advantage, overcame a 16-point deficit in the first half and won, 90-86, behind 21 points from Mario Chalmers. KU would also clinch the Big 12 regular-season title.

But anyone with a decent memory remembers that game as the Kevin Durant show.

Durant, who averaged 25.8 points per game in his one season with the Longhorns, was named Associated Press Player of the Year in 2007.

Here in Big 12 country, we’ve been spoiled with a variety of fantastic freshmen over the years.

Just one year after Durant, Michael Beasley of Kansas State came along and dropped 26.2 points per game in 2007-2008, the best scoring average for a freshman in Big 12 history. North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough was named player of the year that season. I would have voted for Beasley.

Other Big 12 freshmen who had an instant impact: Curtis Stinson averaged 16.2 points per game with Iowa State in 2003-04; Blake Griffin put up 14.7 points and 9.1 boards per game with Oklahoma in 2007-2008; how about T.J. Ford’s 8.3 assists per game at Texas in 2001-2002?

When referring to defense, Chalmers was mature beyond his years for a freshman, averaging a dynamite 2.7 steals per game for Kansas in 2005-2006. That 2.7 average stands as a Big 12 freshman record.

This season, the conference boasts a slew of freshmen who are critical to their team’s success. Here’s a list of the Top 10 freshmen in the Big 12 for 2009-2010:

10. Thomas Robinson, Kansas

Few freshmen have the physical stature of the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Robinson, who’s averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds this season. His minutes have been sporadic because of his inconsistency, but he should be a force at Kansas for the next few years. Robinson must improve from the free throw stripe (15-for-35, 42.9 percent).

9. Steven Pledger, Oklahoma

The 6-4 guard has shown flashes of three-point mastery, drilling six on Nov. 26 at Houston, on his way to 23 points. Problem is, he’s only averaging three points per game in his last six outings. He attempts five three-pointers per game, so the opportunities are there. Pledger is averaging 8.4 points per game on the season.

8. Ray Penn, Oklahoma State

The 5-11 Houston native has started nine of the Cowboys’ 11 games at point guard. It’s a difficult position to be in at Oklahoma State, which has grown accustomed to Byron Eaton running the show the last few years. Penn is averaging 8.5 points and 2.6 assists per game.

7. Tommy Mason-Griffin, Oklahoma

The Sooners’ freshman floor general has been steady, putting up 10.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. Oklahoma is struggling this season at 8-4, but the Sooners play a slew of freshmen and sophomores. Mason-Griffin’s best outing of the season came on Monday when he scored 20 points off 7-of-14 shooting (4-of-9 from beyond the arc) in a loss against UTEP.

6. J’Covan Brown, Texas

The 6-1 guard has scored in double figures in eight of the 10 games he’s played this season. Brown started four games for coach Rick Barnes, but has recently come off the bench behind Dogus Balbay. Brown had a memorable 21-point effort on Dec. 19 against North Carolina at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

With Texas sophomore guard Varez Ward out for the remainder of the season with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon, Brown will continue to see plenty of time. He’s averaging 23.6 minutes per game, with 12.5 points per contest.

5. Alec Burks, Colorado

The 6-6 guard out of Grandview, Mo., has to be the most surprising freshman in the Big 12 this season. Burks immediately cracked coach Jeff Bzdelik’s starting lineup and is averaging 15.9 points per game, good for 11th in the conference. Colorado (7-4) is still a poor team, but Burks should be able to get his chances to be the Buffaloes’ second scoring option behind junior Cory Higgins (19.2 ppg., third in Big 12).

4. Jordan Hamilton, Texas

Rivals.com ranked Hamilton No. 6 in the country in the Class of 2009. He hasn’t had a poor season by any stretch (10.2 points per game), especially since he’s come off the bench in every game this season. He’s a dangerous three-point shooter with a similar low-elevating form to Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn. He should stay another year in school, where he’ll get the chance to start next year and elevate his stock, before thinking about the NBA.

3. Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma

Gallon, at 6-9 and 300 pounds, is anything but tiny in stature. The nickname — his real name is Keith — came about at age 14 when his AAU coach in Houston jokingly called him Tiny. It didn’t matter that he was 6-6 and 340 pounds at the time. The nickname stuck.

Gallon already has four double-doubles this season for Jeff Capel’s Sooners. The Vallejo, Calif. native is averaging 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

2. Avery Bradley, Texas

Had there been a Big 12 defensive freshman award, Bradley would win it. He’s a suffocating defender who’s produced seven steals in his last three games. Bradley was a defensive-minded player before he arrived in Austin, and coach Barnes’ instruction has only made him more tenacious.

Barnes’ players have the luxury of playing in-your-face defense at all times, even far away from the basket, and Bradley thrives in this kind of environment. UT is deep enough that if any defender is tired, they’ll get a breather.

Bradley, who Rivals.com ranked No. 4 in the country in the Class of 2009, is averaging 11.6 points per game. He’s shown the ability to knock down the three-point shot (12-for-30, 40 percent) and drive to the bucket.

Bradley came off the bench the first two games, but has started all nine since. He’s considered a top 10 draft pick if he chooses to leave after his first year.

1. Xavier Henry, Kansas

Henry leads all Big 12 freshmen with 17.2 points per game and ranks fifth in the country in freshman scoring average. The Oklahoma City native has a chance to be KU’s most gifted freshman scorer ever. Danny Manning holds the freshman record with 14.6 points per game in 1985.

Henry’s efficiency is startling. He’s converted 53.2 percent of his field goals and 48.2 percent of his three pointers.

“He has a chance to lead us in scoring any night,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Henry. “He won’t because we have Sherron (Collins) and Cole (Aldrich) or whoever else. He’ll have a chance to do that and I’m sure there will be multiple nights he does do that. He has been a model of consistency for us so far.”

Henry is a projected top 10 draft pick and will likely declare for the NBA after this season.

View Eric Sorrentino's Top 10 freshman from last season.

Comments

Kevin John 10 years, 1 month ago

Xavier should stay one more year and be the #1 pick in 2011 NBA Draft.

Allen Fieldhouse shoud be chanting "one more year!" at the Jayhawks last home game.

Harrison Barnes who??

CrimsonPhoenix 10 years, 1 month ago

Lolol, Xavier should split when he gets the chance. Why risk the injuries and such like Bradford and Tebow?

Nutflush21 10 years, 1 month ago

The NBA is going to have a lockout in 2011 so if Xavier stays, the NBA wouldnt be an option after his sophomore season. He is going to and should take the money the first chance he gets.

LAJayhawk 10 years, 1 month ago

The "Durant Game" was the last I attended in Allen Fieldhouse. I actually still have a scrap of confetti in the pocket it fell into of the coat I was wearing that day. One of the best halves of basketball of a single player I had ever seen. I remember Rush commenting after the game that no matter what he did, Durant could not be stopped.

And yet we won.

Coming back from a huge deficit at the half. An amazing basketball game. Only topped, of course, by the comeback in the Big 12 championship only a few days later....

AsadZ 10 years, 1 month ago

This reminds us that basketball is team sport. While Durant was on fire KU outplayed UT and eventually won the game. Regarding Henry there is no doubt in my mind that he is The Best Freshman in college basketball. Apart from his size and body, what's impressive is his demeanor and composure on the court. He is a scorer but not a volume scorer. He seldom takes bad shots. He is a very efficient scorer and he is doing this on a veteran team with two All Americans. While I'd love to see him play in the Phog next year he is definitely NBA ready and should go ahead with the opportunity. I'd not have made this statement about Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur. I wish those two guys had stayed one more year in college. They are hardly getting any minutes with their teams and might not survive the league.

thmdmph 10 years, 1 month ago

I have a feeling X will have a monster game this year (even bigger than the 31 pt game he had against La Salle). He'll strike when we all least expected.

