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Friday, January 26, 2007
Updated: January 28, 2:00 PM ET
The best freshmen of all time

By Bomani Jones
Page 2

This season we're getting to watch two extraordinary freshmen play college basketball: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Durant is putting up extraordinary numbers, while Oden has a chance to be a legendary center when all is said and done.

Will they ever make the list of the greatest freshmen seasons ever? Time will tell. In the meantime, here are the 10 best freshmen seasons we've ever seen.

(Note: Freshmen only became eligible to play varsity basketball in the 1972-73 season.)

Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough is trying to improve on his freshman campaign.
10. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Key Statistics: 18.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 57 FG percentage

Carolina has produced a slew of great freshmen, but none have had a better season than Hansbrough did last year. Leading a team decimated by draft defections and graduation, the Poplar Bluff, Mo., native carried UNC with his rugged post play. Hansbrough was a unanimous first-team All-ACC selection, unanimous ACC Rookie of the Year, and earned first-team All-American honors. His 40 points against Georgia Tech at the Dean Dome broke the ACC record for points by a freshman in a single game.

9. Pervis Ellison, Louisville
Key Statistics: 13.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg

Those season averages have little to do with Ellison making this list. Ellison's legacy is tied to the 1986 Final Four, when the freshman from Savannah, Ga., led the Cardinals to the national championship. In wins over LSU and Duke, Ellison averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game on the way to being named Most Outstanding Player. But the greatest honor he received was one of sports' all-time-great nicknames: Never Nervous Pervis.

8. Shaquille O'Neal, LSU
Key Statistics: 13.9 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.6 bpg, 57.3 percent FG percentage

Though he shared the spotlight in Baton Rouge with Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts, there was never a question of who the most talented player on LSU's squad was in 1989-90. Though he hadn't picked up the footwork that made him unstoppable in his prime, he used his brute strength to dominate. O'Neal was the first freshman in NCAA history to rack up two triple-doubles, and he remains one of only two first-year players to perform that feat.

7. Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech
Key Statistics: 20.6 ppg, 8.1 apg, 5.5 rpg, 51.5 FG percentage, 41.0 3-point FG percentage

Georgia Tech has produced its share of great point guards, but none got off to a better start than Anderson. Known for his legendary ballhandling, the left-handed Anderson dominated the ACC like no freshman point guard before or since. As part of "Lethal Weapon 3" (with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver), Anderson was named first-team All-ACC as a freshman and led the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 Final Four.

6. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma
Key Statistics: 24.5 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 58 percent FG percentage

Tisdale's name frequently comes up in discussions about Durant, because the former Sooners star had the most immediate impact of any first-year player in the history of the Big 8/Big 12. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman took the conference by storm in 1982-83, earning the first of three first-team All-Big 8 selections and the first of three Big 8 Player of the Year awards.

5. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
Key Statistics: 12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg

Ewing's stats look fairly modest, but his defensive impact was immediate and incredible. As soon as he stepped on campus, he became the face of Georgetown's intimidating defense and remains the gold standard for young defensive centers. Behind Ewing, the Hoyas reached the championship game of the 1982 NCAA Tournament, the first of three trips to the national title game during Ewing's career.

Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo certainly made his one season in college count.
4. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse
Key Statistics: 22.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 22 double-doubles

Anthony hit the ground running in 2002-03, scoring more than 27 points in his first three games with the Orange. Armed with a precociously refined offensive game, Anthony set an NCAA freshman record with 22 double-doubles. Though he left Syracuse after one season, he left with a lifetime's worth of awards -- first-team All-Big East, Big East Rookie of the Year, East Regional MVP, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and a national championship.

3. Ralph Sampson, Virginia
Key Statistics: 14.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 4.6 bpg

Sampson was named ACC Rookie of the Year in 1980. And while he wasn't named to the first or second All-ACC teams, he was named a first-team All-American (as he would be all four years of his college career). The spindly 7-foot-4 center led the ACC in rebounding and blocks, and led Virginia to the NIT championship in 1980.

2. Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Michigan State
Key Statistics: 17.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 7.4 apg

Magic's sophomore season is the one most people remember, largely because of his duel with Larry Bird in the championship game of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. But Magic's numbers as a freshman were just as good as in that fateful sophomore season (17.1/7.1/8.4). Johnson was named first-team All-Big Ten and led the Spartans to the Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual national champion Kentucky.

1. Chris Jackson, LSU
Key Statistics: 30.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, 49 percent FG percentage

Not since Pete Maravich had the SEC seen a scorer as lethal as Jackson, and never has there been a better scorer as a freshman. The Gulfport, Miss., native was so quick that he rarely needed a move more flashy than a dribble between his legs, which would be followed either by a quick dart into the lane or an unstoppable jump shot. Along with earning first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American honors in 1989, Jackson became the first freshman named SEC Player of the Year. He holds the NCAA record for points per game by a freshman, a mark unlikely to be broken any time soon.

Bomani Jones is a columnist for Page 2. Tell him how you feel at readers@bomanijones.com.