SPORTS

The 22 Best College Basketball Freshmen In America

Entering June's NBA Draft, a talented Aussie leads the freshmen crop of 2016, followed by everyone else.
The 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons has shown flashes of sheer brilliance in Baton Rouge.
The 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons has shown flashes of sheer brilliance in Baton Rouge.

Ben Simmons has been called the best pure basketball prospect to come along since LeBron James. Such a proclamation hardly guarantees NBA success. However, it's hard to ignore, given the influx of talented one-and-done phenoms -- as NBA commissioner Adam Silver discussed with HuffPost -- we've seen in the college hoops landscape over the past decade, including Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Andrew Wiggins, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.

While his prodigious gifts may warrant the incessant praise, Simmons is a work in progress, as are his freshmen counterparts. You can argue that few have lived up to the enormous hype bestowed on them before the season began. And yet, that hardly nullifies the immense talent this class has displayed, albeit less frequently then expected. 

Here are the top 22 college basketball freshmen in America.

  • Ben Simmons, F, LSU
    The Australia native has delivered in a huge way, showcasing his remarkable ability with averages of 20 points, 13 rebounds a
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images
    The Australia native has delivered in a huge way, showcasing his remarkable ability with averages of 20 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. A 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills and legit ambidexterity, Simmons is unguardable in the open floor when he frequently rebounds and initiates his own fast-break. Questions persist about a shaky jumper -- he has taken just three 3-pointers this season and defenses routinely sag off of him. Yet, we can't help but want more: Simmons takes 12 shot attempts per game. Too unselfish is hardly a common term for prodigious talents like Simmons, but it applies in this case.
  • Jaylen Brown, G-F, University of California
    The 6-foot-7 Brown is an elite athlete with a dynamic two-game who can really create his own shot. Think Stanley Johnson
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images
    The 6-foot-7 Brown is an elite athlete with a dynamic two-game who can really create his own shot. Think Stanley Johnson, but better. One NBA front office executive recently told me that Brown is a terrific prospect because of his physical tools, his motor and an overall eagerness to do the little things. Regardless of when he chooses to bolt for the NBA, Brown needs to focus on becoming a more consistent rim finisher.
  • Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
    Ingram’s freakish skillset at 6-foot-9 isn’t entirely dissimilar from Simmons in that he does certain things at h
    Lance King/Getty Images
    Ingram’s freakish skillset at 6-foot-9 isn’t entirely dissimilar from Simmons in that he does certain things at his size that we simply do not see very often. A natural 3-man, Ingram has arguably become Duke's most consistent offensive player. The North Carolina native averages 17 points with 42 percent 3-point shooting.
  • Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette
    Ellenson is a double-double machine who outplayed Simmons in Marquette’s November win over LSU, and hasn’t exactl
    Mitchell Layton via Getty Images
    Ellenson is a double-double machine who outplayed Simmons in Marquette’s November win over LSU, and hasn’t exactly slowed down either. A true 4-man at 6-foot-10, his combination of skill and grit have led to wonderful averages of 16 points and 10 rebounds. As he extends his shooting range, Ellenson will only improve his draft stock.
  • Jamal Murray, SG, University of Kentucky
    The 6-foot-5 guard is a playmaking dynamo for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. He can shoot, he can isolate and
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images
    The 6-foot-5 guard is a playmaking dynamo for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. He can shoot, he can isolate and he shows a strong grasp on how to play the pick-and-roll game.
  • Diamond Stone, PF/C, University of Maryland
    Stone was a mega-recruit who struggled early on, but has since come on in a major way for Mark Turgeon's title-contending bun
    G Fiume/Getty Images
    Stone was a mega-recruit who struggled early on, but has since come on in a major way for Mark Turgeon's title-contending bunch. During Stone's best game -- a 39-point, 12-rebound outburst against Penn State -- he showed why he was so well regarded out of high school. He has a deft touch around the hoop and a rapidly improving pick-and-pop option. His soft hands are a huge bonus, but his growth on the defensive end and sub-par conditioning remain question marks.
  • Ivan Rabb, PF, University of California
