Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Fabulous freshmen. Diaper dandies. The next, great (fill in the blank).
Call them what you will, but newcomers on a college basketball team can give rise to the hopes of a school’s fans. It doesn’t matter these 18-year-olds may have dominated against lesser-skilled opponents in high school; to ever-hopeful alumni, fellow students and other fans, expectations for an entire program can rise with a new signee.
Freshman Anthony Bennett is filling such a bill for Rebels fans, who hope he is the piece of the puzzle that can help bring UNLV to its basketball glory days. Bennett sure played the part in his debut Monday, leading the Rebels with 22 points in a 92-54 victory against Northern Arizona
Here’s a look at Bennett and some past heralded freshmen at other schools who met with varying degrees of success at the collegiate ranks.
Felipe Lopez • 1994-98 • St. John’s
It’s possible no high school basketball player who went to college has ever been hyped as much as Felipe Lopez.
Lopez played high school basketball at Rice High School in the Bronx, one of the traditional powers in New York City’s Catholic High School Athletic Association. He became a media darling in New York: a Dominican-born, highly regarded scoring sensation. In his career at Rice, Lopez scored 2,486 points. Some hailed him as the “Hispanic Michael Jordan.”
Ultimately, though, Lopez decided to play at his hometown university, St. John’s. The hype had only just begun. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated labeled as the “Super Freshman” before his first college game. “Lopez adds open-court octane to the St. John's offense just by lacing up his sneakers,” the magazine raved.
Lopez did have a credible rookie year for the Red Storm, averaging 17.8 points per game and being named to the All-Big East Rookie Team and All-Big East Third Team. And he was a rarity among this list: He didn’t go the one-and-done route in college, instead spending four years at St. John’s. He finished his collegiate career with 1,927 points, third all-time in St. John's history, a 16.9 points-per-game average.
Evan Burns • San Diego State • 2002-03
Evan Burns was trumpeted as the real deal: A can’t-miss prep basketball player with skills rated above future NBA star Carmelo Anthony.
Burns averaged 22.7 points and 10.5 rebounds in 2001-02, his senior season at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times named him the Central City Player of the Year.
Burns originally signed with UCLA but was released from his letter of intent after being declared academically ineligible. He then signed at San Diego State, where he was heralded as the most-decorated basketball recruit ever to play for the Aztecs.
He didn’t disappoint in his freshman year. Joining the Aztecs in early December after gaining eligibility late, Burns went on to average 9.2 points per game the rest of the year. He scored a career-high 31 against New Mexico and went on to be named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year.
In May 2003, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. Within three months, he was dismissed from the San Diego State basketball program for “failure to meet his academic responsibilities,” according to coach Steve Fisher.
Burns declared for both the 2004 and 2005 NBA Drafts but went unselected.
Derrick Rose • Memphis • 2007-08
Derrick Rose had all the tools: He could shoot, pass, rebound, play defense. And when John Calipari was able to recruit Rose to play out of Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, hopes were high for Memphis basketball.
He was the nation's top high school point guard entering college in 2007-08. He had led Simeon to two consecutive state championships, the first Chicago Public League team to do so. He averaged 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 3.4 steals, was a three-time Parade All-America pick and was the Chicago Tribune’s Illinois Mr. Basketball.
Rose didn’t disappoint for the Tigers. He put up incredible numbers for Memphis in his freshman year: 14.9 points, 189 assists, 29.2 minutes per game. Memphis put up an NCAA-record 38 wins against just two defeats – the last of which was in the national championship game, an overtime loss to Kansas.
At the end of his freshman season, Rose announced he’d leave school to play in the NBA. He was drafted first overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls.
Alas, the NCAA Committee on Infractions later vacated all 38 of Memphis’ 2007-08 victories when it ruled one of Tigers’ players – media reports identified him as Rose –academically ineligible due to questions surrounding SAT and ACT scores.
Josh Selby • Kansas • 2010-11
When Josh Selby signed with Kansas, Jayhawk fans thought they had something special – even for the perennial college basketball powerhouse.
Selby, a combo guard, was considered the top prep in Rivals.com’s rankings for the class of 2010. He was the highest-ranked player ever signed by Jayhawk coach Bill Self.
At Lake Clifton Campus in Baltimore, Selby averaged 32 points his senior year of high school and was the Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year.
He was tabbed as the Big 12’s Preseason Freshman of the Year, even though his transition in Lawrence was slowed when he broke his hand in the summer before his freshman year. Selby also had to sit out the early season while the NCAA looked into eligibility questions related to his relationship with a Baltimore businessman.
Finally, nine games into the year, Selby was cleared to play, and he debuted in a big way, scoring 21 points and helping Kansas avoid an upset against USC.
A foot injury, however, slowed Selby and soured the Jayhawk faithful on their prized freshman. Largely used as a substitute on a team that made it to the Elite Eight, Selby wound up averaging just 7.9 points (off 37.3 percent shooting) and 2.2 assists in 26 games.
Selby declared for the NBA Draft – announced via his Twitter account – and was the 49th overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies, which assigned him to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League for most of the 2011-12 season.
Anthony Davis • Kentucky • 2011-12
At 6-feet-10 and 220 pounds, Anthony Davis was a prototypical power forward his senior year in high school. But he was anything but typical in his playing days at Perspectives Charter School in Chicago.
A solid shooter, Davis reportedly was on the radar of just two schools – Cleveland State and hometown DePaul – before growing eight inches from his junior to senior seasons. The sudden growth spurt brought with it a sudden interest from college coaches around the country.
In his senior season, in 2010-11, Davis averaged 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocked shots a game. With numbers like that, it was easy to see why he was the top-ranked power forward in the 2011 high school recruiting class.
Davis decided he’d continue his career at Kentucky. There, his success continued. He led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding, with 14.2 points and 10.4 boards. He blocked an NCAA freshman record 186 shots. And he led Kentucky to its eighth national championship.
Davis was a consensus first-team unanimous All-America selection. He won just about every national player of the year award of note.
Fresh off of the NCAA championship, Davis and four Kentucky teammates decided to forgo the rest of their college eligibility and declared for the NBA Draft. On June 28, the New Orleans Hornets made Davis the draft’s No. 1 overall selection.
Anthony Bennett • UNLV • 2012-?
The decision in early May was made in less than 140 characters – it was announced on Twitter, after all.
“Staying out West & will be going to #UNLV next yr .. Appreciate everyone that supported me through all this.”
The tweet brought to an end the recruitment of Findlay Prep’s Anthony Bennett. In landing the hometown power forward, UNLV had signed one of its highest-ranked recruits in school history.
Bennett, at 6-feet-8, was the consensus No. 1 power forward coming out of high school in 2012. He is the first McDonald's High School All-American to commit to UNLV straight out of high school in nearly 30 years.
Bennett averaged 16.3 points and 10.1 rebounds as a senior at Findlay, which finished 2012 with a 32-1 record and the school’s third ESPN National High School Invitational. In two seasons at Findlay, Bennett shot 62.6 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 70.6 percent from the free-throw line.
One recruiting service, draftexpress.com, said Bennett had a “handful of highly intriguing offensive skills. Perhaps his most unique trait is his very smooth and reliable perimeter shooting mechanics.”
In his UNLV regular-season debut Monday, Bennett put on a show with a team-high 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes. For at least one night, he was as good as advertised.
His first points came on a powerful dunk that brought the 18,000-plus fans at the Mack to their feet. “It was a pretty aggressive dunk,” Bennett said of his first official shot as a Rebel. “I wanted the fans to get into it, because once the fans get into it we get into it.”