What you need to know about the next wave of freshman phenoms

As long as the one-and-done rule remains in effect, freshmen will be continue to be the headliners of each college basketball season.

In 2017, the first 10 college players selected in the NBA draft were freshmen. Last season, Deandre Ayton, Trae Young and Marvin Bagley III were the marquee performers.

The name everyone is talking about heading into the 2018-19 college basketball season? You guessed it, it's a freshman.

But it's not the No. 1 prospect in the country, nor the player highest on mock draft boards. It's Zion Williamson, an athletic dunking machine with 1.6 million followers on Instagram who arrived at Duke earlier this month.


Duke fans get a first look at Williamson in uniform

Zion Williamson is part of a star-studded Duke freshman class, as he throws down several dunks in Duke's first summer workout.

Williamson finished ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100 following an injury-shortened senior season at Spartanburg Day School (South Carolina). The 6-foot-6, 272-pound forward had a foot injury for the first half of the campaign and then suffered a thumb injury during the McDonald's All American Game in late March.

How good will he be at Duke, though? According to one college coach, it depends on which position he plays under Mike Krzyzewski.

"Just his sheer strength and athleticism are going to be overwhelming for most teams," the coach said. "I think they would have better success playing him at the 4 or 5. I know his inclination is to develop his perimeter game and play on the wing full time, but in today's basketball, some of the issues Duke had last year was just how big they were, trying to manage Wendell [Carter] and Bagley and [Marques] Bolden. I think they would be better served playing him in one of those true frontcourt spots. He can drive bigger, slower players. Force matchup problems."

Which other freshmen will join Williamson on highlight reels and mock drafts during the 2018-19 season?

R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Duke

Williamson has the most notoriety, but Barrett has been considered the No. 1 prospect in the class for a couple of years, and Reddish might have the highest ceiling of the trio.


When R.J. Barrett dominated in 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup

Canada's R.J. Barrett had a breakthrough performance en route to the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 gold medal and MVP award.

Duke managed to land the top three prospects in the 2018 class, with Williamson coming as the surprise in January. All three players were considered massive recruiting wins for Krzyzewski, as Kentucky was involved with each of them, and all three see themselves as small forwards at the next level.

Barrett is a winner, both at the high school level with Montverde Academy (Florida) and internationally with Canada. He really competes on the defensive end, and the lefty has a versatile offensive game that continues to expand.

Meanwhile, Reddish is a supremely versatile player who can play four positions on the court. He makes plays off the dribble and is capable of filling it up in a hurry.

The question for Krzyzewski will be how he plays the three together. One coach said Williamson's willingness to play in the frontcourt will be key to free up the playmaking ability of Barrett and Reddish.

"They're going to have play Zion at a bigger spot," a coach said. "Barrett is the best 3 of the bunch, but he can play some 4 and give people a really hard time. Zion is going to be pushed to the 4 and 5 to open up space for skilled, true perimeter players. If you put Zion at the 3, you're putting bigger, less skilled guys at the 4 and 5. I think Cam can play some 2."

Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky

Perhaps the biggest college basketball story in June was Bassey's decision to reclassify from 2019 to 2018 and commit to Western Kentucky.

A top-five prospect in the 2019 class, Bassey was long expected to end up at Western Kentucky after moving from Texas to Kentucky for his high school season. In fact, Rick Stansbury was often the lone head coach recruiting him and watching him at games during the spring AAU season. Shortly after Bassey reclassified and committed, Western Kentucky announced it was hiring Hennssy Auriantal, Bassey's legal guardian, as an assistant coach.

Bassey will be the most talented player in Conference USA, joining a Hilltoppers team that won 27 games last season. Stansbury will hope Bassey's summer goes more smoothly than the last five-star player Western Kentucky landed. Mitchell Robinson never played a game for Western Kentucky and entered the NBA draft, where he was selected in the second round by the New York Knicks.

As for Bassey, one coach wonders about level of competition in C-USA.

"The fact the league isn't that good could work against him," the coach said. "Junk defenses, teams taking him out of the game, teams playing small lineups, making it hard for him to be effective on both ends of the floor. The last few Western Kentucky teams have been guard-dominated; it was a team that didn't have much emphasis to throw the ball inside. I know he's good, but any good big guy is reliant on his teammates getting him the ball."

Nassir Little, North Carolina

Little is a sleeper for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Right now, Jonathan Givony pegs him at No. 2, despite his finishing No. 6 in the 2018 class.

He has been compared to Kawhi Leonard for his ability to excel at both ends of the floor, and his stock rose significantly in the spring after winning MVP honors at the McDonald's All American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.

When last fall began, Arizona and Miami were considered the favorites to land Little. He removed both schools from consideration after they were named in the FBI investigation, and he committed to North Carolina a few days later.

One scout says he believes Little's skill set might make him a better pro.

"He's a versatile player," the scout said. "His passing, his defense, all the things he does on the floor make him attractive. You can kind of put him in that Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard -- you can cast him in that role because that's what so much of what the NBA is intrigued by: athleticism, wingspan, switching."

Romeo Langford, Indiana

There might not have been a more important commitment in the 2018 class than Langford's picking the Hoosiers. He wasn't just another target for Archie Miller and the Hoosiers. Langford was Indiana's Mr. Basketball and had 4,000 people at his commitment ceremony. His high school games were packed with Indiana fans who waited in line for his autograph afterward.

Miller made him a priority from day one after taking over for Tom Crean and was able to convince him to stay home. Langford is likely to be one of the top scoring freshmen in the country, as he will become the go-to-guy on the perimeter immediately after averaging 35.5 points as a high school senior.

With Langford's commitment, though, come heightened expectations in Year 2 for Miller at Indiana.

"From a perception point, it was big," a coach said. "To come up short would have been pretty crushing. From a basketball perception, he's a really good player. If you can eliminate some of the trappings of being Romeo Langford and playing at Indiana, and just focus on being as good as he can be, he's going to have a really good freshman year. Archie won't be into the sideshow stuff. I think he's picked a good coach to do those things."

Bol Bol, Oregon

In terms of talent and ceiling, they don't get much better in the 2018 class than Bol. The 7-foot-2 son of Manute Bol has all the tools, including a wingspan of 7-foot-8 and a standing reach of 9-foot-7. He's an elite shot-blocker on the defensive end and can be a dominant rebounder.

Offensively, he has better touch in his face-up game than one might expect and runs the floor for easy baskets. Bol was ranked No. 4 in the 2018 class, but there have been questions with him in terms of consistency. When he's engaged, there are few players more impressive than Bol.

Dana Altman will welcome him with open arms after Bol chose the Ducks over Kentucky. USC and Arizona had been involved for most of his recruitment but were eliminated because of the FBI investigation.

Another thing to note about Bol and Oregon: He might not be the only one-and-done lottery pick in the class. Elite wing scorer Louis King is another five-star, impact freshman.

"I think he's a tantalizing talent," one coach said of Bol. "It depends on what the expectation level is. To me, he's a 7-foot-2 guy with great touch who can step out and shoot 3s, alter shots at the rim. He's a better play right now than Chris Boucher was, and Boucher had a monster impact at Oregon for a couple years."