    Rabb, like fellow freshman teammate Jaylen Brown, was a McDonald's All-American. He is a natural rebounder who will thri
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
    Rabb, like fellow freshman teammate Jaylen Brown, was a McDonald's All-American. He is a natural rebounder who will thrive in the NBA game because of his length at 6-foot-10, with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. His ability to run the floor is a huge bonus, as most young bigs have to be encouraged to do so. Plus, the added bonus of being a left-handed player makes him that much more dynamic. Rabb (13 points, 8 rebounds) can score inside the paint and is a tremendous athlete for a power forward. His desire to impact the game on both ends will serve him very well.
  • Shake Milton, PG, SMU
    SMU was the lone undefeated team in the country in large part because of Milton. A towering 6-foot-5 point guard who can real
    Associated Press
    SMU was the lone undefeated team in the country in large part because of Milton. A towering 6-foot-5 point guard who can really shoot it (39 percent on 3-point shots), Milton possesses all of the tools to become a collegiate star and future first-round draft pick.
  • Stephen Zimmerman, C, UNLV
    Zimmerman, who spurned bigger offers to stay home and star for UNLV, is a true 7-footer. He can make a 3-pointer, can put the
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images
    Zimmerman, who spurned bigger offers to stay home and star for UNLV, is a true 7-footer. He can make a 3-pointer, can put the ball on the floor and has an enticing 9-foot-1 standing reach. Zimmerman hasn’t been especially consistent or dominant, but he displays a soft touch around the rim and runs the floor.
  • Allonzo Trier, SG, University of Arizona
    Trier -- who has played through a broken right hand this year -- is a big-time scorer with predatory instincts around the rim
    Leon Bennett/Getty Images
    Trier -- who has played through a broken right hand this year -- is a big-time scorer with predatory instincts around the rim. Plus, he’s hyper-efficient. The Seattle native shoots 52 percent from the floor. At 6-foot-4, he has the ideal size and athleticism to become an effective combo man as a pro. Trier will attack the lane at will and finish with either hand. He still needs to become a far more versatile player -- i.e., passing, rebounding -- but Trier is one of Sean Miller’s better gets in Tucson.
  • Malik Newman, G, Mississippi State
    Newman, a McDonald's All-American, will only improve under first-year Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland. A super scorer wh
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Newman, a McDonald's All-American, will only improve under first-year Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland. A super scorer who can stick it from anywhere (42 percent on 3-pointers), the 6-foot-3 Newman needs to develop more lower body strength and become a better finisher.
  • Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State
    Beasley's 17 points per game pace Florida State. A 6-foot-5 wing with a terrific stroke, Beasley shoots 42 percent from deep.
    Associated Press
    Beasley's 17 points per game pace Florida State. A 6-foot-5 wing with a terrific stroke, Beasley shoots 42 percent from deep. He is an efficient offensive weapon and is surging up draft boards as a result.
  • Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
    Purdue is a sleeper Final Four pick, in large part because of Swanigan’s dynamic play on the offensive end. The 6-foot-
    Michael Hickey/Getty Images
    Purdue is a sleeper Final Four pick, in large part because of Swanigan’s dynamic play on the offensive end. The 6-foot-9 Indiana native -- who originally committed to Michigan State -- averages 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists for Matt Painter. His incredible 7-foot-3.5 wingspan makes him a highly attractive NBA prospect, but he will likely be asked to shed some pounds to maximize his productivity at the next level.
  • Dejounte Murray, PG, University of Washington
    Not since the Brandon Roy/Nate Robinson days has Lorenzo Romar had talent like this at Washington. And, if Murray stays in sc
    Leon Bennett/Getty Images
    Not since the Brandon Roy/Nate Robinson days has Lorenzo Romar had talent like this at Washington. And, if Murray stays in school, he will be flanked next season by combo guard Markelle Fultz, a McDonald's All-American commit from prestigious DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-5 Murray is undoubtedly a work in progress, but he is a stat-stuffer who leads the resurgent Huskies in rebounding and steals, and ranks second in scoring and assists. Murray, who prepped at nearby Rainier Beach -- which produced Robinson, Jamal Crawford, Terrence Williams and Doug Christie -- should be the next NBA player in line.
  • James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan
    Thompson is a former South Carolina commit. In other words, don’t let the small school pedigree fool you: The 6-foot-10
