High-profile college basketball freshmen who have yet to live up to hype

Jan 10, 2018
  • By Brian Pedersen
  • Diehards

They can’t all be Trae Young, Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton. Sometimes freshmen are just freshmen, regardless of the hype they came with.

The value of freshmen in college basketball remains ultra-high, the product of most of the sport’s best players moving on to the NBA as soon as possible. That annual talent exodus is offset by the influx from highly rated newcomers, many of whom for several years have been built up as the next big things.

And while several instantly live up to the hype, there are just as many who fail to meet their lofty expectations early on. It doesn’t mean they’re not good, instead for various reasons they’re just not that good right away.

Below are several players who, for various reasons, haven’t come close to matching the hype they’d received prior to college.

NOTE: All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

No Shows

The first group of six freshmen are lumped together for one reason — they haven’t played. In all but one case, they’ve yet to see the court in an official college game, and for some that may never happen. Their reasons for being no-shows run the gamut from injuries to FBI investigations to career decisions, but in every case, the end result is a complete lack of results to compare against their pre-college hype.

Brian Bowen, Louisville

David Banks/Getty Images

The No. 19 player in the country committed to Louisville in June, long after all the other big-name recruits were already locked up, but in September, Brian Bowen was linked to an FBI bribery investigation with allegations he was paid $100,000 to play for the Cardinals. He was reportedly cleared of any wrongdoing in November, but Louisville opted not to let the 6-foot-7 forward play this season.

Michael Porter, Missouri

247Sports

Billed as the savior for a Missouri program that won only 27 games in the previous three seasons, Michael Porter was the No. 2 player in the 2017 class. He had 2 points and 2 rebounds in the first 2 minutes of the Tigers’ season opener before leaving the game with a back injury that has since required surgery. Mizzou has managed to fare well without the 6-foot-10 forward, who could return before the season ends, but it’s more likely the projected No. 4 pick in the 2018 NBA draft stays out to prepare for his pro career.

Billy Preston, Kansas

247Sports

Freshmen big men with off-court issues has been a trend at Kansas in recent years, with the 6-foot-10 Billy Preston the latest 5-star prospect to miss time for non-basketball reasons. The No. 20 player in the country was involved in (but not injured in) an on-campus car accident in mid-November, prompting the school to investigate how he got the vehicle, and he’s yet to suit up for the Jayhawks.

Cody Riley, UCLA

247Sports

Cody Riley was one of three UCLA freshmen arrested on shoplifting charges in China in November, prior to the Bruins’ season opener. While the charges were eventually dropped, the school suspended the trio indefinitely, with guard LiAngelo Ball leaving the program and Riley and forward Jalen Hill’s suspension extended for the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-7 Riley was rated as the No. 47 player in the 2018 class.

Mitchell Robinson, Western Kentucky

247Sports

Mitchell Robinson made a splash when the 7-foot center, rated No. 9 overall, picked Western Kentucky over several power-conference programs, but over the summer he had second thoughts and was granted his release. Because he’d attended summer classes, his eligibility for 2017-18 was in question, though Kansas and LSU were among the schools willing to take that risk. He ended up re-enrolling at Western Kentucky in late August only to withdraw again a few weeks later and declare for the 2018 NBA draft.

Jarred Vanderbilt, Kentucky

Mark Zerof/USA Today

The only one of Kentucky’s sextet of 5-star freshmen who has yet to play, Jarred Vanderbilt has been dealing with multiple foot injuries and has yet to progress beyond individual workouts. A 6-foot-9 forward, Vanderbilt is the No. 12 player in the 2018 class.

Active But Lacking

While the players mentioned above have yet to have the opportunity to show what they can do, that’s not the case with the rest of the list. Below are seven freshmen who have been given a chance to make an impact, but so far haven’t produced the kind of results expected from players with such lofty recruiting rankings.

Emmanuel Akot, Arizona

Casey Sapio/USA Today

Arizona signed five freshmen in the 2017 class, but only one of them was 7-footer DeAndre Ayton. While Ayton has been dominant, averaging 20.4 points and 11.6 rebounds with 11 double-doubles, the rest of the Wildcats’ youngsters haven’t made nearly as much of an impact.

Emmanuel Akot has been the least-effective of that group, partly due to a nagging knee injury but also a lack of productive play when he’s been on the court. The 6-foot-7 guard is averaging 2.0 points and 1.3 rebounds in only 11.1 minutes per game despite starting four of the Wildcats’ first six games.

Akot, the No. 24 player in the 2017 class, played just 6 minutes in Saturday’s loss at Colorado after having missed Arizona’s first 2 Pac-12 games.

Jalek Felton, North Carolina

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

North Carolina has had only seven freshmen average double figures since Roy Williams took over in 2003-04, and just two in the last eight seasons. Jalek Felton wasn’t going to be the eighth, not with the Tar Heels’ roster still featuring several veterans who were part of last year’s national championship team.

