It happens every single year: talented first-years destined for the NBA take the men’s college basketball universe by storm. This season is absolutely no different. From coast to coast, there are first-years who have undoubtedly marked their territory as preeminent players in the nation and sure-fire NBA lottery picks. Come March, these prodigies will be front and center for the entire sports world to see. Below are a handful of super-frosh bound to become household names, if they are not already.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
If there was such a thing as a basketball laboratory, and in said laboratory a scientist could mold the perfect point guard, the product would be Ball. Standing 6’6” and weighing 190 pounds, there is not much that Ball cannot do. Second in the nation in assists per game with 7.6, Ball’s vision is that of a seasoned veteran, not a wiry nineteen-year-old. On top of his mesmerizing passing ability that has frequently been compared to Jason Kidd’s, Ball has the range of Stephen Curry on his jump-shot. While he does not have the most aesthetically pleasing release, it is nonetheless very effective. Connecting on an impressive 43% of his three-pointers, Ball looks to guide the Bruins to their first Final Four since 2008.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
There may not be more of a stat-stuffer in all of college basketball than this first-year out of Houston, TX. Playing point guard at the University of Kentucky means following in the footsteps of Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and most recently Tyler Ulis–this is surely no easy task. But Fox has taken it in stride, averaging 15.7 points per game to go along with 4.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists. With Fox running the point for John Calipari’s squad, the team is currently 20-5 and tied atop the SEC standings.
Markelle Fultz, Washington
While his team has seen a tumultuous season, there is no denying the existence of Fultz’s talent. Despite not even playing varsity basketball until his junior year of high school, many have Fultz projected as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft come June. Leading all first-years nationally in scoring with 23.2 points per game, there is much more to his arsenal than just putting the ball in the basket. Standing 6’4”, Fultz is a superior athlete, as well as an outstanding perimeter defender. The Maryland native will not get the opportunity to play well into March unless his team improbably wins the Pac-12 conference tournament, but Fultz’s ability is undeniable. Whether the Huskies make the field of 68 or not, Fultz will be a name to keep an eye on. He has the potential to be the cornerstone of an NBA franchise as well as a perennial All-Star at the next level.
Dennis Smith Jr., NC State
Often compared to the likes of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, Smith is as gifted an athlete as there is in college basketball. If you need proof, just Google his high school mixtape. Averaging 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game for the Wolfpack, Smith is a major topic of discussion within basketball circles. The ferocity and intensity with which he plays strikes fear in the opposition. He plays with an edge and anger that he frequently takes out on the rim. NC State is on the bubble in large part due to their lack of overall experience, but if they manage to claw their way into the NCAA Tournament, watch out! The sheer explosiveness of their freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. makes North Carolina State a team to be reckoned with.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
The native of Finland has drawn countless comparisons to the New York Knicks’ budding star, Kristaps Porzingis. Like Porzingis, Markkanen has guard-like ability while standing over seven feet tall. He can put the ball on the floor with ease and force the defense to guard him well beyond the three-point arc. After being decimated by injuries and having their preseason All-American Alonzo Trier suspended for the first nineteen games of the season, many wrongfully counted Arizona out. Although his numbers will not blow you away, Markkanen has been sensational. His averages of 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds have not only kept Arizona afloat, but given the Wildcats hope for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Jackson is eerily similar to a Kansas star from a couple of years ago: current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins. Like Wiggins, Jackson should be forced to pay rent for the amount of time he spends at the free-throw line. His strength is attacking the rim, and when he decides to do so and is able to gain a full head of steam, good luck to the defense. Also like Wiggins, Jackson is an elite defender. He is usually tasked with guarding the other team’s best player in addition to being asked to carry the load when it comes to the Jayhawks’ scoring. Jackson has his share of highlight plays, but he also does his share of the dirty work in what appears to be a promising finish to a successful campaign for the Kansas first-year.