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
    Thompson is a former South Carolina commit. In other words, don’t let the small school pedigree fool you: The 6-foot-10 Thompson is a high-major talent with NBA ability. His 13 double-doubles rank in the top 10 nationally, and he’s a gifted shot-blocker as well, averaging almost 2 per game.
  • Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
    Brunson, the top-rated point guard in his class coming out of high school, has been splendid for Jay Wright. A natural facili
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Brunson, the top-rated point guard in his class coming out of high school, has been splendid for Jay Wright. A natural facilitator with an NBA pedigree (father Rick played eight NBA seasons), the 6-foot-2 Brunson averages a healthy 10 points and 3 assists. When he develops his body -- he currently converts just 24 percent from 3-point range -- the entire floor will open up. Brunson will need to add considerable strength to his lower body so that he can absorb contact and finish despite his smaller frame.
  • Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana University
    Hoosier fans hoped Bryant was Noah Vonleh 2.0, but he's not. Bryant is too stiff for my liking, but with his 6-foot-10, 245-p
    Associated Press
    Hoosier fans hoped Bryant was Noah Vonleh 2.0, but he's not. Bryant is too stiff for my liking, but with his 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame, he does have quality intangibles as well. A dependable left-shoulder baby hook, ball-handling ability and hustle helps his status as a prospect, but Bryant will need to improve his footwork in the paint and develop more interior moves.
  • Dwayne Bacon, G-F, Florida State
    Bacon -- who prepped at prestigious Oak Hill Academy --- can fill it up in a hurry, and his 6-foot-7, 210-pound frame ma
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
    Bacon -- who prepped at prestigious Oak Hill Academy --- can fill it up in a hurry, and his 6-foot-7, 210-pound frame makes him an attractive NBA prospect. Hardly a reliable perimeter shooter (26 percent from 3-point range), Bacon’s attacking nature, alongside fellow freshman wing Malik Beasley, has given frisky Florida State one of the most lethal backcourts in the country.
  • Marquese Chriss, PF, University of Washington
    Chriss was under-recruited a bit, but has quietly put together a very steady, if not spectacular, freshman campaign in Seattl
    Associated Press
    Chriss was under-recruited a bit, but has quietly put together a very steady, if not spectacular, freshman campaign in Seattle. He is a lanky, versatile power forward with a good motor and skillset. Chriss will need to further develop as a rebounder and pick-and-pop man, but there is a lot to like about the Sacramento native moving forward.
  • Skal Labissiere, C, University of Kentucky
    Make no mistake: Labissiere is not Anthony Davis, nor is he Karl-Anthony Towns or DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, with a measly 2.
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
    Make no mistake: Labissiere is not Anthony Davis, nor is he Karl-Anthony Towns or DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, with a measly 2.8 rebound average, we have to question exactly what the 6-foot-11 native of Haiti is at this point. However, you can’t teach his type of size or fluidity, and Labissiere is an intriguing prospect as a result. A deft touch around the rim and premier athleticism propels him into the first-round discussion come June, should he turn pro.
  • Eric Davis Jr., SG, University of Texas
    Davis -- who comes from basketball-rich Arthur Hill High School in Michigan -- has earned the trust of Shaka Smart, even thou
    Chris Covatta/Getty Images
    Davis -- who comes from basketball-rich Arthur Hill High School in Michigan -- has earned the trust of Shaka Smart, even though he was originally a Rick Barnes commit. Davis has rewarded Smart with some excellent moments, including a 16-point outburst in an upset win over North Carolina. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard, who shoots 35 percent from 3-point range, is an intriguing prospect because of how well he can score the ball, but will have to be a consistent offensive player to earn more minutes.
  • Federico Mussini, PG, St. John's
    You never know how foreign players will adjust to the collegiate game, but Mussini, a rail-thin 6-foot-1, 155-pound Ital
    Associated Press
    You never know how foreign players will adjust to the collegiate game, but Mussini, a rail-thin 6-foot-1, 155-pound Italian, has exceeded expectations. His 13 points per game paces the Johnnies, and a 17-point effort on 5-7 3s paced his club’s upset over Syracuse. Mussini, like many European floor generals, possesses tremendous feel, exhibiting a prodigious handle and polished half-court game.

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