But with Joel Berry gone after this season, UNC does need to get someone ready to step into his shoes in the future. And with sophomore Seventh Woods out since late November with a foot injury, Felton has been in prime position to get valuable minutes. Instead he’s playing only 11 per game, including just 10 in Tuesday’s blowout win over Boston College.

The 6-foot-3 Felton, rated No. 30 overall in the 2017 recruiting class, is averaging 3.3 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists. That’s despite scoring 15 against Western Carolina and 12 against Ohio State.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Kevin Knox is Kentucky’s leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game, but in his first three SEC games, that rate dipped to 9.7 because of horrible (32.3 percent) shooting. Maybe Tuesday’s performance in the Wildcats’ 74-73 home win over Texas A&M is an indication the 6-foot-9 forward is starting to return to the form he showed during most of the nonconference season.

The No. 11 overall prospect — and second-highest of Kentucky’s latest crop of 5-star players — had 15 points and made all 5 of his field goals, including both 3-pointers. He entered the game shooting 42.4 percent overall and 30.9 percent from the perimeter, making only 3 of 12 triples in the previous SEC games.

Knox is also Kentucky’s top rebounder, though with only 5.7 per game. That remains an area he needs to work on, particularly with his team not a particularly strong shooting unit.

Charles O’Bannon Jr., USC

Leon Bennett/Getty Images

With its top eight scorers back as well as a potential impact transfer in former Duke guard Derryck Thornton, USC didn’t enter the 2017-18 season needing much from its freshman class. Then life happened in the form of numerous injuries as well as sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton’s implication in the FBI bribery scandal, keeping him from playing at all so far.

That opened the door for more playing time for 6-foot-6 guard Charles O’Bannon Jr., the highest-rated of the Trojans’ three signees at No. 44 and the son of the former UCLA standout of the same name. He hasn’t taken advantage, though, playing just 6.1 minutes per game in 10 appearances with a high of 14 in USC’s overtime home loss to Princeton on Dec. 19.

O’Bannon, who has made 3-of-18 shots, is 0-for-5 from the field in Pac-12 play.

Gary Trent Jr., Duke

Lance King/Getty Images

On most other teams, Gary Trent Jr. would be the overwhelming star and focal point, the No. 17 player in the country who has his pick of 15 offers, including Michigan State and UCLA. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard instead opted for Duke, where he’s the lowest-rated of the Blue Devils’ latest crop of 5-star freshmen.

And while his numbers—13.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game—aren’t bad they’re also not nearly as prolific as many expected from such a volume shooter like Trent was at the high school level. That’s not for a lack of trying, though, as his 11.2 shots per game is third-most on Duke but his 37.5 percent field goal rate is dead-last among its most-used players.

Trent, whose father was a low-post stud at Ohio known as the “Shaq of the MAC,” has shot at least 50 percent from the field just four times in 15 games, two fewer than the number of occasions he’s shot under 30 percent. He’s also one of Duke’s worst defenders on a team full of them, his 105.8 defensive rating better than only fellow shooting guards Grayson Allen and Alex O’Connell.

Lonnie Walker, Miami (Florida)

Eric Espada/Getty Images

Miami has created a pipeline of sorts from the Philadelphia area, among the many factors that led to Lonnie Walker ending up in South Beach instead of with hometown Villanova or other notable suitors. We’ll never know if he’d have ended up struggling to find a role with those schools as much as he has the Hurricanes.

The 6’4” guard is averaging 8.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 assists in just under 21 minutes per game. He’s started twice, including Sunday’s home win over Florida State, but had only 5 points on 2-of-5 shooting. He’s scored a total of 42 points in Miami’s last seven games since dropping a career-best 26 against Boston University on Dec. 5, one of four games he’s had in double figures.

With no player averaging more than 13.9 points per game, Walker has the potential to be his team’s go-to weapon on offense. But either the No. 16 player in the 2017 class is still trying to feel things out or he’s deferring to his more-experienced teammates.

Malik Williams, Louisville

Jamie Rhodes/USA Today

Despite one of the worst shooting percentage of any center in college basketball, interim Louisville coach David Padgett isn’t giving up on 6-foot11  Malik Williams. If anything he’s giving the struggling prospect even more opportunities to show his worth, having started the Cardinals’ last 2 games.

That resulted in a mixed bag of results, with Williams scoring 8 points in 15 minutes against Pittsburgh but then going scoreless in just 8 minutes of action at Clemson. That was the fourth time in his last six appearances that he’s failed to score.

Williams, ranked No. 27 in the 2017 class, is averaging 3.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game. He’s shooting 37.3 percent from the field, better than only eight centers in Division I who have played at least 100 minutes this season.

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