TwistedFish31 10 years, 1 month ago

As a selfish Jayhawk fan, I would love to see X stay one more year but this is a talent that we all knew we'd get to enjoy watching one season. I love the smile this kid has during the game. I hope everyone else has noticed it. Whether he just dunked, hit a 3 pointer or had a cheap foul called against him, he has that same smile. I am so glad he chose Kansas over going with sleazeball Calipari.

I wonder if at the end of the season, or whenever it is that the NCAA strips kentucky of all its wins this season, if the record books will show UNC getting to 2000 wins first?

Rock Chalk!

LAJayhawk 10 years, 1 month ago

Lebowski,

Haha! I thought exactly the same thing but decided not to post it. That comparison was random. Very, very random.

David Leathers 10 years, 1 month ago

"Lolol, Xavier should split when he gets the chance. Why risk the injuries and such like Bradford and Tebow?"

I don't find this too irrelevant... It's possible that one of our KU linebackers tackles X and dislocates his shoulder or gives him a concussion during another on-campus altercation. Right?

Jim Jackson 10 years, 1 month ago

That was a terrible comparison. Comparing college football injuries to basketball?

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 1 month ago

The only player that I could think of that had an injury that should have affected his draft status is Greg (old man) Oden. Injuries don't effect draft status like in Football. Unless you play for Texas A&M they are rarely too serious.

justanotherfan 10 years, 1 month ago

If you don't think injuries can derail your career, call up Wayne Simien sometime.

Google Dajuan Wagner. Google Jonathan Bender.

Or go to youtube, type in Shaun Livingston knee injury and watch the video.

That's four guys that were all McDonald's All Americans coming out of high school who had short careers in the NBA. Livingston, Wagner and Bender were all lottery picks who were riddled by injuries early in their careers.

Saying X (or any other NBA ready player) should stay in college is ridiculous for that reason. These guys have to take care of themselves. An NBA career is fleeting. It will not always be there.

Remember Jacque Vaughn? He was a potential lottery pick after his junior season here. He returned, broke his wrist, missed a third of the season, and ended up being a late first rounder.

Don't forget, college players are responsible for their own insurance if they have an injury that causes them to lose out on a professional career. Sam Bradford had to buy an insurance policy before the college season started with his own money to protect against a potential injury.

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 1 month ago

Just because you are a Mcdonalds all american does not mean you will make it in the NBA. Look at Russell Robinson great in college but could not translate his game to the NBA.

Ryan Mullen 10 years, 1 month ago

Also who cares how long these guys played in the NBA they still got paid. And some of the guys you mentioned where still lottery picks. They had there shot even though they where injured in college the NBA gave them a chance.

justanotherfan 10 years, 1 month ago

jayhawkinmullen,

The guys I mentioned at the beginning of the post (Wagner, Bender and Livingston) all had injuries early in their pro careers after being either a one and done or going straight to the NBA.

In the case of Bender and Livingston, those injuries revealed degenerative issues with their knees. Wagner contracted an intestinal disease and has never made it back to the NBA. Had those things happened while any of the three were in college, chances are they never would have cashed a single NBA check.

There's a big question mark now with Greg Oden as to whether Portland will exercise their option beyond this season with his injury riddled career. Had he stayed in college for four years, he would be a senior now. Do you really think an NBA team would spend a lottery pick on him and his medical history now?

Staying in college is really just using one of your limited number of healthy years for no pay. That's why guys should go as soon as they are ready. Your health is not promised.

Furthermore, the argument that guys will be NBA stars if they stay in college is patently false. Of the 47 guys that have made NBA all star teams in the last 5 years, only 9 stayed in college for the full four years. What's more, eliminating players not from North America (7 players), almost as many guys with no college (8) have been all-stars.

Further, of the guys to make all of those all star teams (9), only 1 (Tim Duncan) went to college for four years. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James all went straight from high school. Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki came from overseas pro leagues. Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen all left school early.

If you're ready to make the jump, you should jump. College won't prepare you for the NBA any more once you are ready to go, and it probably won't turn you into a star unless you already had the skills to do that.

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